My students used to walk around with t-shirts and hoodies that displayed this tagline:
For them it was a sarcastic way of saying that whatever you had told them they’ve already heard before and they were uninterested in hearing it again. You know those stories that you hear over and over and over and you eventually become uninterested?
[Brace yourselves I’m about to get pretentious.] As I’ve travelled all over the world (from Toronto to Kazakhstan and random places around and between…) I’ve had the chance to visit lots of local churches and I hear reoccurring stories about people’s experiences with their church. Chances are you’ve heard these stories too and if you’re anything like me, you might find that you’re the one that’s actually telling them…
Don’t quite get what I mean? Let me try to break it down…
- You’re a young person: church isn’t relevant, worship is boring and you can’t relate to the older generation of leaders. It’s your ideas vs their ideas and there’s no change.
- You’re a worship leader: your congregation is unresponsive and lifeless. It’s hard for you to motivate the congregation to sense the move of the Holy Spirit as you come together in song.
- You’re in the congregation: the person sitting beside you is singing so off key. You start to think dogs will gather at the doorstep of your church and start barking.
- You’re tired: Sunday morning sermons are perfect time to catch up on sleep.
- You’re a Sunday school teacher: you’ve been ‘voluntold’ to serve as a sunday School teacher for the past 10 years. You love your kids (for the most part, sometimes), but admit that it’s tiring. You need a change- especially when they think David was in the Lion’s Den and the Hunger Games is based on Biblical events. I guess Katnis is kind of like Joshua or Gideon?
- You’re a parent of young children and there’s no nursery: your kids kindly choose Sunday mornings to stir up a fuss or put on a show. You never have the chance to sit through an entire worship service or sermon.
- You’re a doctor, nurse or your job just requires a lot of travelling: You can’t attend church on a regular basis. People don’t follow up with you as much as you’d like, as a result, you lack community and consistency.
- You’re a preacher: You are often left saddened by the apathy of the church and lack of consideration that people have towards one another.
- You’re an elder or a pastor: Your heart is to see your church bear fruit and flourish, but you struggle to communicate how you want to see that happen.
Yep, we have all been there.
Here’s the reality: Church is hard. Sometimes it gets frustrating. This is the age old story of the church. It’s not new. It’s not surprising. You’re not the only one. It’s not just your church. Sometimes it’s a real struggle. Whether you attend a mega church or a small church, whether you’re a pastor or a custodian, whether you’re young or old, whether your church is rich or poor, South Asian or White British, Pentecostal or Brethren- we have all experienced frustrations with church to varying degrees. If you haven’t you’re either super Jesus or you really don’t care enough about the local church (call me and we’ll talk if it’s one of the latter two).
As I’ve been praying about my own disposition toward the local church, (which, let’s be honest here, reflects the above sentiments), I’ve been realizing that those negative thoughts and feelings stem from… well, they stem from: genuine frustrations. But they also, more often than not, come from my bad attitude and blindness towards the vision of God’s kingdom. It kinda reminds me of another group of people that we hear about in Sunday School. Let me give you a synopsis of the story:
There was once a large Nation of people who spent years under the bondage and oppression of pretty horrible leadership. God in His mercy, heard their plea and their cries and sent them a leader who would help free them. No this leader wasn’t the most charismatic, or charming. He could barely speak. But God used Him to get the job done. They saw miracles, they made the trek through a large body of water that saved them and devoured their enemies. They experienced true joy and freedom. Eventually, after a long journey through a dry desert, they made it to their destination- “The Promise Land.” But boy, was it a mission to get there!
Along the journey they began to forget and to complain. They were dissatisfied, discontent, disillusioned and distracted by their circumstances. They only focused on that which they were lacking. How could they forget that God graciously went before them, providing them with miraculous freedom from their captivity, a faithful and loving leader, a community to travel with so they wouldn’t be isolated and alone, bread to eat and water to fuel them for their long journey?
Thank God for the gift of hindsight- I mean when I look at it, I think they had a pretty sweet deal especially compared to what they faced before. How could they be so, so…
so much like us eh? Well maybe it doesn’t sound like you, but it certainly sounds like me…
I must admit, sometimes I am dissatisfied, discontent, disillusioned and distracted, it’s really easy and natural to get this way. In those moments of frailty God reminds me that through His loving mercy has given me freedom from captivity. He’s provided me with faithful and loving leaders. No they’re not always the most charismatic or dynamic, sometimes they’re not the most eloquent. But they, like Moses, are called and anointed. God has also given me community so I won’t be isolated and alone. Through songs and hymns He quenches my thirst when I’m tired from the journey. And through His word, He fuels me with every bit of power I need to get through the mundane and extraordinary aspects of daily life. And yet, in my depravity, here I am sometimes… longing for more. If there’s anything I’ve learned through the journey of the Israelites- it’s that I don’t need more.
Life is hard. Church is hard. I don’t think it’s meant to be easy. But God has equipped us with everything we need for this journey and He’s equipped us in abundance. Maybe we need to stop asking for more. As a church, as an individual who are all integral parts of The Church- let’s turn our hearts of discontent, dissatisfaction, disillusionment and distraction to hearts of sincerity, surrender, submission and steadfastness. Let’s remember the miracles, the answered prayers and our freedom from bondage- let’s declare it with joy! Let’s talk about it with each other and with anyone who will listen. Let’s remember the good that God has done instead of the stuff that easily distracts us from the bigger picture. And those little details that get on our nerves about church… well maybe we just need to give that up to God. At the end of the day, God got the Israelites where they needed to go in spite of the annoying little details. He’ll take your church where He wants it to go too…
and sometimes- we really don’t need to go that far
… sometimes it’s about a simple journey into His presence.
Maybe the journey into His presence will change the way we declare the narrative of the church? Maybe our story of the church will be in light of God’s love unconditional, unbiased and unadulterated love for it. Then it certainly will be
a ‘Cool Story Bro’ so we can…
If you have a chance, please check out part one of this wonderful podcast titled “6 Keys to Become a Transformational South Asian Church” by Linson Daniel: