There seem to be quite a few folks out there extremely disillusioned with their churches. I can completely empathize. I have been part of my church for over a decade and trust me- I know and I GET it more than I ever wanted to.
Things usually go along these lines: Things are moving too slowly, people are crazy, people are lazy, people have problems, our vision seems to wander off to Alaska every three months, our youth is disappearing, half of our worship group is about to quit, and the pastor is exhausted with battling with stubborn sheep, and does anyone even care??
If this resonates at all, read on. Hopefully I can articulate a few things that may help.
Basically, every church has problems simply because it has people. However, without people, there is no church. Therefore, we have a choice: we can walk away as victims (citing that everyone hurt us (not realizing that you hurt others as well) and disobey the Word of God (Hebrews 10:2)) OR we can learn, grow, serve in, and help our churches.
Today, I am an advocate of the second option. I honestly wasn’t at first (I desperately wanted to leave and go back to Bible school) but here is a glimpse of what I have learned in this past year on how to be part of the local church, with its warts and all:
So to those disillusioned with your church, here are some questions to ask yourself.
1.) First two questions:
Are you giving (tithing) to the church?
Are you serving in the church?
I was not at a point and because of this, I was extremely disassociated from the workings and well being of the church. So if you are not tithing or serving, get on that. If you are not producing, you are consuming. If you are not participating as a member, then you are a customer and last time I checked – church isn’t a mall, it’s a Body. This leads me to the next question:
2.) Are you a bench warmer criticizing those who actively serve in the church? Or a Monday quarterback? Backseat driver?
I totally was! (Still am sometimes to be honest). I think to an extent, we all are. If yes, how do I put this gently?
Hush. Please. Just hush. (Yes me too.) Last time I checked, there is not a single place in the New Testament that lists “loud mouth critic” under the gifts of the Spirit or ministries to the Body.
Folks have shared how completely demoralizing it is to see you come service after service, agree with all the theology, and yet be completely unmoved to action and service within the Body. So when you come up to me acting like you are Jesus’s chief consultant– Lord help me, but I’d like to sign you for the Mars colonization project.
Can I put it this way? If you are not serving in the church, please do not be a grievance and a ball and chain to those who are serving. Do not nitpick their faults. Do not broadcast their failures. They are human too. Instead, honor them. Pray for them. Respect them. Encourage them. Moreover, consider joining them.
I learned this one the hard way in a different way. While I didn’t disrespect them, I was completely callous to the work they were doing already. When I came back from Bible school, I could quickly identify certain structural issues that were at the core of many of our problems. I have nary a subtle bone in my body and I quickly shared the problems as I saw them with our ministry team. (These folks give up almost every free evening of their schedules to participate and serve in church activities.) They looked at me, one of the women close to tears, and said “We already know about those problems.” Not only did I realize that they knew these issues more intimately than I did, they also hurt over them more keenly than I as a bench warmer ever could. Which brings me to my next point.
3.) In small churches folks who are serving are probably doing more than one thing. We have folks in youth ministry leading worship feeding the church at least once every month for our fellowship meal. With the famous words of Bilbo from the Shire, most folks serving in churches “feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” When you come up to them with an administrative issue, chances are that they already know about that issue and there isn’t just enough of them to go around.
So here is an idea: what if you take ownership of the problem you see? Let us make this clear: Church, worship, youth group, missional community – these things are not products and you are not a customer. These are fellowship, ministry, hard work, and the Body of Christ functioning. Why don’t you, instead of being a consumer or a critic, become a co-laborer in the fields?
The key word here is – co-laborer or coworker. Not boss, not executive, not a replacement for the Spirit or Jesus – but a coworker willing to give up time, effort, money; a coworker who rolls up their sleeves and commits; a coworker who encourages those who are serving and sticks through the hard and harder times; a coworker willing to submit to existing leadership and structure and most importantly – willing to learn.
Now for those laboring already, take heart.
“Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” -Galatians 6:9
Are the workers few?
“Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” -Matthew 9:38
Are your priorities aligned?
Here is a rather illuminating story:
“A humble gardener presents a bunch of carrots to his king because he so esteems and loves his sovereign. The king rewards his love with a plot of land so he can continue to bless his kingdom. A courtier sees this and thinks, ‘An acre of land for a bunch of carrots—what a deal!’ So the next day the courtier presents the king with a magnificent horse. The wise king, discerning his heart, simply accepts the gift with a ‘Thank you.’ When the courtier is disconsolate, the king explains, ‘The gardener gave me the carrots, but you have given yourself the horse. You gave not for love of me but for love of yourself in the hope of a reward.’
Are you feeding the hungry or are you feeding yourself? Are you clothing the naked or are you seeking your own reward? Are you serving God or serving yourself? The Bible talks often of reward, but that reward is God himself—the joy of knowing and pleasing the God we love and in whom we delight.” (Spurgeon & Tim Chester, You Can Change)
“If God exists and has revealed himself, getting the right things done means doing the things God wants done — and in the way he wants them done” (Matt Perman, What’s Best Next).
Is your heart right?
“Your own heart must be right with God or you will know little about the way of making others so. Example must support exhortation, or the latter will have little effect.
Much of the effort of the present day is sadly lacking in devout seriousness, spiritual earnestness, and holy solemnity. It is a bustling, prayerless, unsanctified activity. There is, in too many, a frivolity about it that looks as if those who are engaged in it know not, or forget, that they are doing the work of the Lord—all is so light and trifling that it is evident in this case zeal is only another species of amusement.
The zeal that is likely to be continuous, to honor God, to do good to our fellow-creatures, is that which is cherished in the closet of devotion, fed by the oil of Scripture, and fanned by the breath of prayer. (James John, Female Piety)”
There is honestly so much more to say but as someone just beginning to pick up my plow in the field and for the sake of brevity (if it’s not too late for that) – I will stop here. :)