“I’m kind of sick of church.”
These words came spewing out of my mouth while I was sitting in the passenger seat of my friends car a couple of Sunday afternoons ago.
I don’t know why.
He asked me how life was, and that was my answer.
Maybe “spewing out” isn’t a fair phrase.
This wasn’t really a statement born of some self aggrandizing, counterculture, melodramatic rant. (Which I am really good at those by the way…just keep reading)
In fact, they were said with a such a relaxed and tranquil tone that I might as well have been saying, “I’m kind of sick of McDonalds.” (Which I am)
A big discussion didn’t even follow.
Just a simple(not so simple) answer to the simple, small talk question of “How is life?”
Which is maybe the best evidence of the truth of that statement in my head.
It wasn’t as if church that morning was bad or anything aside from the typical, minor drama and politics that hang over any amalgamation of various leadership roles…pastors(head, youth, collegiate, foreign, children, worship, creative, associate…pick your poison), deacons, elders, committees or whoever exists in the blurred lines of your crowded kitchen called a church of too many cooks and not enough waiters.
OK, maybe church that morning had slightly crawled under my skin.
But frustration with ministry isn’t new to me.
I am thoroughly convinced that I know how all churches and ministries should run.
I say that with absolute, unfounded ego and void of any confidence condoned by credible credintials.
After all, I am a product of the late 90’s/early 2000’s Christian youth movement that was preached from the top of a mountain of WWJD bracelets.
Forget an active prayer life.
Forget spending time in the Bible.
Forget church even.
No, once upon a time the measuring stick of holiness amongst Christian teens was how many of these multi-colored bracelets you could fit on your arms.
More Bracelets = More Holy
What Would Jesus Do?
I don’t know. I don’t think any of us knew.
We weren’t asking the question, just caught up in the fashion.
Chances are I was wearing one or two of them when I first double clicked my way into a long addiction to pornography.
Fast forward a couple of years and I was probably elbow deep in those wisdom seeking wrist accessories when I first had sex.
I think there were people who suspected my sin but my Christ advertising wardrobe and Wednesday night attendance told them I was fine.
I was not.
Maybe bracelets weren’t your thing. Maybe you preferred Christian t-shirts that butchered famous logos in the name of unoriginality.
Coca-Cola Classic logos redone to say “Jesus Saves”.
Snickers logos reshaped to say “Jesus Satisfies” (which Snickers has sort of stolen back)
How about “Built Lord Tough” in the Ford font?
Or my personal favorite: Sprite logos rebranded to simply say “Jesus” with the classic Sprite tagline “Obey Your Thirst” complete with John 4:13-14 printed on the back.
So refreshingly uninspired.
Because back in 1999 Jesus was, if nothing else, the Way, the Truth and the Life so long as the Way was paved with bad Christian alternatives to good secular art, the Truth was dualistic at best and Life only happened on Wednesday nights.
Or so it seemed.
I was a 14 year old who wore AC/DC shirts and loved Metallica, blink-182, and scary movies which naturally meant that the Devil was alive and inside of me somewhere.
BUT DON’T FRET!
The Power of Christian Substitutes compels you.
If your kid likes heavy metal than they will love Skillet.
Is your kid listening to blink-182? Buy them a Relient-K CD.
Is your child in danger of living a life of murder and mayhem because they watch too many scary movies? Take them to see “Extreme Days”! Not a horror film but it has extreme sports, a killer Christian soundtrack and the guy that played “Rufio” in Hook.
………um nope, no thanks and WHY HASN’T CHRISTIANITY TRIED TO HIJACK HORROR FILMS YET? I GENUINELY WANT TO SEE THIS ATTEMPTED! I MEAN WE ALREADY HAVE PEOPLE RISING FROM THE DEAD, SYMBOLIC CANNIBALISM AND RIVERS OF BLOOD!
This seems like a wasted opportunity.
I never bought in to the idea of Christian theft of originality to present a cheap knock off in an attempt to sell holiness.
Bad art doesn’t negate good art but only exposes the flaws of the bad and magnifies the beauty in the good.
This made Christianity unattractive, though I think attempting to dress it up and sell it as something aesthetically pleasing and easy to swallow may be the bigger problem.
Jesus was usually pretty clear that a life lived for God was not the most attractive thing. (Matthew 10:16-34 for instance)
As a kid I spent more than one time in my pastors office trying to understand his reasons for why wearing a KISS t-shirt in the sanctuary was frowned upon. I’m not saying my wardrobe warranted wisdom on my part, but I think we find ourselves too often making Christianity out to be more about what we are against, rather than just letting it be simply what it is.
I was never presented with any sound logic, just legalistic lessons on the evil that lived in the secular.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…just don’t get too close to them. Maybe scream it at them from afar. Write it in big letters on a sign even.
Jesus’ blood covered all sin….just not the cooties you get from cavorting with world.
I don’t know man. That’s separatism. And Jesus wasn’t a separatist.
Jesus was the divine personified.
Purity meets pollution.
I’m not advocating for humanism. I don’t believe the end all be all of my existence is my happiness. There are cultural waters that must be navigated with the seeking of wisdom.
But when one of my students shows me a video by Avenged Sevenfold on his phone I won’t vilify it or him, but simply ask what he likes about it.
We have to stop demonizing creation and start pursuing hearts.
I don’t think a paradox is something you can live in for long.
And the commingling of evangelism and separation is a paradox that plagues the pulpit.
C.S. Lewis once said, “What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects-with their Christianity latent.”
Lewis called for Christians to get out of the Christian Living section at book stores and desired to see the best books on Geology, Botany, Politics, Astronomy…etc to be books written by Christians but with any Christian agenda to only exist naturally underneath true science, because “Science twisted in the interests of (Christian) apologetics would be sin and folly.”
And whatever hypocrisy may exist in these quotes from a man who pretty much stayed put in the Christian book section I still resonate with those words.
Though Lewis didn’t excel at Christian subtext as well as his companion J.R.R. Tolkien did and though they both came at the subject from different viewpoints; Lewis wanting Christians to write about other subjects knowing their faith would come through and Tolkien’s believing that there was no need to crowbar the Gospel into his fiction as the Gospel would present itself, I think they both championed the same belief:
If God created everything then everything bears the fingerprint of God if we are willing to see it.
Christians can write about other things outside of Christianity.
If Christ is alive in us Christ will shine through us.
Non-Christian art made by non-Christian artists still carries the workmanship of Christ.
Separation is a lie orchestrated and carried out by the liar that desires the absence of Christ followers in the world he roams like a roaring lion.
Christianity can’t exist on one side of a line drawn in the sand if Christ is the creator of both sides of the line. We all belong on the opposing side of Jesus but thankfully through the embrace of God through Jesus’ ministry of a broken earth that line disappeared and we are able to be with Him.
It is easier for a wolf to steal a sheep when the shepards are inside talking about how great it is to be human.
Self-righteousness is the stealing of a crown we are not fit to wear. Jesus is our righteousness.
For the record, I did have a great home church, great youth group and awesome youth pastor as kid.
And though my pastor never did come around on my t-shirt choices he was and still is a great guy.
But the fact remains, as cool as it was to be a part of a youth group that was 150+ students, Christianity was just at a high peak of trendiness when I was young.
And fashion is fleeting.
Eventually what is cool isn’t.
I saw too many people throw Jesus in the trash with their WWJD bracelets as I got older and Christianity’s popularity went out the door with boy bands and popped collars.
I can only speak from my own experience and observations but most abandoned church when it stopped meeting their criteria of cool and those of us that survived mostly became cynical and overly critical of the church.
In case you haven’t picked up on that already.
I see this trend of trends in Church returning.
But in a way more subtle and maybe more dangerous way.
I am seeing a problem amongst Christians who are under the impression that church is meant to cater to them and churches are all too willing to oblige.
Because once “cool” is brought into the equation so is competition and competition means opposing sides and supposedly a house divided cannot stand.
If pubic school was a part of your life you understand the weight of “cool” from one side of it or the other.
The pressure of keeping up with the constant incoming and outgoing trends of music, fashion, technology and art just to stay cool.
Or the ostracization that comes with not being “cool” by the surrounding social standards.
Church can be uncomfortable enough without adding the pressure of needing to feel cool enough to be there.
The idea of “cool” breeds resentment, bitterness, pressure and competition.
Competition between churches should not exist but it does.
I have spent all summer really bothered by my inability to wrap my mind around so many churches, so many pastors and so many Christians in one small town that don’t really do life together because they a part of different churches.
As if a difference in doxologies and liturgies is a difference in Gods and Gospels.
I think the existence of so many churches in my small town is evidence of too many unnecessary church plants or church splits in the the past. Which means too many people have looked at existing churches and felt they didn’t suit their standards and planted their own despite the existence of a church already planted and working.
Even if the argument was made that the existing church was heretical or lazy and complacent wouldn’t it be better to enter into serving that church to correct and/or challenge it as opposed to just starting another?
And the few church plants I’ve watched happen here have really only attracted people that were already members of an existing church. Just offered a more attractive option in which to worship.
When did church become about us?
I think we have inadvertently created an environment in which we are competing for the already existing pool of Christians and lost the true understanding of local evangelism by openly being a part of a whole community of people.
Jesus’ ministry was intentional and pretty much just hanging out with people and sticking to His guns with the occasional magic trick thrown in. He sent his disciples out to do life with people. Jesus didn’t pick a spot and create a Passion conference with NeedtoBreathe style worship and charismatic speakers with a sick laser light show to draw people to Him. Which I assume would have been extra mind blowing back then.
Jesus draws people to Him with love and compassion and grace.
All the church needs to draw people is Jesus.
If a church preaches the Gospel and Jesus dead and risen again then that church shoud be perfectly acceptable for any Christian to attend, even if the worship isn’t your preference or the speaker isn’t wearing skinny jeans.
Are we too concerned with the inside of the church instead of the world outside the doors?
Has the emphasis shifted from seeking sound biblical doctrine from the pulpit to being more concerned with the number of people sitting in the pews?
Don’t get me wrong. I desire to see every church overflowing on Sundays but not at the expense of the Gospel.
But the church isn’t meant to be a platform for current trend, edgy, little “t” theologies and personal opinions on piety.
It’s not a stage for musicians who are still playing rock star and run out of stages except the ones in the church.
Gospel and worship have to be void of selfishness and riddled with our need for Grace.
Jesus is people friendly enough without us baiting people to Him.
Does the church play hymns or Hillsong?
What’s the average age of the congregation?
Does the pastor look like he could be in the band Mumford and Sons?
The questions are irrelevant but unfortunately prevalent.
Before I climb to high up on my horse…
I’m guilty of it. I am currently building stage dressing for our church just because I think it needs to look nicer. I don’t have any spiritual reasoning. Can God speak on a bland stage? Yep. So are the stage aesthetics important? Nope.
I am not a theologian or head pastor of a large church that has figured out the perfect way to exist.
I just know a church should not be defined by anything other than Christ.
I am a guy who came out of some ministries that have I feel were too focused on image and I have allowed bitterness and cynicism to grow inside of me for it.
I cannot and never will understand the notion of pastor with a $100 fedora, $300 jeans and bathed in a lighting system that cost tens of thousands of dollars standing on a stage pleading with a congregation to financially support the churches “need” for a coffee shop and it’s own IPA to support the new “Bible and Beer” ministry.
By the way my church will be starting a Coffee & Theology ministry on Sunday mornings at 9am in January in an attempt to appeal to a younger demographic.
Don’t preach unless you are willing to preach to yourself.
I don’t have answers. Maybe we will always be guilty of jazzing up church in order to appeal to people and maybe this will always breed this unspoken competition between churches.
I hope not.
I can only challenge other churches and be responsible in my position of leadership for my own.
But if your church is fighting change, hates worship that doesn’t come from a hymnal, fears young people and the average age of your members in the mid 60’s I urge you to seek the wisdom in what a younger generation can bring to your church. Your church will only last as long as your youngest member by the way.
And if your church is trying to do the opposite and stay young forever, only seeking that 18-35 year old congregation there is immense value to be found in older people who have experienced the things you’ve yet to face. Don’t limit yourself to college campuses and coffee shops and forget that there is an entire community that exists.
If your church is complacent in its resources, bank account and nice facilities and you assume that these things will do all the work for you then I challenge you to reconsider relying on finite things to achieve an infinite goal.
I struggle a lot.
I am outspoken to a flaw when it comes to ministry.
Some people will read this and love it because it’s vulnerable and convicting.
Some will read it and hate it because it’s vulnerable and convicting.
Or because my pretentiousness sneaks through too many times.
I have spent two weeks writing this post, constantly fighting my urge to point fingers and call churches out and add to my already long list of people who don’t like me, let alone respect me.
And this is more of a confession than anything else.
I know that I have an intense and sinful desire to elevate the social status of my church because my status elevates with it.
My desire to cast blame on the faults I see in churches is reflected back to expose that they are really just my own faults that I don’t want to own up to.
I want to be worshipped.
I am prone to worship at my own alter.
I lose sight and miss the point of my ministry often.
I am blessed to be a part of a church that is growing but I still myself unsatisfied in that it doesn’t look, feel, sound like the church I want.
We are a church with a congregation who’s average age is twice that of the average age of the staff. It’s a unique situation but I’ve gotten to watch multiple generations learn to coexist and be challenged in being uncomfortable embracing things outside of their preference.
And it has been cool.
I’m not saying we have it figured out. I’m saying that we’ve been going through a lot of growing pains and learning as we go. There has been butting of heads over the trivial and the journey has been long and it’s one that never really ends.
The church can’t be marked by adjective distinctions that separate.
Don’t be the traditional church.
Don’t be the liberal church.
Don’t be the political church.
Don’t be the hipster church.
Don’t be the young church.
Don’t be the old church.
Don’t be the contmeporary church.
Just be the Church.
P.S. The situation going on in my church that I think sparked my “I am kind of sick of church” comment that day has been an incredible growing experience in my church.
And despite the marketable, shock jock title of this blog that should be on the cover of the next Pop Christianity book I don’t think it’s that controversial of a statement.
I think every Christian has felt it.
People burn out on anything that is constantly prevalent in their lives. It why sabbaticals exist. I’m supposed to have one in December…maybe sooner after people in my church read this and start questioning my mental state.
I want to again say that I possess zero seminary degrees and I am not a theologian or church expert. I’m not even sure if “church expert” is a real thing or what qualifies someone as a theologian other than forfeiting you first and middle name for just their initials.
This blog is nothing more than my thoughts and opinions and attempt at transparency.
P.S.S. If you read all of this you could have probably read a modestly sized book instead. You should manage your time better.
P.S.S.S. Thanks for reading.