I grew up in the church. I’ve been loved in the church. I’ve been burned by the church. I’ve defended the church. I’ve attacked the church. I’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt, donated the t-shirt to charity, rebought the t-shirt because it was ironic to wear, threw the t-shirt in the attic, and now wear the t-shirt again because I love the church. Wrinkles and all.
Here are a few of my qualifications (I hate that word, but can’t think of another) for writing this post. I was born the son of a preacha’ man. He planted three churches, so by proxy, I planted three churches. I have a degree in Bible and Theology from the Assemblies of God and have been an active participant in the Church for nearly decades. I tithe, I serve on a worship team, I lead a men’s small group and am in the middle of leading four men through a discipleship plan. I care deeply about the church. So when I hear about people leaving the church in droves it pains me. I love the church in all its flaws.
In a recent post titled, “Dear Church, Here’s Why People Are Really Leaving You,” John PavLovitz gives five straight forward reasons why he, and many others, are leaving the church. I’m certain someone has written a rebuttal to Mr. PavLovitz and that its gotten its fair share of acclaim as this post has, but that’s not my aim here. A Facebook friend, and acquaintance posted this on my wall and asked for my opinions about the piece. I read it and gave it about five hours to stew around in my head.
I will attempt to systematically address Mr. PavLovitz’s issues with the American Church, and maybe my response will help someone who is also considering evacuating corporate religion.
1. Your Sunday productions have worn thin.
I’m sorry hurt people that we tried to lure you into our building with the theatrical. Rock n Roll is fun, but you’re right, the lights and fog and excessive attempts to keep up with the world’s standards of entertainment have caught up with us. We can’t keep up. I’m sorry that we tried.
I agree that we need to tone down the crazy. I feel that having the band on the side or behind the congregation is best. We’re not worshiping music, we’re using music to worship God. There is an element of setting a mood or tone for worship by dimming the lights and having excellent music.
We need to worship God in the way that he created us, but that certainly necessitate the elaborate light shows. There is a certain quote that I try to live by in terms of my faith that says, “What you lead them with is what you lead them toward.” I think that trying to lead you with the show didn’t lead you anywhere, much less the heart of God.
2. You speak in a foreign tongue.
I’m sorry hurt people that we have made a click with our language. It does bother me as well that we have our “Christianese.” Phrases such as, “Love on them” and others need to go (see some more here). There are certain words (sanctification and justification for example) that cannot leave our vocabulary. The world does not have another way to describe the miraculous work of God in the lives of Christians (I do hope that wasn’t too foreign sounding, because it’s seriously miraculous). It may be weird to be told about being “born again” but that is literally what happens when you take a former drug addict and let Christ renew their life; they are born again (Teen Challenge is a great ministry that leads people to life renewal).
Remember when you got to High School and there were all these cliques who had inside jokes and their own language? or college? or the working world? Every social circle we are a part of has its own language, and so there are phrases tend to be adopted.
I have a friend that I’m trying to introduce to Jesus, and I find that my “Christianese” does more damage than good. It’s hard to break bad habits, but I’ll certainly work on using language that is basic and yet still fully conveys the good (read great) news of Jesus.
3. Your vision can’t see past your building
Dear hurt person, I’m sorry that we have valued buildings more than people. We have turned the church into a building, instead of the church being the living organism that displays the love of Jesus to the world through our actions and words. We have defined our buildings as the holy place and made it your job to get inside to be cookie-cut into the Ken or Barbie that God wants you to be.
You are an individual and you are valuable as you are. I’ve made a conscious effort to engage my neighbors on my physical street. It’s hard. We’ve snow blown driveways, delivered meals to sick older people, dropped off holiday cookies and made our home open to share a party with our neighbors. My family is trying to be the church to our neighbors, but the place that we want others to join us in the journey is on Sunday too. We want to engage daily in homes as well as at a place of worship.
4. You choose lousy battles
Dear hurt people, I’m sorry that we’ve chosen to die on bad hills. We have a tendency to crucify our own (See Rob Bell, Mark Driscoll, Francis Chan) for small things, while seldom shining the limelight on the real issues of the world.
When Jesus said, “The world will know you are my disciples by your love for one another” (John 13:35) I’m certain he did not intend for their to be 10 bajillion Christian denominations. We have churches called “non-denominational” now because of all the fighting that comes inside of denominational churches. It’s a serious problem.
The Chik-Fil-A, Hobby Lobby and Duck Dynasty stories are what are on the news. What you don’t see on the news is the group of four girls who graduated from a local Christian college then flew overseas to a hostile country to learn the language and share Jesus through the Gospel and physical helps. What you don’t hear on the news is about the church small groups who weekly join non-profits to aid world hunger and jump on food trucks to deliver food to the homeless in St. Paul. You don’t hear about these things partially because the world doesn’t want to hear about the good Christians are doing and partially because Christians who really believe in the mission of Jesus are not looking for a news camera to highlight their charity.
I’m very sorry every time I hear about politicians who use Jesus to go further up the ladder. Jesus didn’t participate in any political process, he paid taxes and stayed out of their business. Why? Because politics don’t change people, the God’s Spirit does. So when the people who have God’s Spirit in them participate in serving the sufferers of the world things change.
5. Your love doesn’t look like love
Dear hurt people, I’m sorry that we haven’t loved you fully. Yes, you can cuss. Yes, you can get tattoos (I have a few myself). Yes, you can vote democrat (though wouldn’t you rather vote Nader?). We have certainly created a hyper conservative box to place people in, and if you don’t we will let you know. It’s wrong, and I’m quite remorseful for it.
When defining things such as love, marriage, heaven, hell and all other doctrine we try to use the Bible. We didn’t write it. We just believe it. We teach it. We TRY (Capital, bold, underline) to live it. We’re not going to do it perfectly. But we will keep on trying, by God’s grace, to embody the vision of love Jesus had for the world.
You’re not the first to echo these sentiments. Gandhi was the first to be quoted as saying, “‘I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” But it is impossible to be the image of Christ that the world demands while on earth. We can’t become the son of God, we can only attempt to mimic his life and attitude. Paul wrote, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.”
We are a dim image of Jesus, but even a dim light is better than no light. A room with one dim candle can help you avoid bumping into couches but a room full of dim candles will make everything clear. The church is full of dim candles trying to illuminate the world to the truth of God. And we’re sorry for being anything other than a light to the world.
A way to resolve the conflict?
Yes, our problems have mounted to a point where people are leaving the church. But I would ask that you give us another chance; not one or two but thousands upon thousands. Jesus calls to forgive others over and over again (Matt. 18:22). The church does love you and the church does want you to join us in the journey to know God.
Here’s how I recommend we do this better together.
1. Do life together
I always recommend that Christians to life together. Jesus spent three years with twelve guys who were thieves, tax collectors, fishermen (smelly!) and doubters. If you don’t like the church today, you would have hated it then. But Jesus bore their disgusting humanity and taught them a better way.
Today we try to follow this better way. Sunday mornings are not enough time to learn about the way. It needs to be daily. Join a small group or a men’s/women’s bible study. Get nitty-gritty in the faith. Share your pains and joys with others as they share theirs with you and I guarantee you will find a faith worth dying AND living for!
2. Serve together
The most fun one can have on this planet is in giving. Better than jumping out of planes, climbing mountains, having sex, getting drunk or getting tattoos. The greatest joy in life is in giving. What better way for you to really be a part of the church than to join it in the mission to help others.
There are countless non-profits and para-church ministries that serve this broken world. You can give money to help stop human-trafficking. You can give time to a food shelf or soup kitchen to serve the needy in your community. You can help at a prison teaching inmates practical life skills that will not only help them for a lifetime of success but also bring families back together AND minimize the taxpayers responsibility. That’s a win, win, win. And it’s done by obeying Jesus’ call to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit the prisoner and take care of the widow and orphans.
3. Seek Him Fully
Last, but most importantly, is the need to seek after God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength. This doesn’t mean saying, “I’m searching for a spiritual reality” and never reading a single book to discover any truth. I’m SO worn out on people saying they are spiritual but just use it as an excuse to not live by any convictions greater than their own moral relativity.
To seek after God means abandoning ourselves to an adventure that will cost us our life. It means praying for God to reveal himself, and reading the scriptures for illumination from God’s Spirit, and spending time in meditation and fasting and solitude. There is so much to the Christian faith that can be experienced we should not limit it to any one exercise.
I hope you accept my apology on behalf of the church. If I ever plant a church I hope to be the type of leader that brings people to faith, not cause them to run from it. As I said at the front of this note, I have been hurt by the church deeply. Still, I have never been loved so much as when I have been by the church. Forgive our sins, and join us on the journey of faith. We don’t have it figured out, but our God does and he has appointed the church as his ambassador to the world.
We do love you. I love you. Jesus loves you.