So here’s my advice: Just shut up…Get in the trenches of community where real people really hurt. Stop thinking of perseverance as hypocrisy … and read a book for God’s sake. Start with a book about the history of the visible Church, and do this especially before you start writing books about the future church. Sing loudly, pray continuously, babysit, work in the nursery, help with excited snotty nosed kids at Vacation Bible School or Camp, take dinner to a sinner, realize that the church is full of hurting people for the same reason hospitals are… and respect your mothers and fathers in the Faith.
You know what I’m weary of on the internet? It’s a target rich environment, but I’m mostly tired of people moaning and groaning and pontificating about the Church.
No, not this church, the one I attend, but ‘The Church’ in some big, general, colossal American sense. Every time I turn around I find some new completely cool blogger/writer/analyst with all the answers about why ‘this generation’ is unhappy with the Church as they see it, why they’ve left, and what to do about it. Good God, people are burning churches and killing Christians in Egypt and chopping off Christian heads in Libya – and you’ve got time to sit around here complaining about people looking sleepy and appearing hypocritical? You feel offended that we didn’t bend our 3500 years in the making sexual ethics to your newly minted approach to snogging? You think we’re a bit too concerned about buildings and not enough about people? You possess the discernment needed to unmask the various forms of supposedly faux-spirituality you find distasteful in today’s church? REALLY?
So here’s the deal: * That sleepy guy you bemoan in the row next to you just worked all night and he’s so dedicated to Christ that he’s there anyway – working hard to worship (while you’re, what, judging his weariness?). I know you didn’t know he just pulled the late shift; maybe you thought he just found the sermon as boring as you do.
* That glaze eyed stare you saw come your way was from a mom with three kids (two of whom wore her out all day yesterday) while the other was just recovering from the flu. She ‘drug’ her kids to church…because she values an imperfect community in a fallen world. She wasn’t staring at you. She was looking right past you because she probably knew that you, at the zenith of your zealotry, didn’t have much support to offer her.
* That music you think is boring has been the comfort of several generations of believers who’ve forgotten more than you’ve learned so far, and the words sustained them through more trials than your 21st century existence can imagine (What, you think the devil attacked you because your smart phone broke?). If you’d memorize the words you’d find they will carry you even if you prefer not to carry the tune. There are actual hymns from, like, the fourth century and stuff that are totally awesome. Sing along.
* The Church is full of hypocrites? You mean imperfect fallen broken people struggling with doubt, fear, bewilderment, and bills? People who smile when they’re dying inside, sometimes because of sinful pride and sometimes because of sinful fear, and sometimes because they are determined to rejoice for at least an hour a week in a life of sorrow? People who do all they find they can do, and know they’re depending on grace in a way that you in your smug certainty cannot fathom? People who’ve buried parents and siblings and children?
* The Church isn’t as zealous as you? As welcoming as you? As concerned about (insert your agenda here) as you? Man, I wish we could all be like you!
Jesus knows better than all of us what is wrong with the Church, says so, and he’s right. We’re a mess. He also has no intention of leaving the Church. He won’t even leave you.
I know he won’t leave you because he didn’t leave me when I thought about the Church just like you do.
Me and my twenty-something radical fellow-travelers (back in the 70s) set out to restore the Church, to rescue it from the terrible state into which it had fallen. We dedicated ourselves to world evangelism and having a church of ‘real’ believers where everything happened just the way it was supposed to happen. And we were just the people for the job.
Of course had we read a book (perish the thought!) we’d have known others tried to do this nonsense long before us – and tried it repeatedly. The problem with pursuing your perfect church reclamation project is that you actually succeed. There you sit with your congregation just the way you always thought it was supposed to be, with the music of which you approve, the ministries you like, the sermons you dig, the perfectly arranged theology, the projects you believe in, and the people who think just like you. How wonderfully homogenous and unsullied. Then you all get married and start having kids – and getting tired, and dealing with your own besetting sins, as well as those of others, especially your blasted kids who grow up to be 20 and bitch incessantly about how hypocritical, boring, irrelevant, and repellant ‘your’ church is, threatening to leave it while writing articles about church as it really should be.
So here’s my advice: Just shut up. Unless you’re talking to God in prayer about making his Church more glorious, just shut your pie hole. Get in the trenches of community where real people really hurt. Stop thinking of perseverance as hypocrisy (we all have a lot of demons to overcome), and read a book for God’s sake. Start with a book about the history of the visible Church, and do this especially before you start writing books about the future church. Sing loudly, pray continuously, babysit, work in the nursery, help with excited snotty nosed kids at Vacation Bible School or Camp, take dinner to a sinner, realize that the church is full of hurting people for the same reason hospitals are, hang out in ICU waiting rooms, deal with death continually, comfort the bereaved, and respect your mothers and fathers in the Faith. If you think the church is a mess, ask a Pastor about it. They know far more than you how bad things are, how weak we are in our efforts to course correct, and often how much of ‘the bad’ is a result of their own limitations and sinful failures. I’m owning it man – the Church is my fault.
Or just go. Whatever. That kind of zeal is horse-hockey as far as I’m concerned. I was a horse-hockey producer and collector for years, so I smell that exquisite stuff a long way off. Call your new church by a name that deserves an album cover; make sure the music is relevant (cuz obviously no one else is doing that); don’t worry about hierarchy, sacraments, canon law, or the Patristics. Personally, however, I want you right in the mix because I NEED YOU. Each generation has a word from the Lord to offer to all. Your voice is needed, your authentic zeal – married to wisdom and tradition – will fire the furnace of the next move. But that means coming to the dance rather than criticizing the fiddler.
Look, let’s get real. Don’t expect the church to change and cater to your whims. The Church has been at this for a long time, and is built on the fidelity of martyrs rather than the complaints of know-it-alls from a youth cult. It’s that simple. The Church exists to change us for Christ and through Christ. It’s a community on pilgrimage to holiness and home. It’s not going to move the starting time for its early service to match your bed time after an all night kegger. It won’t allow you to ignore Athanasius on the Incarnation or Augustine on the City of God; it won’t let you bad mouth Luther, Cranmer, Calvin, Wesley, or even General Booth while you imagine authentic ministry consists of building your personal platform and establishing your brand.
And here’s the fun part. The Church will be here for you in all of its institutional weirdness and warmth when you’re done slinging your barbs and threats her way. Like a good Mom who always embraces her arrogant wayward children, she’ll just be glad to have you back at the table. She even welcomed me home. Never even asked me where I’d been. She just served me bread and wine, anointed my head with oil, and pointed me to the dusty shelves where my old theology books were laying around.
In the meantime, while you sit around bemoaning the state of affairs – that’s obvious to any discerning person by the way; we know how bad it is, and know it’s worse than you even imagine – just realize that we’ll look around at the ruins with you and then get on with the funerals, weddings, baptisms, fund-raising that finances the mission projects you wish we’d do more of, make sure Scripture is taught to old and young, pray together, bake bread and share wine, make room in our homes and tables for students, and do all the ordinary means of grace that do such extraordinary things over long stretches of time. Of course, if you’re between the ages 18-29 that whole ‘long stretches of time’ thing is anathema, or at least hard to imagine; you might suppose the church will solve its problems in the rough equivalent of your lifetime to date, rather than a couple of centuries, which is more likely to be the case. In other words, we’ll be getting on with it while you sulk. Or play footsie with atheism. Or blog.
The Church is the Bride of Christ. It’s never a good idea to tell the husband you don’t think much of his wife and have lots of neat ideas on how she could improve her appearance and desirability to you and your pals. An ancient prophet once said, “The Bride belongs to the Bridegroom” (John 3, NIV). Best be careful how you treat her. Just saying.
David Cassidy serves as Lead Pastor at Christ Community Church (PCA) in Franklin, Tennessee. Source