7 Reasons Church isn’t for You

church-clip-art-2As a Pastor, a lot of people tell me their thoughts about church. My parishioners, my friends, my family, strangers, young, old and everyone in between. People tell me what they like and what they don’t like. People tell my what should be changed and how to do things differently. They tell me what they are looking for when they ‘church shop’. People tell me why they aren’t attending as often and when they plan to get back in the habit.

Like just about everything else in world, Christians and non-Christians are consuming church. More and more, churches and pastors feel pressured to attract and captivate people – code language for entertain the people into the pews.

Well… maybe I am the first to say, out loud, what a lot of pastors would like to say:

Church isn’t for you.

Here are 7 reasons why church isn’t for you:

  1. The Music isn’t for you. We all have opinions on music. Contemporary or Traditional. Praise Songs or Hymns. Piano or Organ or Worship Band. Upbeat or slowed down. Music has a powerful effect on us, and so we want to hear the music, hymns, songs, and styles we like. But the music isn’t to appease our preferences. Music supports the bible readings. Music speaks to the church season or occasion. Music is supposed to help us tell God’s story, not be the same stuff we choose to hear all week on our iPods.
  2. The Preaching isn’t for you. Preaching is supposed to be funny, interesting, and attention grabbing. Sermons should make us laugh and cry, learn and think. All in 20 minutes or less so that we are not late for lunch. Sermons are a central part of worship, and we want them to be things we want to hear. But preaching isn’t to appease our need to be entertained. Preaching opens up the scriptures to us. Preaching draws us into the unfolding story of God’s mighty deeds in the world. Preaching reminds us that we are sinners, which is hard to hear. Preaching reminds us that we are dead, which is even harder to hear. But Preaching also reminds us of God’s mercy for sinners. And Preaching reminds us of God’s promise of new life in Christ.
  3. The Building isn’t for you. Buildings are supposed to fit all our needs with comfortable pews, big gyms, space for youth, Sunday School classrooms,  nice bathrooms and lots of space for coffee after worship. Churches build, renovate and adapt their spaces to meet our demands. Often a few volunteers toil away, year after year to keep buildings in good repair. I once heard a church member say, “Being at Church should feel like being in your living room”. But Buildings are not for serving our comfort. Buildings provide space for people to gather. Buildings allow communities to be together. Whether it is hard pews or folding chairs, whether it is a rented school gym or a re-purposed store front, buildings help us tell God’s story by giving us a place to tell it. The Church is the people, not the building. Imagine if we put the same effort into caring for each other as we do for our buildings.
  4. The Staff isn’t for you. Churches spend most of their budgets on staff, and so we often have high expectations. We want staff to be always available, ready to drop anything and be at the church to attend to the needs of members, renters, or visitors. Staff are expected to always be courteous and kind, yet they get a lot complaining and criticism. But church staff are not the hired help for churches. The staff’s job is to support the congregation as they live out God’s mission. Staff does the in-between jobs that allow people to serve Jesus. Church staff remind us that God’s work is done with our hands and feet, and that God’s work never ends.
  5. Communication isn’t for you. Churches are expected to make us aware of everything that is going on. We all want to be in the know, and we want to be kept informed. We expect Church communication to be working well – all the time. Whenever we feel out of the loop, we complain about ‘communication problems’. But church communication isn’t for keeping us in the gossip chain. Most churches these days inundate people with communication: Inserts in bulletins, announcements before and after worship, newsletters, poster boards, emails, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and more. Communication is a two-way street, there needs to be senders and receivers. Churches communicate to let their members and their communities know what God is doing in their little piece of the Kingdom. Churches communicate so that God’s mission can be lived out by members between Sundays.
  6. Visitors aren’t for you. We all want our pews full and offering plates overflowing. We want visitors to come and give money, become new members, serve on committees, and volunteer at the soup kitchen once in a while. And still, visitors are glared at for sitting our pew. Visitors are whispered about, yet not greeted when they come to worship. But visitors aren’t for making us feel better or doing our work. Visitor’s are people. People who have come to us seeking a community. People who are seeking God. Visitors are people who give us the opportunity to tell about the ways that God is working in our lives. Visitors are people with whom we can begin relationships with and people that we can invite into our lives.
  7. The Pastor isn’t for you. This one is a little personal. As a pastor I am expected to keep track of hundreds of families. I am supposed to know who is in the hospital, who is sick, who is shut-in at home without being told (because God is supposed to tell me directly). I am supposed to be on call 24/7, 365 days a year. I am supposed to be at every meeting and every church event. I am supposed to remember birthdays, anniversaries and other special occasions. I am supposed to celebrate every baptism and wedding, and grieve every funeral. I am supposed to have a great sermon every Sunday. I am supposed to attract the youth and get all the inactive members back. But Pastors are not for being Christians on behalf of the congregation. Pastors proclaim the good news and give out the means of grace in the sacraments. Pastors equip people for their ministry. Pastors help people to hear God’s call in their lives. Pastors help congregations live out God’s mission in the world. Pastors do what is good for the congregation, not what makes people happy.

Sometimes we forget why we are ‘The Church’ in the first place. Sometimes we treat the church like all the other things we consume daily in our lives, and so we try to shape and form the church in our own image. We want a church that meets our preferences, like personalized settings on our computer.

Yet, despite all that – despite us – God is still using The Church for God’s purposes. God is still doing God’s work in world, with or without us. Sometimes we just need to be reminded of that. Sometimes we just need to hear again:

Church isn’t for you.

You are for the Church.

So what do you think? Is Church really not for you? Are there other ways in which the ‘Church isn’t for you’? Share in the comments, or share on Twitter: @ParkerErik

Want more lists of churchy things?

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44 thoughts on “7 Reasons Church isn’t for You”

  1. I have moved several times. I have not found a church where I feel I really belong. I have been an outcast for being a divorced woman. I am a survivor of domestic violence. So I do my Bible reading and study at home with my son. I am tired of not fitting in. I am tired of being looked at like I should not be there. I sit in the pew and I want to burst into tears. I have become so guarded that I desperately need to go home to the church where I grew up. But that is too far away. So for me it isn’t the building, it isn’t the preacher, it isn’t the sermons, it’s the people.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. What denomination are you looking at? Being divorced now a days shouldn’t make you an outcast, you practically in the majority! Being a domestic violence surviver as well I know that feeling accepted is an important feeling right now. Keep searching and good luck finding a good church fit.

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    2. I’m terribly sorry your experience has been so discouraging, Angela. I went to a church like that for a while in California, and felt frozen out. It was very painful, because I’d gone there from a very loving church. I changed churches, and looked for a church family, not a particular brand of Christianity. I found the most wonderful church in the world, The people were so warm and accepting, so welcoming. I hope you’ll keep looking. I think there are many of us who need a church family as well as a place for worship. Maybe even more, because worship can be done anywhere. Keep trying, and good luck.

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    3. Angela,

      I appreciate this article very much! It makes me think about these poor people in Iraq, Africa, China and all these countries where being a Christian costs so much! They don’t need our comfort to smile and stand firm in their faith!
      But your comment weigthens my heart, though it’s a very good add to the article! I’ve heard that a few times and each time it makes me so angry and sad that we, the people of God, can react that way…Sometimes I feel that most of us hasn’t understand God’s mercy. I have no real solution for you but I just wanted to tell you that I’ll pray for your heart to be healed and for you to find a church with a sweet heart. i don’t know your story but our sweet Father does. A perfect church we won’t never find but here in France (Yes I’m French and live there) not everybody is so hard so I’m sure it’s the same where you live. Keep praying about that and our precious Lord will guide you. He doesn’t want to see us praising him by ourselves.

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    4. Angela, I’m so sorry to hear about your struggle in finding a healthy church home to help bring healing from the hurts of the past.

      Can I suggest two thoughts to consider?

      1. You might search for a churcIh that offers DivorceCare or similar type of group or program. At the very least, you’ll find a few people God has prepared to love and help.

      2. The next time you are ready to visit a church again, contact 2 or 3 people to be praying for a healthy positive experience.

      Our enemy hates to see us in healthy loving fellowship and works hard to keep us away from the real thing. I don’t know for sure, but I wonder if sometimes we feel that people are giving us strange looks, etc. while they may be looking at or thinking about something totally unrelated to us.

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    5. Come to the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church that Jesus himself established. Maybe you can talk to a priest and the community to get everything worked out. You’re always welcome at every single Catholic Church. Please consider it if you haven’t already.

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      1. I’m sorry, Collin, but I would seriously contend that Jesus Christ did NOT establish what is today called the Roman Catholic Church.

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        1. That’s right! Only you know the real truth! This is why people can’t stand churches and religion. Everyone thinks their church is the true one. Their version of the bible is the real one. They spoke to the guy upstairs and of course he would never speak to anyone in a different religion. Stuck up, fake Christians who talk about how Jesus like they are but jump on minorities, women, gays, and whoever else the bible deems unworthy as they pick and choose chapters. FYI- besides the bible, Moses and the great escape are not found in one shred of archeological text. You would think that a flight like that would have at least one piece of evidence. .

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          1. Ben, you are over-reacting BIG TIME. I haven’t claimed that only I have the truth, or that only my church is the true one, or that the Bible I use is the ONLY one that God approves of. If you’re going to try to respond to what I’ve said, then respond to what I’ve actually SAID, and not something that is only in your imagination.

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          1. John – With all due respect, you are wrong. I really AM sorry – as in, I truly have remorse for the disagreement between Collin and me. At the same time – I stand by what I said: Jesus Christ did NOT establish what is today called the Roman Catholic Church.

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    6. I am saddened to hear how hurt you feel. Please forgive any who have hurt you and ask God to show you a church to go where you will feel His love.

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    7. You can come to our church in northcentral PA anytime and be very welcome. I am a former facilitator for a men’s domestic abuse group. I may not understand EVERYTHING, but I have some background in what you’ve been through. And – Our church has a fair number of divorced folks in it. AND – We are NOT alone! There are a LOT of congregations who will welcome you, no matter where you are.

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    8. Angela, my heart aches for you. Please keep searching for the church that makes you feel welcome and loved. Everyone needs a church home and loving church family. I hope and pray that you find your church home where you feel comfortable and valued. Blessings to you in your search.

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    9. Hi Angela, a lot of times I feel the same way. Something that has helped me to keep in mind I heard in a sermon was that the “Sheep, bite from one end and poo from the other”, we’re all on this tract of sanctification, everyone at a different level according to the measure of faith given by God, plus I consider my own sins, weather external or I my heart and my own sin keeps me humble. Look to the “Man of Sorrows” and He will strengthen you. May God bless your walk thru sanctification.

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  2. Yes, us non church goers are the “church”, there are many people that are a part of the “church” but church goers don’t actually treat non church goers as if they are. They actually fail to understand that phrase they talk about in the first place. Hence articles like these.

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    1. Deb – How about a) because there is no such thing in the New Testament as a “Christian hermit”, who lives independently?, or b) the Church is HIS idea?

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      1. Also – If I may – To call being part of a church, “a mandatory roll call is more than a little bit trivializing and demeaning. I imagine you to be a person who would like to be treated with a degree of respect. I would respectfully ask that you treat the church in the same way, and to remember what’s called the “Golden Rule” – to treat others the same as you would wish to be treated.

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  3. This article was so cold. I guess I should go to church, pay regularly, and speak to no staff member ever about anything for fear of causing offense. Sorry … it isn’t going to happen..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Anne, no-one is saying you should be cannon fodder (or is it canon fodder) for an uncaring Church staff. I’m sure the writer of the article wants you and all worshippers to contribute to the leadership of the Church by making positive comments. The article is not about what you do as much as how you approach Church.
      As a minister I want to know what people think, what inspires and delights them and what makes worship and fellowship hard for them I want everyone in my Church to feel unconditionally loved and accepted.
      I do, however, recognise and understand what the article is saying: that we diminish our experience of Church (and of God) if we approach our Church experiences in a spirit of consumerism, looking only for what the Church (and God) can do to keep us in our comfort zone. And an increasing number do approach Church that way.
      As a minister and a Christian I know that the greatest riches God has to offer us lie outside our comfort zone and that stretching ourselves to reach for them helps us to grow as Christians and as human beings.
      Most Church staff are seldom offended by criticism. They just get worn down and crushed by the weight of people’s expectations and by the negativity that so often characterises criticism.
      The article is warm and affirming. It shows a way to enrich your experience of Church and of God beyond anything the world of consumer experiences can imagine and invites you to become part of a Church community of love.

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  4. And your local church is just a part of the whole world wide body of Christ, His whole church. If you think of it as separate and detached from all the others, even as better than the others, then you don’t really know and aren’t functionally connected to His body.

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  5. Can you even begin to imagine what church was like 2000 years ago? We have people today complaining about everything. Ranging from no air conditioning to “he’s sitting in ‘my’ seat.” Is it no wonder why the world doesn’t want to disturb us? Just shut up, and look around….the harvest is white as snow!Too many of us are wanting to worship the building. The “church ” is inside the building. How many places today would not accept Jesus in their congregations, yet continue to keep the label “Christian “? We are the only “Jesus” that many people will ever see. Beware, we may be entertaining angels unaware.

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  6. I cannot “love” this post enough! Thank you, thank you. I wrote something similar in my lastest blog post, “Dining at McChurch–Where We Went Wrong,” about how we treat church more like a restaurant than a family. And to those who’ve been hurt and feel as though they never want to go back: I’ve been there. I’ve been hurt by the church (in unbelievable, book-worthy ways). Now, as a (female!) pastor, I feel the same way toward “hurt people” as I did toward the rescued dog I once dog-sat for a friend: he wouldn’t let me near him. He was sure I was going to be like his previous owner. It broke my heart, and it wasn’t fair. Please do us a favor and dare to trust again. We need people in the church who’ve been broken–and healed–so that they can help other’s who’ve been hurt.

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  7. There is a great deal of sense in this article. However, I would raise a question about Church Staff. There seems to be an ever increasing number of salaried positions within congregations – but these people are often entirely divorced from the ‘real’ lives of church members. They are certainly NOT filling gaps, but rather are increasingly responsible for every aspect of church life – but with no clear lines of accountability to the congregation which, in human terms, pay their salaries. Posts seem to be invented with increasing frequency.

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  9. As a church member. This article makes me feel like an intruder in the church. It makes me feel like the pastor, church staff and service are above me and that I should just show up on Sunday, sit down, shut up until I’m called to respond to the assisting minister or bulletin or PowerPoint.
    The church is not alone in ministering to a consumeristic society. We have similar problems in other helping professions where 20% of those we serve make 80% of the demands. Rather than making a blanket statement saying, “The church, music, staff, etc is NOT for you” ( which is ridiculous – listen to yourself!) maybe do a bit of work setting boundaries with the squeaky 20%, and set up your church committee structure and let the committees deal with suggestions and requests that do not follow your mission statement . Church staff have to grow a thick skin and sometimes the dead wood has to be allowed to leave even if they carry large wallets. This leaves the rest of the church to work on RELATIONSHIPS! Jesus didn’t say to the Woman at the Well, “no – the water isn’t for you,” neither did he attach impossible traditional strings to her receiving the water – “no you have to participate in this service with music from the 1700s and jump through a few mystery liturgical hoops (which aren’t for you BTW).

    The impression Im left with is that you don’t want to serve your congregational in a relational, meaningful way. Most of us want to come into the Sanctuary which we all built together – to be encouraged, spiritual fed in a way that relates to the happenings of Christians in 2014, to belong and to be shored up for the mission we carry outside of the front doors of the church. If we are “in the world but not of it” and now we’re in the church but it sure in heck isn’t FOR us, where does that leave people like me and Angela to go? I just want to meet God with some warm skin on him or her?

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