I Love this (Bar)… (Church)…

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.

One paragraph:

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…

Galli continues:

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.

7 thoughts on “I Love this (Bar)… (Church)…

  1. I love his summing up:
    “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.”

    Because I think that says it all!

  2. One thing that stands out is the word authenticity. A body of Christ needs to be this, because God is authentic. And since He is authentic, and He gave us his son for us, and we have recieved Him by faith, we have that indwelling character, and must remember that, Christ is authentic so we need to wear that – To be as raw and real as possible in love with grace and mercy to all.

    and this part stands out …”people feel free enough to tell you what they really think of you and free enough to talk about the deepest, most troubling realities.”

    I remember one time a good friend in the LORD told me I had a controlling spirit when it came to relationships. And instead of backing down, I agreed with him. I could have got angry and for a moment I said to myself ‘that’s it, I’m out of here’. But because I valued this person, and his fellowship, it caused me to address myself and be honest too. that to me is doing church. He cared enough to get into mystuff.
    Like wise when someone tells me of their deepest troubling realities of their own, (and me telling them too) showing our scars and wounds, knowing its not comfortable being open yet, seeking a way to heal, that is church. We go to the cross always and it’s not comfortable, but there is no other place to be. We go to our family of God because there is no other place to be.

  3. Let’s face it, churches will never again attract people on the outside like bars do. I mean strangers just don’t usually enter a church they’ve never attended or been invited to. But our love for others outside the church WILL draw them in eventually. When they get to know us (church people) they’ll see that church has been good for us, it’s our family, our strength in times of trouble, our place to celebrate and grieve. It will take time for them to see it, but once they do we won’t be able to keep them out. WE are the best marketing the church can have!

    1. There are times when a stranger will go to a church he has never been to or was invited to. One day that stranger gets to a point in his life when there is nothing left but God. When that happens, let’s pray that what he sees in the church and in the body of Christ is that authentic God-like character who loves, gives mercy and grace and healing that is as raw and as real as it can be. Jesus with skin on.

  4. Congratulations for posting such a useful blog. Your weblog is not only informative but also extremely artistic too. There usually are very few individuals who can write not so simple articles that creatively. Keep up the good writing !!

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