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Why I Love My Disappointing Church

I am part of a disappointing church.

They weren’t a disappointing church at first. They were once welcoming, warm, loving, spiritual, worshipful and generally fun to be around.

That was then. This is now.

Now they are a disappointing church. I’ve had time for a good long look behind the scenes, and some of what’s there just isn’t very pretty.

The truth is, this is not the first time I’ve found myself in the middle of a disappointing church. It doesn’t happen every time. Just some of the time.

Some churches I’ve seen are caring and faithful and loving and I have nothing but good memories of them. Not detailed memories, since these were churches I visited on a Sunday or two and never went beyond that. I never got deeply involved. 

But, the worship service was certainly powerful. And based on my admittedly limited visits, everything from the happy greeters that met me at the doors to the joyful praise songs that lifted my soul, proved that these were wonderful churches. Unlike the church I’m at now.

After some careful analysis of the past 30 years, that is the common denominator true of all disappointing churches. My level of involvement.

The churches I found disappointing were the churches where I got really involved. Went to Bible studies. Went to meetings. Got in deep enough to actually get to know people over time.

So, the best way to avoid finding yourself in a disappointing church is to limit your involvement.

Only go to worship.

Don’t volunteer.

Be friendly, but don’t make friends. 

Sing, clap and give a little money.

Stay at the edges.

You have probably noticed, if you compare worship attendance with the totality of those showing up for anything else, that many Americans have already figured this out.

That’s the key. The truth is, I’ve never gotten really involved in a church — any church — that was not sometimes disappointing.

Of course, it’s likely, at some point, I may have been a little disappointing to them. OK, my unpaid editor-in-chief, Linda, assures me the words “it’s likely” and “a little” ought to be deleted from the previous sentence. Hmm. Sometimes our wives can be disappointing.

OK, I’m back. The good news is I think the bump on my head is already getting smaller. Now, where was I?

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Tom has taught in Christian higher education for 25 years, with a focus on the theology and history of Christian worship. Tom, along with his wife Linda, serves on the faculty of Ozark Christian College (Joplin, Missouri, US). Tom grew up among the Primitive Baptists of the Appalachian mountains. Through his adult life, he has served in churches and taught at schools associated with the Christian Churches (of the Stone-Campbell Movement).