I’m really not mad at the Church. I love it in fact. The Church is called the Bride of Christ- it’s a beautiful picture of love, intimacy, sacrifice and service. When I was 16 I decided that I wanted to live my life serving in the church full time. I spent the next 17 years doing just that. What I learned in a nutshell is that there is not as much ministry going on as one would think. Vocational ministry is a lot of administration, reports, meetings, planning, putting out “fires”, recruiting, training and more meetings. I am actually more free now to do ministry that is important to me. I can also explore and express what I really think about faith and life and not feel the restraints of any particular denomination or church.
I am seeing a growing trend in our generation and in our kids generation of bailing on the Church at record speed. This has been confirmed by the Barna group and the National Study on Youth and Religion. It seems like there are daily stories of corruption, cheating spouses, theft, molestation and just a general lack of morality from church leaders. While I know there are thousands of honest, humble, godly leaders those stories are not shared- or if they are then they are seen through the prism of cynicism. There is a huge disconnect between the actual original purpose of the Church and it’s current postmodern/ modern/ seeker sensitive practices.
Now, one reason for this is probably due to the fact that a modern day church tries very hard to look like a rock concert in a secular venue. The speaker (see I didn’t even say pastor) sounds more of a motivational speaker peppering their talks with Bible passages. A church service is so predictable that there are youtube videos making fun of it.
The sad thing about this “predictability” is that it is not an American anomaly. I went to Haiti earlier this year to help rebuild a school. On Sunday we went to a church. The church was an open building with folding chairs. I was anticipating something lively and culturally different. But, it followed the same pattern as an American church- song, greeting, more songs, message, communion. This is probably due to American missionaries teaching them how to “do church”. But, it was disappointing that they had conformed to a modern day version of the church.
When we try to read the Bible we read it through eyes that know the story and so of course it’s predictable and often boring. Have you ever watched a movie that you love with one of your kids for the first time? You’re nervous that maybe they won’t love it as much as you? But then it happens- a smile or a squeal and you know they “get it”. It helps you to see that movie through fresh eyes again and to remember what it was like for you to see it for the first time.
Well, when the Church started 2000 years ago there were about 120 believers gathering daily. Those 120 people had no idea what was about to transpire. They had no business plan, no building fund, no outreach program or ministry model. They were told to just wait. Wait for what? The Holy Spirit had always been given to specific individuals for a specific task but then would leave. So, on whom would the Holy Spirit descend? Peter- the one Jesus called the Rock? James or John? No, something completely different and unpredictable happened. The Spirit descended on all of them in the room and they were filled with power! The Holy Spirit was no longer limited to just one “chosen” individual but to all believers. Unpredictable start to a movement that has become so predictable- but then the task was to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in my name”. This was a task that would go on forever so the Holy Spirit would never leave them as it did the prophets in the Old Testament.
Peter gave the first invitation to salvation (what we would call an “altar call”)- there was no planning, no hours locked in an office trying to figure out the best jokes or how to explain it. He just stood up and spoke. He spoke because he could not contain what was in his heart. How many speakers in church have that kind of passion? The response to Peter’s message was that a few thousand people decided to “buy in”. They had a 300% growth in just one day!
I was asked by a friend of mine what I believed the role of the Church was in a believers life. It seems that maybe I can be too harsh in my critiques sometimes. I don’t mean to come across as harsh but I do want to speak honestly. As I mentioned earlier for too many years I kept quiet about all I saw and heard in order to keep my paycheck. But, now I am free and can address issues differently. I don’t want to disparage or embarrass anyone but I also don’t want to ignore what is a glaring problem- people are losing faith because of the Church’s witness!
I am a product of modern day ministry preparation. If I were to name the role of the Church there would be five points of purpose. These are all biblical and a great guide for ministries. But, I think that a Church should be a place where people are challenged to change their thinking. It’s a place where we learn to ask questions and not be afraid of the answers. We hear about the awesomeness of God and are faced with His holiness. We face ourselves head on and not flinch at either our own ugliness or others and don’t degrade our worth either. We learn what it means to really be in community and how to express agape love in a messed up world.
That being said- I think we need to be realistic and realize that the formal gathering of believers in a particular setting at a given time is becoming more and more antiquated. There are spiritual conversations being had at coffee shops, on blogs and in people’s homes. These are casual and authentic. When you go to Church you are confined to the program and are not free to express your own questions, share your story or to hear someone else’s story. There is a set way to worship and to learn. This goes against the grain of the world in which we live.
I have had my faith almost ruined a few times by the people in the Church. I’m sure that I have contributed to ruining others faith in the Church as well. I am not innocent in my arrogance, pride and lack of integrity. I definitely wish that I could apologize to some people for how I let them down.
But, I continue to go back to what I know is true- God is real and is faithful to His promises. He changed my life and healed my brokenness. I cannot deny the times that I’ve seen His hand, felt His comfort and experienced His provision. This doesn’t mean I’ve avoided pain-just in the past several years I’ve lost both my parents, and two of my grandparents, we have experienced times of great financial difficulties and I was even told that I would not be able to have biological kids. Through it all though I have been brought back to my faith in God in spite of my experiences with some churches.
So, can going to Church ruin your faith? What have been your experiences?