Mark Galli is becoming a favorite of mine. He cuts through the cultural laziness we have as a church. His recent article deals with just how “friendly” a pastor or church should be. Really, putting it in pure poll numbers, the church just isn’t ranking up there! Isn’t that just a shame? We’d rather go to the local bar than church. Hmmm.
This finding puzzled Kimberlee Hauss, the Religion News Service writer who summarized the findings. She asked, “Why would people choose a restaurant or bar over a church?” The hidden assumption here, of course, is that churches should be as friendly as bars.
It’s all in the marketing, I suppose…
No, the life of faith is anything but the easy going, care-free life of the bar, where conversation is easy (at least partly because it is lubricated by alcohol). So it shouldn’t surprise or alarm us that the church is not really like a bar.
Why not go to a bar? You can slur your problems, drown them, and then pick them right back up on the way out the door. Why even think of doing anything ABOUT those problems?
What is needed is authenticity. I do not question that. Yet, it not just needed by the pastors. It’s needed by everyone. It’s not a matter of throwing your life out there like a Facebook update, where you really don’t want solutions. What is needed is a place where people can be transparent (which will take time and energy), and there is a desire for CHANGE. If you don’t want to change, but just pour out your problems (pardon the pun), the local bar is probably your place. Honestly.
But if you struggle with the reality of Christ, the reality of God, the truth of the Gospel, and desire to KNOW answers, the Church just might be your place. However, be warned. You will come face to face with the truth in a real church. You will find healing and hope and freedom, but you will first have to face some ugly truth in all likelihood.
Galli pulls no punches:
Compare religious leaders in the Bible. Would any be described as friendly, even as friendly as a hairstylist? This doesn’t describe Moses. Nor Isaiah. Nor Jeremiah. Nor Paul. Nor Peter. Nor James.
It’s not that I am not friendly, or wish to NOT be friendly! What I look for is freedom in Christ. That takes truth. As James Garfield is credited with saying: “The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.”
There is a need for truth from pastors AND from the people:
I interviewed The Message translator and spiritual theologian Eugene Peterson a few years ago. We were talking about the extraordinary efforts some churches make to be user-friendly, to be accessible, to be warm and inviting. Peterson said that he believes that visitors don’t come to church to be entertained or to have people fawn over them. More than anything, he said, people want leaders in the church to take them seriously.
(I wish my own denomination would pay attention to Peterson’s words a little more.)
There is a need to seriously engage the tough questions of life. This is crucial. Pastors need to be more willing to do so. People need to be more willing to HONESTLY engage those issues. Get it past just a Facebook posting where you want to try and shock people or gain a little sympathy. ASK the questions, and let’s engage the TRUTH.
Unfortunately, evangelical churches are still missing the cues. We’re not seeing the deeper needs. We are paying too much attention to the polls, like so many politicians:
When all was said and done, Group Publishing looked at what makes a place friendly, and then offered suggestions on how churches can be more welcoming. They noted that the top things that make people feel a place is friendly are “making me feel like I belong” and “making me feel comfortable.”
Where the Church shines is at the cross. It’s level at the cross. You belong at the foot of the cross. All of us fit there! Yet, we can’t get to that second thing: Feeling comfortable. Not at the foot of the cross.
For comfort, you’ll need the local bar.
Galli wraps this up nicely:
Maintaining a sense of belonging is not easy. You will find yourself worshipping with people who irritate you, people with whom you disagree, people you find difficult to forgive at times. But the very reason you put up with their flaws and stupidities, and they with yours, is that you both belong to a family you cannot escape.
Furthermore, you don’t really belong to a group until people feel free enough to tell you what they really think of you and free enough to talk about the deepest, most troubling realities.
The church (at least where I pastor) will engage you and love you and be with you. But it won’t always be comfortable. You will irritate others and others will irritate you. Welcome to the real world! But they will also put up with shortcomings because we all know our own shortcomings. AND we work for healing, because the pain of where we are needs to be healed and made whole.