***This essay was first posted on 11/13/13***
“Life is pain, Highness.
Anyone who says differently is selling something.”
The Princess Bride
I have been marinated in this sort of cynicism most of my life, it’s all around me in culture, in peer pressure, in the human condition. So when I live out my faith on a daily basis, this is the mentality I’m up against inside my own head as I contemplate my attendance at church each week, or how I’m going to give, or in which ways I will serve.
You see there is truth in this quote. A part of life is pain, but it is not the only part of the human experience. For me to live a balanced life I need to be open to experiencing pain, joy, anger, hope, grief, jealousy, faith, despair, and love. Yes, I need community, but I need that as much as, I need solitude. Yes, I need communal worship, but I need that as much as, I need private meditation. Yes, I need to be growing alongside other believers, but I need that as much as, I need my own identity that is separate from the group.
So let me say a few things that will probably counter the current thinking about church decline:
When I don’t show up on Sunday morning, I’m not struggling with consumerism spirituality. I need a balanced community of faith. I don’t expect the church to meet all of my needs on a transactional basis. I want to be present and to give without abandon, but I do need kindness and sadly that is what the church is lacking during this transition into the digital age. There is a lack of kindness all around us by way of social media and in real life so if the church feels too much like the rest of my life, I don’t always feel compelled to get out of bed on a Sunday morning. It’s really that simple.
In this season of my living, I feel like I’m finding the balance that will work for me in regard to my worship attendance, my financial giving, and my offering of time and talent and it doesn’t follow the rules of *good christian*. If I’m not showing up to church on a Sunday morning it’s partially my stuff and it’s partially the way church is living out the faith.
When I don’t show up on a Sunday morning it’s not because I feel like church isn’t relevant anymore. I need to be able to have trust for the institution in this age. Some powerful injustices have been carried out by church leaders around the world for centuries and in this age, clergy members were allowed to victimize the youngest and most vulnerable amongst us. And I don’t care to hear the defense that we are not the Catholic Church, because here is a truth I know in the depths of all I am…every denomination has these sorts of skeletons in the closet. Until the church gets really serious about reconciliation in this age, decline will continue to be a reality. The church has lost the trust of culture and for good reason. I don’t know how to reconcile the level of inconsistency that goes on for me between what the church is telling me it’s about and what I am experiencing the church actually being about. The church created the rupture of trust, it is on the church to bridge the gap.
Until we, as the body of believers understand that we are responsible to come alongside those in pain and offer more than some gimmick, we will be in decline. Honestly, if we spent half of the energy being spent on articulating, bemoaning, theorizing, diagnosing, and criticizing about church decline and redirected it towards helping victims rebuild their lives, things would begin to turn around.
I’m sick of the rhetoric and I’m inside the body of believers. I can’t even imagine what someone on the outside looking in is thinking and feeling. So let’s get more serious about turning things around, not just talk about why things need turning around. The church cannot just gloss over the pain of the people, especially because in some cases, church leadership created the pain.
Instead we need to put all of our energy towards…
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22,23
… and that sort of living will take all of our energy. It’s that simple.