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Not too long ago, a family entered our church lobby looking fairly stressed. Having had a few fights on my way to church over the years, I understand the potential for family tension on the way to worship. It also seems that Murphy’s Law is extremely active when people are on their way to something that’s good for them.
As I smiled and said, “Hello” to this family, one of their kids (a junior high boy) said under his breath, “Church sucks!” From the look his mother gave him, I suspect he was grounded for a long time following that comment. Unfortunately, the dad almost winked at him as if to say, “I understand how you feel son; I don’t want to be here either!”
As you can imagine, this is not a great confidence booster for pastors.
You see, for pastors, church is like the Super Bowl, except it happens every Sunday. We love it! We’re excited to connect with our community of faith. We look forward to investing in the lives of people we love. So when they don’t show up, or worse yet, they show up with an attitude, it’s hard for us to understand.
Sure, at times I’ve left after a service and thought, that sucked, but that feeling is reserved for those times when I felt like I’d bombed. Generally, however, church refreshes my soul, and I leave thankful for what God did in our midst.
So what’s going on? Why the growing attitude by some (many?) about Church?
Perhaps some have developed a consumerism mentality. For them, church is about being entertained or having their needs met. So if they don’t like the songs, the volume, the message, the room temperature, or whatever, they get irritated.
Perhaps some are too busy, and other things matter more. They’ll show up only if their kids don’t have a soccer game, they’re not up too late on Saturday night, their favorite sports team isn’t playing, it’s not too cold or snowy (you wouldn’t want to die on your way to church!), or it’s not too nice and sunny (why waste a gorgeous day inside?).
Perhaps some have convinced themselves that they don’t have to go to church to be a part of the Church. They think: I’ll watch it later online, or I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.
Perhaps their church really does suck and is a waste of time.
(Congratulations if you’re still reading this blog! Hopefully, that means you care about this thing called the Church of Christ.)
Can I suggest a few things for your consideration?
1. It’s not just about you.
Of course, every pastor hopes you will be blessed and personally encouraged at church, but what if that song you dislike is a favorite of someone else and just what they needed? The message on any given Sunday may be “old news” to you, but what if it’s just what Dr. Jesus ordered for someone else?
By the way, when a church tries to be everything for everybody it rarely is anything good for anybody.
Here’s a radical idea: What if you went to church praying, “Jesus, what can I say or do today in church to demonstrate what You have done for me, and how can I be a blessing to others today?” What if you went with a serving attitude rather than worrying about what you’ll get out of it? Isn’t it more blessed to give than to receive?
2. Church should involve sacrifice.
For hundreds and hundreds of years, the Jews understood coming to the tabernacle or temple as an act of sacrifice. It cost them time, energy and money to participate in worship. Sometimes they traveled great distances. And they always brought the best of the best to offer in grateful sacrifice to God. King David once said in 1 Chronicles 21:24 (NIV), “I will not . . . sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing.”
Jesus said in Matthew 6:33 (VOICE), “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” Some might argue that Jesus was talking about the kingdom, not the church. Uh . . . He created the Church and without a doubt He and His followers would absolutely include the community of faith in God’s kingdom.
Frankly, when we place other things, other activities (like choosing sports over church) or even more sleep above gathering together as His bride, we are simply not putting His kingdom first. People make time for the things and activities they value most.
3. Being a Christian involves being in community.
Yes, church is more than just an hour on Sunday. And yes, I suppose you can be a Christian without going to a church service. But going to church matters. You truly can’t and shouldn’t do your faith alone.
We need each other. We need to sit next to others who are very different from us yet have the same Spirit inside. We need to join our voices together in song and praise. We need to be refreshed and refueled by the teaching of the Word through the pastor God has placed in our lives. We need to serve others. We need to understand that God never condones isolation. We need to prioritize in our lives the gathering of the saints. We need to make church not about our convenience but all about a sacrifice of love for the One who sacrificed His all for us.
I don’t care if you meet in a home, a garage, a tent, a stain-glassed cathedral or a former K-Mart! But if all of the above is not happening in your life on a regular basis and in whatever church you’re a part of, then you’re missing it.
By the way, if your church actually does suck, then find one where you can whole-heartedly engage, and stop making excuses for staying in bed on Sunday.
For the first century Christians, and even in most of the 20th century, church was at the center of community for believers. Instead of attending 2-3 times a month, the first church worshiped daily (Acts 2:46-47). I, and maybe many of you, grew up attending church 2-3 times a week.
Sure, the culture has changed, but I humbly suggest that we still need the influence and encouragement that best comes through a community of like-minded believers. Frankly, we need each other now more than ever.
Let us consider how to inspire each other
to greater love and to righteous deeds,
not forgetting to gather as a community,
as some have forgotten, but encouraging each other,
especially as the day of His return approaches.
Hebrews 10:24-25 (VOICE)
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I’ll admit it: Sometimes we Christians are known more for what we’re against than what we are for in this world. Sometimes we make a big deal about things that may not be that important and forget to focus on the things that really do matter most. Sometimes we get all high-and-mighty and act as if we’re better than others.
But sometimes we do need to take a stand and speak the truth in love. William Wilberforce was a devout believer who fought against slavery in England. Martin Luther King, Jr. was also a believer who stood against racial inequity. In fact, throughout history, Christians have often been at the center of the battle for truth and justice.
Typically, I loathe jumping on trendy bandwagons. I’m well aware that many Christian bloggers are sounding off about the movie Fifty Shades of Grey. However, I am terribly disturbed by our culture that continues to normalize the abnormal. Inch by inch, we are marched to the edge of immorality and degradation and told, “It’s okay, this is normal, and if you challenge me on that then you’re just intolerant!”
Well, sometimes it’s good to be intolerant, especially when we are standing with Jesus who loved all but hated sin. For the record, He hates sin because of what it does to the people He loves.
So here are some good reasons to avoid this bad movie like the plague:
It breaks Jesus’ heart.
Jesus would never treat another human created in the image of God this way. As Christ-followers, neither should we.
This kind of “love” is harmful and destructive rather than selfless and wholesome.
The Bible describes love as “kind . . . it does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking . . . it does not delight in evil . . . it always protects.” (1 Cor. 13:4-7)
It’s not just BDSM (which sounds harmless); it’s bondage, domination, sadism, and masochism.
Emotional, physical, and spiritual bondage is always bad.
Dominance is the exact opposite of supportive, selfless love.
Sadism is defined as a desire to inflict pain on others, especially for sexual gratification, or is defined as getting pleasure from being extremely cruel. Seriously? This is okay?
The definition of masochism is getting sexual or emotional pleasure from being mistreated or mentally or physically abused.
Anything that promotes abuse of any kind should be offensive to us.
We won’t tolerate a football player knocking his girlfriend out in an elevator, but as long as it’s consensual and erotic, it’s okay. Are you kidding me? It’s still abuse.
It promotes lust.
Lust is never satisfied.
We don’t need anything else filling our minds with garbage (there’s enough of that on TV).
When it comes to pornography or sexual abuse, the “law of depreciating returns” means that the more one participates, the more graphic or intense our experience needs to become to get the same erotic response. Simply put: we become emotionally calloused and need weirder, wackier stuff to arouse us.
Consenting adults (married or not) who claim BDSM enhances their relationship are broken. Something, somewhere in their past has created a fracture in their soul, and they need healing, not abuse.
This movie (from what I’ve read in reviews and seen in trailers and posters) appeals to our human nature that tends to drift out of curiosity to what can kill us (think Adam and Eve in the garden). Unholy curiosity (i.e. unwise experimentation) can kill more than a cat.
As a parent and grandparent, I would never want my daughter or son treated this way.
In an interview on NBC the female star, Dakota Johnson, said, “I don’t want my parents to see this movie.”
Everything we do should honor and glorify the One who gave His everything for us (1 Cor. 10:31). Can anyone truly make a reasonable argument that BDSM honors Jesus?
I realize I’m swimming upstream on this one. Over 100 million people have read this book, and the movie grossed over $250 million on the opening weekend (a new record). However, my challenge is simple: Would you sit next to Jesus and watch this film? I think not.
As James Emery White recently wrote, “Celebrate sex this Valentine’s Day. Every day, for that matter. But not the fallen kind. Not the Fifty Shades of Grey distortion.”
So guard your heart, protect your mind, and honor Jesus. He died to set people free.
For you know that we dealt with each of you
as a father deals with his own children,
encouraging, comforting and urging you
to live lives worthy of God,
who calls you into his kingdom and glory.
1 Thessalonians 2:11-12 (NIV)
Mr. & Mrs. is a great Valentine’s Gift! Read what Kurt has to say about marital sex and other important topics! Order it today here.
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Isn’t it funny (sad really) how ruthless and mean some people are in an email? They will emotionally vomit into a keyboard in ways they would never actually speak to someone. They will use emoticons, CAPS, and an over-abundance of exclamation marks to make their point!!!!!
I’ve had people use language in an email that would make a trucker blush.
There’s something about sitting alone in front of a computer rather than looking someone in the eye that often brings the worst out in us.
For some reason, Part One of this post, stirred up some passionate and negative reactions. Thankfully, there were also some very kind responses. But I have more to say, so being a glutton for punishment, let’s dive into three more things some folks don’t know about pastors.
1. Your pastor thinks and cares about you more than you probably realize.
Regardless of the size of the church, pastors are shepherds. We take our responsibility seriously to protect and care for the sheep. Your pastor probably notices when you are gone. He knows where you typically sit. Even if he calls you “Bob” and your name is Barry (some of us are old), your face is still embedded in his heart.
Every Saturday, I invest time walking through our auditorium praying. I lay hands on the chairs, and I ask the Father to work in the hearts of His people. Every Monday, I get the prayer requests from our congregation, and I often weep over their needs. Why? Because most pastors put people over programs. We know that only people are eternal, and we deeply understand that Jesus died for people. Trust me, you matter to us more than you know.
2. Your pastor has probably developed a thick skin, but he still has a tender heart.
Every Sunday we are evaluated. Every Sunday people decide to stay or leave based on what they hear or experience. Every week we work hard to proclaim grace and truth. But just about every Monday somebody complains about something. “The music was too loud.” “I don’t like the way we took communion.” “You talk about money too much.” “I disagree with your position on that issue.”
The fact of the matter is, though we value constructive criticism, long ago most of us stopped trying to keep everybody happy (check out Galatians 1:10). We’ve accepted the reality that some will love us and what we do, and some will not. We’ve also learned that sometimes our greatest fans shift and become our greatest critics. Strong leaders are often polarizing, but we believe strong yet humble leadership is necessary (for a good example, see Jesus).
Years ago, my pastor, a thriving mega-church leader was asked, “What do you consider to be your greatest success in ministry?” Without hesitation, he replied, “That I haven’t grown cynical.” In other words, despite the fact that sheep sometimes bite, his heart was still tender. Mine too.
3. Your pastor is perfectly imperfect (just like you).
Most pastors have no desire to be placed on a pedestal. We are intentionally transparent about our struggles because we want you to relate to us, not worship us. We understand our perfection in Christ and yet our imperfection in practice. Like you, we are a work in progress.
Practically speaking, that means we will occasionally say something stupid or maybe even theologically incorrect. Gasp! Sometimes we will react to a situation rather than respond like Jesus. Sometimes our thoughts are anything but the mind of Christ. This is not an excuse for sin, but an explanation of our humanity. So we need grace and mercy (just like you). Maybe you could forgive your pastor as God has forgiven you?
On a regular basis I remind our people: I am not the perfect pastor, and we are not the perfect church because there is no such person or church.
A final thought . . .
I love the Church. As a preacher’s kid and pastor for the past thirty-five years, I have a profound love and appreciation for pastors and the Bride of Christ. If anything I’ve written here or in part one of this post has offended you, forgive me. That being said, perhaps you would be wise to consider why I’ve pushed your buttons. Is there a church or pastor you need to forgive?
Remember, forgiveness is His way.
“Bear with each other and forgive one another
if any of you has a grievance against someone.
Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
Colossians 3:13 (NIV)
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