Why I Stay In Church.

I walked out of church during a service with no intent to ever go back.
I was twelve, maybe thirteen. We were visiting my Grandma and she went to a church that believed in “faith healing.” The guy preached a “good” sermon (I say good because every time I hear the story I hear that it was a good sermon). He preached, he prayed, and then he started healing people. He’d call one guy up and then he started talking about him and whatever his disease was. Then he hit the guy upside the head, said some word I’ve never heard of and BAM the guy fell over. I remember my brother’s eyes got really big. Then the preacher called up another person (I think a woman this time). My mom grabbed my wrist and started pulling me towards the door.  We were Baptists and we didn’t believe in what was happening so we were leaving.

As an adult, I’ve thought about leaving the church. I’ve thought about just walking away and calling it a career.  I’m serious. My “reasons” list is long and colorful:

  1. I’ve been lied to in church
  2. I’ve been lied about in church
  3. I’ve been hurt in church
  4. I’ve had things stolen from me in church.
  5. I’ve heard some of the meanest, nastiest, most terrible things in church
  6. Some of the meanest, cruelest, nastiest people I’ve ever met have been in church.
  7. I’ve seen grieving mothers told to “just suck it up and get over it” at church.
  8. I’ve seen relationships stop because of where someone went to church
  9. I’ve seen mass emails sent out as prayer requests because of church
  10. I’ve sat through numerous gossip sessions prayer request times

I’ve tried to paint the broadest of strokes there in order to protect the innocent and the not so innocent.  After our last church, I really thought it was time to leave. There were so many problems, my wife felt used and abused and I wasn’t too far behind on her that path.  The truth is there are so many problems in the church. Right now, I have at least five friends that are all thinking about getting out of ministry completely. Not just leaving their church but leaving church completely.

Here’s the problem. They can’t. You and I can’t. Seriously, we are the church. We are this thing that gives so many of us so much trouble.. We can no more leave the church than we can leave the human race. We’re in it. We ARE it. Short of death, it’s still there. Even if I stop gathering with other believers weekly, I’m still part of the body. There is no “out clause” in Scripture. It’s a vicious circle. Railing against the church is like railing against oxygen. It just isn’t all that profitable. Now, I know it’s cool to do it now a days. I even realize that I’ve done it too often. Kary Oberbrunner is the first one to make me stop and think about how I do it.
And how God might view it.  In his book, Journey Toward Relevance he says this:

… a couple of years ago I found myself badmouthing somebody else’s girl. The first time it happened , I was sitting in a coffee shop with a few of my buddies. I didn’t intentionally bring it up, it just happened.  We somehow got on the topic of a guy we all knew. Pretty soon we started to talk about his girl and negative comments started flying.
I kind of felt bad for the guy. We all liked him; he was our friend. His girl just really annoyed the heck out of us. … I suppose degrading this girl was pleasurable because it made us feel separate from her.  …
I think the problem was that this girl was so ugly. It was an ugliness that was both internal and external. …

It went on like this for several months. In fact more people knew her than I first thought. It became an opening line to talk about this girl. I even went to parties and initially met people by communicating my distaste and shame for this girl.

Then one day I ran into her guy. It was not cool, let me tell you. I didn’t expect to see Him. I just kind of bumped into Him. He turned around and just looked me in the eye. He said to me, “Kary, why? How could you talk about her like that?”

I felt really low. I could see how much He loved her, and I could feel how much I hated her. I guess I just felt wounded by her. I felt judged by her….
pp. 58-59

That book started my healing and my wrestling. Because we have to wrestle with this animal called the church. We have to figure out how do we love the Bride of Christ when it just absolutely drives us nuts? If you haven’t read the book you should.

The problem is that I need the church. I need other believers around me. I need to be in community with those other people.  My list of things that I want to see change is long, but I’ve learned there just isn’t that much to be gained by going all “Ken Silva” about stuff I don’t like.

About two years ago a friend recommended a book where the central question of the book was/is “What if God designed marriage to make you Holy not happy?” That question changed much of my life. It also drove me to change how I view church. I’ve already talked about how I think you will be marked by regularly gathering with other believers if it is important to you. But this goes further than that. What if God designed church to
work like marriage? What if God designed church more to make us holy than he did to make us happy?  Now, hang with me here; God could have done this thing we call church any way He wanted to do it. He is God after all.

I mean He didn’t have to create church this way. He could have done it another way.  How many people in church annoy you? How many people in church are just irrelevant to your life? How many people are lying to you? How many are cheating on their spouse? How many could care less if you can’t pay your bills this month?

So why did God design it this way and why should we stay. What are some common problems in the church and how might we wrestle through them? I hope to address those questions and more over the course of the upcoming weeks.  I am going crazy busy with school, work and family right now, but I think this is important. What would happen if we looked at church more as a means to make us holy than we looked at it as a means to make us happy?

What Can American Idol Teach Us About The Church?

I confess that I have a few American Idol alumni in my Itunes, but just like my voting policy, I’ll never tell you who they are. Last night, my wife reminded me as I was doing homework with one of my daughters that the season premier was on in a little bit. A couple of years ago watching what I like to call the American Idol pre-season became a tradition of sorts for my wife and I. Back then we could only watch one channel and we were in a little cabin waiting for something a little bigger to open up for us. Of course like a lot of Americans we laughed at some of the contestants, wondering what in the world they were thinking. So last night I stopped what I was doing and from the first commercial on we watched the carnage. I’d like to tell you that we had empathy for those people who tried and failed but the truth is we laugh at most of them. The truth is after the auditions I’ll hardly watch any of the episodes. About half way through, I said to my wife, “There’s something we can learn from this, I just don’t know what it is.” Believe it or not, I actually pondered this for the rest of the show. I pondered what can the church learn from American Idol? Not, how can the church emulate American Idol but what are the inherent truths here that I’m missing.
Then it happened.
Near the end

There was a series of failed contestants walking out the door, some sad, most angry, and all of them talking about how they were going to make it “without American Idol!!!”
Now, let’s think about that for a moment, here is two of the best talent evaluators in the business (Randy and Simon–I’m not really sure why Paula is on the show) and they’ve just told you that you’re not good enough but you’re gonna go make it on your own. Sure, there probably will be somebody who will do that once, maybe.
Realistically, though these people are not going to make it. They’re just not that good. All of the Princess Leigh like hair do’s and chest hair waxing isn’t going to make their voices any better. No amount of one finger salutes or complaining about the make up girls that all look alike is going to change that. It’s amazing really, these people just lie to themselves. The truth is too hard to face. It’s easier to blame the judges. It’s even easier to get angry instead of facing the truth that your hurting. I imagine for many if not all of these people this is a life long dream. Many have probably had the flames of this dream fanned by well intentioned friends and family members who have listened through ears that are well… friends and family ears. Rather than hurt the person they love they encourage them that they could make it, that they might have a chance and their voices might be good enough. The idea of being dishonest in an effort to be nice is a topic for a whole other day. So they rant, they rave and they blame everyone out there.

Before we get too hard on these idol wannabes I want to ask, doesn’t the church do this?
Seriously, the conservatives blame the emergents, the emergents blame the conservatives. One denomination blames another, free willers blame Calvinists, Calvinists blame free willers, etc.
I know of a pastor who led a church to a third of the size it was when he took over. You know what he says the reason is? People just cannot handle good hard preaching anymore. Now, I wonder what that says about the guy before him, who hired him and groomed him to take his place. Is he saying that guy didn’t preach solid Biblical truths? That church has lost most of its influence in the community in which it has historic roots, mostly because it fought the wrong battles. Read the gospels. It’s fascinating. Jesus was hated or loved depending on who was around him but he was never marginalized. He was never ignored. Everywhere he went people talked about Him, they knew about Him. Same thing with the Apostle Paul. It’s amazing, people tried to kill him in a variety of ways. The early church grew. Maybe it was because it didn’t have the time to blame outsiders because those outsiders were persecuting them.

I love when a church or some para-church ministry rants and shrieks about “the Culture Wars” and taking America back to the golden age when “it was a Christian nation.” When I was a kid we used to spread that kind of talk on our fields as fertilizer.
I’m afraid the church has lost some of its effectiveness because we’ve failed to tell ourselves the truth. We’ve failed to look at the mirror and see where we are failing. We’ve been too busy blaming people who don’t believe like us for not acting like us. We’ve gone crazy trying to defend things are extra-biblical. It’s time we take a long deep look at us and ask if we are redeeming the time or punching a time clock.
The problem is that this is hard. It’s hard to say that you were wrong, It’s even harder to ask for forgiveness. If you really want to do something extremely hard that Christ commands us to do, don’t worry about taking the gospel to some third world country–just try to forgive someone who has really hurt you. For many, going to that third world country will be far far easier.
There are people who actually fight over the terms we should call ourselves. Christ-follower or Christian? I sincerely doubt that the label we proudly slap on our chest has ever shown anyone what it means to be loved. I doubt that anyone has ever decided to follow Christ because of some label. Both terms drives at people looking like Jesus. One of the terms actually means “little Christ.” I wonder if Christ would have thumped his chest over a label? When the disciples were exercised over someone doing Kingdom things they told him to stop because he wasn’t one of them. How did Jesus respond? He told them to let the guy alone.
The time has come for the church to stop blaming “those people” whoever those people are take a long hard look at the church. What if every church, every Christian/Christ-follower were to just ask one simple question this year? What if we asked how much we looked like Jesus? The Bible is full of great ways that we can demonstrate that we are like Christ. They all involve actions. If you really want to be relevant to your community, go love somebody this week. Let the person behind you jump ahead at the checkout next time. Write a thank you note to the person who’s opening the envelope that contains your check for a bill you owe. Forgive the person who wronged you. It’s time we started telling ourself the truth. It’s not some catchy phrase on a sign that is going to show people that we love them and each other and that is important, after all how well we love each other is a sign of who we’re following.