I Know, Church Sucks. But…

church sucks

Connor:  Yo, Brian- what’s goin on?  Hey, I wanted to share something with you because I thought you might be the kind of person to talk about this with.  I hope what I have to share will make sense to you and that you wont think less of me for sharing.  So…  I have to admit that I am beginning to think that church sucks and is a complete waste of time.  I mean, its probably good for kids, they need to learn about jesus and the Bible and stuff like that.  And its probably helpful for a former meth addict or someone that is trying to reach out to their Higher Power to find sobriety.   After all, anything that may help them is a good thing, right? But I think for me and my friends- church just seems pointless.  Church sucks.  It almost seems like going to church is not good for us at all.

I hope this makes some sense.  I know you are a Pastor and Seminary Professor and that sort of thing- I don’t mean to offend you.  If I have, forgive me.  But most pastors and churches are not like you.

It seems to me like nearly all pastors and churches are just downright hateful.  They hate immigrants.  They hate smart people.  They hate democrats.  They hate people that party occasionally and travel and enjoy their lives.  They hate people that read and think for themselves.  Don’t you think that most churches and pastors are like this???

When I go to church, I just get pissed off.  Who does this pastor think he is?  Does he know that he is ignorant and going off on things when he has no freakin’ idea at all about what he is talking about?  And then there are all of these Fox News head-nodders there, retired people there who just love it.  They just eat his stuff up.  The kind of people that would disown their own kid if he was gay or try to de-gay him or something like that.  And it just drives me freakin’ crazy!!!  I mean come on- aren’t these the kind of people that would have rejected Jesus?  So I begin to think- why I am showing up?  I regularly leave ticked off and tempted to email that pastor and drop f-bombs on him.  This is why church sucks.  So I guess what I am asking, or at least what I am admitting to you and asking for some feedback, is that I feel like I would probably be a better person if I didn’t go to church, right?  If I stayed home or went to breakfast at Denny’s with a friend, I’d probably have a better time and not be so angry with the fascist preacher and his minions.  Does that make sense to you or do you think that I’ve went off the deep end?

Brian:  Hey Connor- good to hear from you!  And thanks for being soooo…. honest.  You know, you are not the only one who has shared that they feel like “church sucks” with me.  I am sorry that this has been your experience…

Yes, it is true that there are plenty of churches like the one you described.  (But remember, all churches are not like this.)  And I agree with you, I do not think this is the Way of Jesus.  I can also get frustrated at times with some pastors and some of the junk that I see on that “Christian” station I land on now and then when surfing through Comcast channels.  Yeah, it can be gross.

But a few things:

1. It helps me, at least sometimes, to try to remember where these people are coming from. Not what they preach and believe, but why they preach and believe these things. Some of these people are just scared.  They are older and over their lifetime, it seems to them like everything has changed.  They feel like (even if you and I might not agree with them) that young people have become rebellious and immoral and are so different from what they were like when they were young.  They may have even had their hearts broken as they watched their kids struggle through unwed pregnancies, divorces, addictions, etc.  They feel like our culture is just spinning out of control.  They feel like the world (at least the world as they knew it) is coming to an end and they feel like they are under siege from all kinds of different lifestyles and beliefs.  (Hence the obsession with “end times” theology.)  They feel like they have to fight to still have a place in this world.  They are battling others to prove to themselves that their experiences, and the way they have lived their lives, really do matter.  What often comes across like hate (and what may actually be hate at times) comes from a deep-seated fear for themselves and the future of their children and grandchildren.  This does not mean that everything they do and and say is the right thing.  Not at all!  But know that it comes from fear.  I do think they could use some compassion from some of us.  Even if they do not seem to offer compassion to others.

2. Additionally, some of them actually lived pretty wild lives when they were younger. They partied hard, they became alcoholics, they went through divorces and depression, etc. and they were literally in danger of losing their own lives. And at some point, when they hit bottom, they found a church or preacher that made the Bible (and right and wrong) very clear to them and they felt a strong amount of conviction.  They “asked Jesus into their hearts” and sobered up and worked on their relationships, etc. and everything got much, much better for them.  So to them- it is pretty simple: believe what the Bible says (in a very simple and literal way), avoid partying, and the world, and people that sleep around, and you will find a whole new life.  These people really would not have found life through any kind of nuanced understanding of Jesus and His vision for human beings.  At least when they were at the bottom, they needed something that was extremely black and white to save them from themselves.  A nuanced faith would have not saved them in their original state.  But unfortunately, they also think that this is how everyone else needs to find and follow Jesus forever.  So as much as you can, try to keep this in mind.

3. There are other types of churches that deal with Jesus and the Bible in more varied shades of grey. (No pun intended here!) Many mainline churches: United Methodist, Episcopal, some Presbyterians, some Lutherans, many Roman Catholics (the current Pope is a pretty cool guy), etc. would value some of the things that you do: Creation Care, Social Justice, caring for the poor, welcoming all kinds of people, etc.  Maybe you should try one of those?

Connor: Yeah, I may need to think about some of that.  I guess it makes sense about what you are saying about the fear and living screwed up lives and getting saved and all of that.  But I still cant stand it.  It doesn’t change the fact that church sucks for me and some of my friends.  Did they truly find slavation if they come across as so hateful?  If I hear “love the sinner but hate the sin” one more time, I’m either going to throw up or hit them in the face!!!  Do you truly have to become ugly and racist and everything if you find God?  I don’t really buy that.

I did try going to an Episcopal church (that is just down the road from me) a few times.  They had a woman pastor, which was cool, and the church was certainly not fundamentalist or anything.  But man Brian, I don’t think I want to go there either.  We had to do a bunch of rituals that were just kind of boring.  I tried to get into them, but they just didn’t seem real.  They felt like something that we “had” to do.  And the sermon surely wasn’t ugly or offensive, but it was also kind of boring.  It was only for like ten minutes but it felt like half an hour.  It was kind of cheesy and reminded me of that one skit on SNL that is supposed to be like NPR: whispered voices, forced smiles, so fake and nice that it came across as inauthentic.  It was like a cross between a sappy funeral speech and a watered-down academic lecture.  And I think this is why I feel like church sucks and is so hopeless for me right now.  There are churches that have energy and good music and passionate people- but they seem so narrow-minded.  And then there are churches that are closer to my beliefs- at least in regards to politics and stuff- but they are just freakin’ boring.  I think this is why finding the right kind of church for me just seems impossible.

Brian: Again, I am really sorry Connor that this has been your experience.  I’ve been there before too, when one church seems extreme in one direction, and another church seems extreme in another direction.  That gets old fast.

But I think this what human beings tend to do.  Finding the center with Jesus is not very easy.  Some of us have lived some messy lives and so going to an “in your face church” that “just gives it straight” seems appealing, at least for a while.  The world is a complex and sometimes scary place, and so many people are hungry for very clear and simple answers.  But if we keep journeying with Jesus, and we grow past the initial stages of needing to be told exactly what we should do, we begin to grow different values like loving people who are very different from us, and compassion for the hurting, and appropriate tolerance for other people, and realizing that God is way more mysterious than we first assumed, etc. When that happens, people often tire of the more fundamentalist churches and then try a more liberal church.

But many liberal churches also have their problems.  Some of them (but not all of them) are led and attended by people whose main goal is simply to not be ugly fundamentalists.  And so they create a culture where it seems that nearly everything is accepted and where there is rarely a Biblical challenge at all.  Additionally, they are so afraid of being “consumeristic churches”, that they almost purposefully make the worship service boring and rote.  I don’t think this is what they intend to do, but it is often what actually happens.  (And that is part of why most of these churches are on the verge of collapse.  Conservative churches, for all of their problems, at least offer something that helps people who are drowning: relevant clarity.  But many mainline churches offer neither clarity nor relevance.  At their worst, they are merely temporary havens for ex-conservatives and for people who want a vague spirituality that never really confronts them.)

Again, I think this is because Jesus is really, really hard to pin down or capture.  (Actually, we can never pin Him down.  He’s the human face of God after all!  He will never completely fit within any of our boxes or systems.)  If you go too far with Biblical literalism and knowing exactly how everyone should live, you end up becoming crystalized in a kind of “anti-the world” stance.  But, if you see those problems and you want an approach that is more open-minded, knowing that God is bigger than these overly simple answers, you often end up with a church that is lifeless, drab, and so “tolerant” that it feels like a Holy and transcendent God never reveals Himself during worship.

I am not sure what to say.  But maybe church sucks for you because you are actually growing?  Faith in Jesus seems to be very clear and certain when people first believe.  Later, if they keep maturing, they realize that the Creator of the universe is bigger than any of the simple answers they have been given, and so they enter into a phase where everything is grey and uncertain.  But that doesn’t really work either.  Not in the long run.  Maybe you are maturing in your walk with Jesus?  As long as you don’t actually hit anyone in the face and you make sure that you throw up privately in the bathroom!  😉  If you keep tracking with Him, you will likely find that you grow to a point where almost no church completely “does it for you.”  And that’s okay.  Following Jesus is the narrow road, you won’t be like most people if you continue to track with Him.  You’ll be too liberal for some, and maybe even (gasp!), too conservative for others.  And that’s probably the way it should be.  But at some point, you just pick a church, not because you agree with everything, but because you chose to be in community with other people.  You go not to get something- but to give something.  Ever thought of that?

Connor: Well, I dunno…  I hear what you are saying.  And the thing about fundamentalist churches being one way and liberal churches being the other way, that makes some sense.  But it doesn’t make it easier.  It’s still true that church sucks.  Why cant there be churches that are in the middle?  I don’t mean churches that are bland and moderate, but churches that are into Jesus but not into right-wing or left-wing (at least theologically, I am a little more left-wing politically) and just try to be relevant and interesting without getting too extreme with some kind of personal agenda?  Why cant churches be like that?  I want to go to that kind of church!

Brian: I hear you Connor.  Again, I know it is frustrating.  And this doesn’t make things any easier for you, but I think churches lean right or lean left because most people seem to lean right or lean left.  Remember, in the United States, we only have “free” churches.  We don’t have state churches.  In the U.S. churches are run on the financial donations and volunteer hours put in by normal people.  And most Americans are usually motivated by being right-wing (and contra the left-wing) or being left-wing (and contra the right-wing.)  That is what gets most Americans amped up and willing to invest in a church.  It makes them feel like they are part of God’s minority fighting the good fight against the other side.  (You mentioned NPR earlier, do you know why they and PBS don’t get the ratings of Fox News or MSNBC?  Because they receive federal funds, they don’t worry about ratings.  Cable news and political radio are about making money- and that is why they take a very purposed slant on everything.  To appeal to a certain customer base.  It gets people up in arms and the eyeballs and ears and advertising dollars roll in.  Churches, unfortunately, are very similar to cable news and political radio that way.  They feel like they have to be.)  I don’t think this is what Jesus is like or how He ministered when He was here with us.  But that is the way most Americans see things.  And in a “free church system” Pastors will cater to wherever the people are.  After all, if they publicly came across in a way that was very different from most people- they would be out of work.

Again Connor, I hear you and I empathize with you.  But this is the way things are right now.  I know it won’t be much fun, but I would still encourage you to get involved in a church somewhere, anywhere, not because you agree with them, but so that you can give to the others who are there.  And at some point, the benefit of church is in the discipline of sticking with it.  If I am right that you are maturing in your faith, it will mean that you have to hold your nose and get involved in order to give and not to receive.  (I think Jesus said that too- right?)  Jesus was rejected by both the right and the left and they both banded together to crucify Him.  And yet, He still loved them both.  To avoid all churches because of their extremes is understandable, but I would also suggest, that it might also be caving in to religious consumerism.  If you only go to a church that you like or agree with- are you not being a consumer who is demanding your own preference of religious goods and services?

Love you brother, it was good chatting with you!  I wonder if anyone else has any thoughts on these matters.  Maybe they would like to chime in on our conversation?

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Comments

  1. Pamela Derrer says

    Pray ask God what church you should go to.. Lots of times God tell us to do something, but does not tell us anything else. It may take a long time til you know. But I do know that God wants us to gather in His name . God bless you Penny

  2. John says

    Great conversation! It is good to keep in mind that Jesus didn’t come for those who were well, but He came for those who were sick. The ones who do not have it together. His church reflects people who are not well. We are not whole people. It is easy to try to find a church that meets our need, however, the church is a variable in the equation, but not the sum total to be the answer we need.There has to be an eventual encounter with Jesus. He is the source, and when His people do not keep themselves connected to Him, it is a lot easier for their faults to show that proves they need Him.

    If I had advice, I would encourage anyone to take a season to seek Jesus and ask Him to lead them to a church. As far as I know, If we are living a life for Him His leading won’t take us to the wrong place. It doesn’t mean it will be comfortable, but it will be His will. If His will is not the goal, then who are we really serving? The answer to that question will cut through a lot of frustration or create more if we can’t handle the truth of the answer. Thanks for opening up the conversation. Great thoughts!!

  3. Randy says

    Why can’t we understand and follow scripture? Why does mankind always try and “re-write” scripture to Fit what they want it to say……whether to the right or to the left?

    • Brian Ross says

      Randy,

      Good questions- two responses:

      1. There really is no such thing as simply “understanding and following scripture.” Clearly, any committed Jesus-person should do their best and should take the posture of trying to learn from and sitting under scripture. But we all bring in our own biases, opinions, backgrounds, etc. to the Bible with us. Any reading of church or theological history reveals this. Christians of 200 years ago were rather different in their particular understandings of the Bible and the particular angles they took on it than we do now. And 200 years from now, people will see things we do not now. But this isnt an all bad thing- if God is personal, well then, God connects with us in our stories, perspectives, etc. If He didnt- He would not be knowable.

      2. But yes, this is different than trying to get the Bible to say what I want it to say. Scripture calls this idolatry. Either making something into a god, or turning the God, into the God that we want. And of course- the conservatives say that the liberals do this and the liberals say that the conservatives do this- and they are both right. As Anne Lamott says, “You know you have made God into your image when you think He hates the same people that you do.”

  4. D Ronk says

    From his book The Prodigal God, Tim Keller writes:
    “We live in a culture in which the interests and desires of the individual take precedence over those of the family, group , or community. As a result, a high percentage of people want to achieve spiritual growth without losing their independence to a church or to any organized institution. . . Yet staying away from them simply because they have elder brothers is just another form of self-righteousness. Besides that, there is no way you will be able to grow spiritually apart from a deep involvement in a community of other believers. You can’t live the Christian life without a band of Christian friends, without a family of believers in which you find a place. . . Lewis is saying that it took a community to know an individual. How much more would this be true of Jesus Christ? Christians commonly say they want a relationship with Jesus, that they want to “get to know Jesus better.” You will never be able to do that by yourself. You must be deeply involved in the church, in Christian community, with strong relationships of love and accountability. Only if you are part of a community of believers seeking to resemble, serve, and love Jesus will you ever get to know him and grow into his likeness.” Keller, Timothy (2008-09-25). The Prodigal God (p. 127). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.

    The quotes above are in reference to the parable of the Prodigal Son. But the truth is we need each other. We cannot and will not understand the fulness of the Godhead without each other. We will not be fully know ourselves or acquaintances except as we are understood in the context of relationship with others. If two people are in conversation they will learn somewhat about each other. When we introduce a third person the interaction between the three of us will allow us insight into each other that we could never get without the interjection of the third personality. Multiplicity enhances the individual as well as the whole.

    Find a body and get involved. Finding the right body for you to become fully alive is a challenge worth perusing.

  5. Dan VM says

    I’ll keep it brief…

    I think we tend romanticize the early church that we read about in the New Testament for “having everything in common” and such. But most of those books were written in response to some conflict or discouragement that was occurring in the addressed church. Yeah, they got some things right, but they got a lot wrong, too.

    The church is us, right? It’s people, flawed, broken, screwed up people. When I get frustrated with other people who claim to follow Christ, I try to remember that rather than checking out and abandoning the church, I need to lean in, to dialogue and interact honestly. If Jesus could love his church as a bride, maybe I should try to love it too.

    • Brian Ross says

      Yes Dan! The early church (as read about in the Bible) dealt with racism, economic injustices, arguments over theology, who should be the rightful leaders, etc. The church can be a mess- because all of us people can be a mess. To say the church is a disaster in similar to saying people are a disaster. The church (like politicians) are a mirror reflecting back to us who we all are.

  6. Vern Hyndman says

    I’m increasingly less interested in whether people, or groups of people are politically aligned or not. What I offer in terms of connection does not extend to accepting the framework of whomever I’m connecting with.

    In a deviation from Yogi Berra’s “when you come to a fork in the road, take it”… when someone offers you a false dichotomy DON’T take it.

    Behind the political right and left, are economic ideologies which purists from both sides advance with certitude…

    The problems we have are not primarily political, nor economic… the problems we have stem from spiritual and emotional poverty, a reality for both wealthy and impoverished folk in the US. So given that the problem is not political or economic, the solution will also not be political or economic.

    The way of Jesys leads in into radical
    generosity, unreasonable trust, and faith in what is already by not yet… the world is thirsty for the loving hope that these produce.

    I invest in a church body that considers many of my views marginal, or impractical… and yet I believed investment has real value. I am
    not dissuaded by disbelief.

    • Brian Ross says

      Thanks Vern! You and I couldnt agree more! Human beings are inherently religious- and when men and women neglect the Way of Jesus, they often try to their fill their spiritual hungers with political visions.

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