A former Lutheran pastor sharing thoughts on faith and life. Please join the conversation! I love your comments!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Am I Killing The Church?

Am I killing the church?  I suppose this is a bit of a melodramatic way of posing the question.  But, this is truly something I have pondered.  For years, I have wrestled with why I should go to church.  What is the purpose?  I have heard over and over that it is not about me. I read people saying it is selfish thinking I should get something out of going to church.  That I must just be looking for entertainment.  So, okay, if it is not about me then who is it about?  I find it difficult to conceive of a loving God who demands I sit in a pew for an hour each week just because God said so.  Or a God who somehow needs my sacrifice of praise.  It must, then, be for the benefit of my fellow parishioners and perhaps the church as a whole.  I go to support other people of faith and to further the mission of the church. 

Then one day it occurred to me: What if my attendance at church is doing more harm than good?  What if my continued attendance at church only enables complacency?  Could I be giving people false reassurance: as long as there are warm bodies in the pews things must not be all bad?  Am I enabling the church to just keep going through the motions?  What if my presence on Sundays actually helps to prevent the church from hearing God’s call?  

Cause, wow, it seems like the church has gone deaf.  Maybe it is just me but it seems there is huge need in the world.  There is need which just screams following Jesus.  There is need, such need, for justice.  This life can be so horrifying.

Don’t get me wrong, I get life can be beautiful.  I look at our youth and I see hope.  I look at the beauty of God’s creation and, rather than taking my breath away, it seems like it fills me with breath and life. I look at my children and there are no words for such love and joy. This is not me being pessimistic or ungrateful.  

But the thing is, however much joy we have in life, however much beauty, however much love, it can all be snatched away in a moment.  It would be nice to believe, as some of my Christian brothers and sisters do, that God will protect you if you are faithful enough and if you suffer it is because of sin or somehow to the glory of God.  This is not the world in which I live.  Surely many, many of us know there is nothing we can do to prevent tragedy from striking no matter how “good” we are.  Surely many of us know no purpose erases the pain.  And what about those who live with little beauty, little love, and little hope?  What about those who live in grinding, desperate poverty?  

This is not only an issue of compassion either.  If we believe there is such a thing as a victim of injustice in this world than there is a chance injustice could strike close to home.  I just got done watching Les Miserables.  Surely few of us are naive enough to think there are no Fantines in the world, those whose lives are full of sorrow and hardship far out of proportion to any “sins” they may have committed.  Likewise there are Jean Valjeans, people who are unjustly punished for their crimes.  There are people who live in poverty and desperation primarily because of where they were born.  There are innocent children who suffer.  As long as there are such as these than we are all vulnerable, one mistake, one misfortune away from sorrow.  

This is the world we live in and so we need the church to follow Jesus where he leads us to work for justice, peace, and mercy.  We need the church to be about more than singing praise, spitting out platitudes of false comfort and giving token benevolence tucked in around the building fund.  Because the only way we can transform the horrifying fact of injustice and suffering in this world is by working to do something about it.   There is so much which is out of our control.  Life is sometimes horrifying but if there can be purpose in what we do, if we are working for justice, if we are following Jesus, then the suffering will be lessened and the fear will shrink and ... well maybe there is some point to it all anyway.   

I need the church to be a place where I can work out my role in the struggle against injustice.  I need the church to be a place where people care and do things about it.  They were right when they said my criticism of the church was selfish.  The only way I can find peace and hope is by following Jesus in the struggle to fill the world with justice and mercy.  Yet the problems are so big and so overwhelming.  I don’t know where to begin.  I need the church’s help.  

But maybe by going to church I am actually killing any hope of ever finding help there.  Maybe I am just encouraging complacency.  Maybe the best thing I can do is walk away and look for help elsewhere.

What do you think?  Do you have similar needs/wants from your community of faith?  How do we help the church to wake up?   


Laurie said...

I believe God does want us to worship him. I believe this pushes us to reflect on his power and the blessings we have. Therefore, we also have a responsibility to encourage each other by worshiping together. I believe that most churches do a poor job of this. Reciting the same old words every week in lack luster monotone is not a good example of celebrating God.
When I go to church, I am also surrounding myself with people who are trying to follow Jesus. These people help me raise the standards for myself, and challenge me to do better in that regard. The guys at work are not as helpful in that regard.
I would love to see you blog about concrete examples of what you would like to see the church do. I understand that you think the church should help the needy. I don't think anyone would argue. Give us sn example.
Last week our church had us doing tasks for some of the elderly in our church. I applied paint to a house that was rotting for lack of paint. We've also provided free food and clothing in poor neighborhhods. We've offered our church as shelter following hurricanes. Are these the type of things you have in mind or are we still fallong shot of your expectations?

Sheri Ellwood said...

Challenge accepted:) I will plan on getting more specific about my vision for the future church. Part of the reason I haven't been more specific is because I am not real sure about the specifics myself. The vision is become clearer for me and so I will share that in my next blog.
Part of that vision would include the "following Jesus" and "challenging me to do better" which you mention. For the majority of people church consists of worship. In worship we sit next to each other but don't talk much. So, it seems to me it would be difficult for the above to happen in that context. Sometimes it happens in small groups and such but since worship is our main gig many are missing out on this benefit and it doesn't seem a main focus. Would it be helpful or possible to change worship so this would be a part of it? Or change things so worship isn't our only "main gig"?