Surviving a 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?

There are simply no churches, if you peel away the gloss and the Sunday morning smiles, that are not populated by imperfect and inconsistent people. We do not confess our sins to each other because we have so few, but because we have so many.

Churches become disappointed in pastors. And pastors keep getting disappointed in churches. The steady prattle of small talk about churches changing pastors or pastors upgrading to better churches permeates our ministers’ meetings and our conventions. It follows a pattern. Everything is going to be great. Everything is great. All in all it’s great. OK, it’s not great, but it’s acceptable. It’s less than acceptable. This is not where God wants me. (In evangelicalese that means, “I’m getting outta here.”) And then, wow, this new church (job) is going to be really great.