5 Ways To Be Unsatisfied With Your Church

1. Don’t participate, merely consume.

If I had to say the one thing holding the American church back today, it would be a consumeristic culture. We’ve come to expect that the latest technology comes standard in our cars. Our movie theaters should  have wide rows with extra padded seats and that lean way back.
Unfortunately, we think our church should be no different. Just like the movie theater, we come when the production starts, sit in our seats, are entertained, and think we should leave satisfied when it’s over.

When I was a pastor, those most unsatisfied in our body, were those who just showed up on Sunday’s (sometimes). There was little to no participation in small groups, service projects or teaching and serving within the church.

Obviously there are those in most churches who are seekers, or young in the faith that just need to be taken care of for a season, but that should be a temporary state.

2. Criticize your leadership.

I once heard about a couple who didn’t like their pastor because he told stories about his family in the pulpit before beginning his sermons. Quirky? Yeah, kinda. Unbiblical, sinful, illegal, harmful?! Definitely not. We’ve really got understand the difference.

It’s also not fair to compare your pastor to the celebrity pastor on the other side of the country whose book we just read and now believe that every church everywhere should be run like that celebrity pastors church. Remember that celebrity pastor is in a completely different context. He doesn’t know your church, and he also doesn’t come to your home when you have a tragedy or celebrate with you when you have a baby or other joyous life event.

We’re hard on our pastors. Their job is a very public job. One that’s performed in front of an audience (by ‘performed’ & ‘audience’ I just mean that the duties of the job are undertaken in front of a crowd of people). We would do well to remember that our pastors/church leaders are human beings like us, full of quirks and wrestling with sin and struggles just like we do. Instead of seeing our pastors with targets on their backs, we should see them with love and compassion and as people who have dedicated their time to serve the body.

If you have a legitimate concern, approach your leader about it, and don’t talk about the them behind their back. Be kind, be loving.

3. Don’t spend time with your church outside of the church building. 

Most of our churches corporate gatherings serve a great purpose. We worship together and we learn together. But most aren’t very conducive to getting to know each other on a deeper level. This isn’t a failure on the part of our leadership, it’s just the nature of a larger gathering. We need these small group gatherings (not just official ‘small groups’, but parties, coffee dates, men’s/women’s nights, etc.). I’ve found that I learn more about a person over 30 minutes of sharing coffee or a beer, than I did attending liturgy with them for several months.

4. Believe that everything should be about you and for you, all the time.

Not long after Kate and I started attending our current church, they undertook a ‘season of kids’. There was additional time in liturgy given to teaching the children in the church. The kids participated in the service in various ways. Even the sermons were about child-like faith and other themes centered around children.

Kate and I didn’t have children (we now have one on the way if you’re not keeping up), and we were not ourselves children. We had to understand – not everything is about/for us all the time.

That’s not to say that we didn’t get anything from the season of kids, it just wasn’t aimed directly at us, but even that taught us something important, because the church that teaches you that everything is about you, all the time, is preaching a very different message than – lay down your lives for each other.

We were also appreciative to be apart of a church that found value in children and went to great lengths to show it to them.

5. Be unhappy with the fact that it isn’t perfect. 

“There is no perfect church, and if you find one, don’t join it because you’ll ruin it.” I don’t know who first said that, but it’s true. All churches are strong in some areas and weak in others. Hopefully churches are always working on those weaknesses, but if we can’t settle for anything less than perfection, then we’re in real trouble.

In his book “Under the Unpredictable Tree,” Eugene Peterson helps pastors be content in the church they are in. Maybe there needs to be a version for church members. In the book Peterson coined the term “Ecclesiastical Pornography.” That is the perfect term to describe the problem that so many people have. We look at the church down the street, or the church in town that’s “doing really well,” or the celebrity pastor’s church and think – “they have it all together” or “they’re doing church right.”

Many people start attending those churches and after the honeymoon period wears off, they find that church has weaknesses of its own. Sadly many people go through life thinking the perfect church is just around the corner, or as many young evangelicals do, they decide that they don’t need church at all and embark on solo-Christianity.

Church is like marriage in a lot of ways. In the beginning it’s fun, and exciting, but eventually the honeymoon comes to an end and it’s work, real work, but we find that the work is rewarding and worthwhile, and it’s work that God meant for us to be doing.


 

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96 comments
BarbaraMackBlackburn
BarbaraMackBlackburn

Great job, as usual, Shane. I agree with your take on the situation and I appreciate you sharing it. I especially agree with the criticism of leadership point. My pastor works so very hard and doesn't get as much help as I think she should, but, I think she's awesome. I really am troubled by the way people are so quick to jump on a pastor with criticism that is cold, mean-spirited and unloving. I wish Christians would remember that the Bible says we are to pray for our leaders and it constantly exhorts us to be kind and gentle. Even if we have a legitimate complaint, if it is not shared in love, it's nothing but a sounding gong - it's not constructive. I feel like church goers in our culture are very spoiled. We live in such a safe, pampered world that we sort of expect everything to be handed to us. Christians in persecuted areas know what's important and leave the petty things out of the church, where they belong.

mdags
mdags

I think this was a really good commentary. The only additional things I would be interested in knowing would be the signs of a dangerous or destructive church - how to tell when it is legitimately the church and not you that is the problem. Thanks for writing!

garoth183
garoth183

@mdags I read the article, and it's good.  Since you said, "you," I assume you are a pastor.  The churches that are mentioned in the article in the link are certainly ones to run from.  But there are also signs to be aware of in unhealthy congregations, that wouldn't fall under the categories mentioned in the article.  Perhaps another article could cover these "signs of an unhealthy congregation."  They are things like: when there is a major issue and no one will talk about it.  When a congregation focuses on getting rid of people rather than problem-solving. When the congregation is a one-person show (or, in a larger congregation, it is always the same small group that decides everything).  When there is a difference between the legitimate (elected) leadership and where decisions are actually made.  I could add about a half-dozen others to the list, if I had time to think about it.  


The two people who tend to be the lightening rods in a congregation are the pastor and organist/music director.  When people start talking about getting rid of one of them, it may be legitimate - but usually it is a mask for other problems. There's an old saying among counselors that, "the presenting problem is never the problem."  Look for anxiety in the congregation, a lack of willingness to address it, and people talking about people rather than issues that need addressed.  That will usually do it.

garoth183
garoth183

@mdags I would just add that one of the most important and hardest things to do, when there is conflict or blame floating around the church, is for the pastor to not take it personally.  See it as people projecting their anxiety, and try to talk to them about the real cause of their anxiety.  Often it has nothing to do with either the pastor or the church, but is something they are facing in their life.  The pastor represents God to them, and they will project their fears, loss, etc. on to the pastor that they feel toward God - since he/she is the only one who can speak for God.  Other folks are simply dysfunctional, and will bring that into the church as they do anywhere else.  Our own anxiety, or lack of it, often makes the difference whether it will generalize itself into the rest of the church or not.  We know, as pastors, that we are also held in the hands of a loving God, and are not to be anxious - it's God's show, not ours.  We just bring the message - if they kill the messenger, it's on them.  If all else fails, just remember, "this too shall pass."  You'll survive.  God is faithful, and won't let you go.

Keith Charles Edwards
Keith Charles Edwards

I participate. Yet, I am not part of the Rector's inner circle. Our pastors do not want any love or compassion. Many are aloof and narcissistic .Again, only the inner circle hangs out. My guys do not hang out with me. I invite them. I object not to children's sermons. I like them. I wish that we had more for children with more children.

Brian Tubbs
Brian Tubbs

@Keith Charles Edwards  "Our pastors do not want any love or compassion. Many are aloof and narcissistic ."


Respectfully, I've never met ANYONE who didn't desire love or compassion. As to whether your leaders may be "aloof" or "narcissistic," I can't say, but I do know that many leaders have been hurt (deeply) and thus have a hard time opening up and trusting others. You should read "Confessions of a Pastor" by Craig Groeschel. He talks about this in one of the chapters in the book. It's very insightful. I also know from other pastors that they've had to set major boundaries to protect themselves and their families. Best thing to do is pray for your leaders regularly, choose to love them (even if they seem unlovable or unlikeable), encourage them, and be available to help them. They may not accept your help right away, but if you're available, that will be appreciated. If after doing all these things, you're not getting anywhere, then perhaps you can pray about seeking another church. When Paul and Barnabas had a sharp contention, they parted ways. If that's what needs to happen, then follow God's will in that. But in the meantime, while you're there....love them, pray for them, encourage them, and be available to help them. And stay out of church conflicts, gossip, etc. Hope that helps. God bless you.

n2m
n2m

I agree with this.  I have been a pastor for 5 years and  the climate of consumerism is difficult to work through.  People will crucify you before they will stand beside you to make a situation better.  People will abandon you even though you have visited their child in the Jail,  visited their sick mother in the hospital and  dined in on another's home.  People, who say they want to be committed, when the rubber meets the road, they can't continue in their volunteer work more than a week or two (my experience---people who volunteer to print the bulletins, children's workers and  greeters.)   People want youth programs, and children's church and all the bells and whistles as well as  clean toilets, but they do not want to volunteer their time to  help in these area's of ministry.  Yet it is the pastors fault if all of this  is not given to them and they can't consume these  things.  My church is a new church plant, so we have seen the waves of people come and go and again it is usually the 20% doing and 80% sitting and complaining.   WE have to pray for one another so we do not become weary.  

Brian Tubbs
Brian Tubbs

I agree completely with this article and the FACTS support the claims of the article. Why do you think pastors are statistically, as an occupation group, more likely than most other professions to suffer from stress, depression, obesity, etc. as well as experience divorce or other family problems? While there are some corrupt and dictatorial pastors out there who (for sure) have hurt a lot of congregants, the facts are that most pastors are decent, honorable people sincerely trying to do a good work - and virtually all of them have experienced FAR more mistreatment from church members than they have from people outside the church. And for those of you in the comments section who have criticized this article, Shane is in GOOD COMPANY when it comes to exhorting church members to be more humble, loving, and supportive of their churches and church leaders. Read Paul's epistles, especially Philippians 2:14 and I Thessalonians 5:12-13. 


Good article, Shane!

Deanna
Deanna

6. The Pastor judges you on false accusations, gossip and lies and won't speak to you.

williewarner1194
williewarner1194

This is just one more article about what is wrong with the people sitting out "on the bleachers", so to speak.  We get a lot of those.  We live in a hurting world, and the writer doesn't seem to take this into consideration.  People tend to be private; shy.  For them to participate is tantamount to climbing Mt. McKinley.  The answer to the dilemma is not new: it's one-on-one discipleship.  It's unconditional acceptance.  It's letting the Holy Spirit do His work.  It's not "helping" others.  It's remembering that we are one body.  In coming along side, we help our own body.  It's loving people where they are, even if they never live up to our expectations.

beardonabike
beardonabike moderator

@williewarner1194 I like what you've said here. I think you may have misunderstood what this is about though. It's not about those on the outside or even outskirts of faith, but those that feel that they know how to do church better than everyone else and thus are always found wanting. To again use the borrowed term from Eugene Peterson, it's about ecclesiastical pornography.

williewarner1194
williewarner1194

@beardonabike @williewarner1194 Thank you for your response.  I pretty much stand by my original comment, though.  This seems to be another article that beats up on the congregation.  J. Vernon McGee was asked what was the greatest lesson he learned during his years of preaching the gospel.  He said, :Jesus loves me.  This I know."  I don't want to be maudlin, but I think in our churches the problem is a lack of love.  As the expression goes, "It's us 4 and no more."  If there is a lack of love in the pulpit, there will be a shortage in the congregation, and that breeds enormous rivalry.  I think the question is, "How can I love you so that you will grow, for we need each other.  If you are strong, I will be strong, also."    

beardonabike
beardonabike moderator

@williewarner1194 I stand by your original comment too, as I do this most recent one!
I just think we are talking about 2 different things. 
Some of this was based on my experience being a pastor and if I could tell you the details with all the nuance,  I think we would understand each other better, but those stories are too long and boring for a comments section. :)

williewarner1194
williewarner1194

@beardonabike @williewarner1194 I think I understand what you are saying.  I was in a legalistic church for many years, and people used to come to me and tell me their problems, both sides.  I was also in a ministry where 2 others and myself held retreats for pastors' wives.  My closest friend was the wife of a pastor and the daughter of a pastor, a missionary director.  I listened, and listened, and listened.  I used to want to shake the living daylights out of people sometimes and scream, "If you think this is so easy, you friggin' do it!"  Not love.  That attitude was not love.  I had to heed my own words.

wallekat
wallekat

This is an interesting article. However, the comments were intensely enlightening.  It may be that churches are becoming more of a social outlet than a worshipping one.  It is  maybe that there are too many pretenders that are being held up as having great faith when in truth they are simply not.  It is hard to pretend that a church is a healing place when it is not always that way.  Some churches are guarded heavily by "gatekeepers" who decide who will be included as worthy of being involved.  That is just humanism at its finest.  On that same note, there are sincere "organized churches" where all are welcomed and none touted above another.  I get tired, personally, of some churches where some are referred to as "rock stars" and others simply foot the bill at pseudo churches where being included or allowed to take any active role is conditional.  Blaming the attenders who do not get involved is short sighted.  Why are these people not involved?  Would they be less critical if they were a true part of that church?  Would they be looking for something else if they truly were made to feel welcomed and valued?  This is an age old problem. Getting involved can be much harder than insiders might think.  Church is hard work, but it should be a fellowship...working together.. 

beardonabike
beardonabike moderator

@wallekat No doubt there are churches that don't make people feel welcomed and valued. I've had many friends who have had that experience with church. However it's not been my experience. To be clear, what you're taking about is a big problem, it's just not mutually exclusive from the problem I'm addressing here. Maybe a blog post addressing the other side you're speaking of is called for.

Bette Kay
Bette Kay

@wallekat My husband and I were deeply involved with our church and worked and participated in every way but he became diagnosed with Parkinson's and Myasthenia Gravis plus heart problems and we have hardly been able to attend in the last two years. I keep involved in my women's group but I cannot leave him on Sunday mornings because  lots of time he is in the wheel chair of a morning and hardly able to move.  I'm hoping people don't judge us. We really really want to participate so now we are looking for a church that has a Saturday evening service so that we can attend at least one service a week.  We are looking for one.  We are moving to a larger city.  Maybe we will be fortunate enough to find an evening service and well enough to keep it up. I miss my church work but I have to tend to the needs of my hubby.

williewarner1194
williewarner1194

@Bette Kay @wallekat Continue to do the best you can.  The church isn't meant to place guilt on those who are faithful.  You are definitely faithful, only your duties have changed.  I think beard is trying to relate how frustrating it is for people to come to church and judge the staff and other congregation when they, themselves, do nothing to lift the burdens of others who are struggling, and that might include the pastors and elders.  I do feel for the staff and congregation, but I also know that critical people can be some of the most needy people there are, but, also, people who are critical can be spiritually "flipped".  That spirit can be turned around to turn them into prayer warriors.  God give you comfort and peace in your heart and know that you are loved deeply and you are appreciated very much.  I will pray for you and your husband.  Reach out to your community.  As a caregiver, you can have some lonely times in your life.

Rhonda Anne
Rhonda Anne

I have tried to reply to BruceAlanWisons reply to me but for some reason it will not load. The little circle just goes round and round. I would like to discuss further with him if there is a way.

BrianJennings33
BrianJennings33

Good list. Very true. Perhaps as a spinoff of #2, I'd add, "Do not participate but merely volunteer." That sounds strange at first, but when people stop fully engaging/participating, they quit seeing opportunities, guests, growth and positive things. Sometimes they are still serving in their little place but quit fully participating. When this happens, the warning alarms are sounding in my head.

Lutheranism101
Lutheranism101

  •  I have to respectfully disagree with most of this article. I will start with this statement "Obviously there are those in most churches who are seekers, or young in the faith that just need to be taken care of for a season, but that should be a temporary state". I believe that this thinking is the problem with so many churches. The pastor's office is to serve his congregation by preaching the gospel and administering the sacraments of Baptism and Lord's Supper. We do not stop needing to be "taken care of" and do not come to church to be told what we "need to do". I have been Lutheran for 3 years and attend church to receive God's gifts most every Sunday.
  • I do agree that no church is perfect and that this is a consumeristic culture that does spill over into churches. However, to me, the consumeristic part is that people go to church to somehow become better people rather than hear that we are saved and that peace and understanding can guard our hearts. I just see this so much and have seen people so broken by churches/pastors who do not take care of their flocks. I think a pastor fails to do his job when he neglects the gospel, or adds to it. "You've got to do this, you need to fix this, you need to serve". No, these are things we get to do and will love to do as Christians but these things have no place in a Sunday service.
  • Well, let's see, what else?  No, it is not all about us, but we should not expect to go to church to hear about how to be better parents, how to be a better spouse, or how to live a better life.  A proper sermon will apply to all the congregation every Sunday, including the little children sitting on their parent's knees.  Sure, the sermon can employ the pastor's creativity in his delivery, story-telling.  Our pastor usually gets in some Jedi reference that I'm sure many people in our congregation either don't understand or could do without.  But, it is not a main part of his story or sermon and he never neglects to properly proclaim the gospel.  

beardonabike
beardonabike moderator

@Lutheranism101 I don't think we're talking about the same thing. I don't think what you're saying and what I'm saying are mutually exclusive. Thanks for the comment.

Matt Kramer
Matt Kramer

Good read - thank you and God bless.

Tim
Tim

Yeah I am quirky, I did not come to church to hear about the pastor and his family.  Or a lot of illustrations, news of the latest thing etc.  Why would we uphold or spent time lifting anything up but Christ? Fine for those who enjoy it.


Originalbosfan1
Originalbosfan1

@Tim That's not what this article is saying. The illustration of the pastor was not meant to be a pastor that talks about his family but doesn't preach the word. It's about a pastor who is faithfully preaching the word but sometimes using examples that you wouldn't necessarily choose. There's a big difference there. Obviously, the word should be first and foremost, but sometimes folks get hung up on stylistic differences that aren't important in the grand scheme of things. 


Heck, Jesus himself used farming and fishing illustrations in his ministry. I don't know about you, but I'm not a farmer or a fisherman. However, does that mean that Jesus is not someone I should look to as a leader? Of course not! There is a difference between style and substance, and we must learn to differentiate. 

SusannaK
SusannaK

Please get rid of the tab on the side of the page that says "send voicemail." It covers up the right edge of the text and makes it hard to read the article.

bigdaddymoose
bigdaddymoose

Nice reminder, Mr. Onbike.   I don't share these trials with you.  Like me and my biceps, my church is perfect.

beardonabike
beardonabike moderator

@bigdaddymoose Sometimes I can't read sarcasm well. If you're being genuine then I'm glad for you. If not, well then ok.

sried
sried

Criticism regarding 'how' the church is trying to fulfill its mission should be carefully considered.  

Akin to criticizing an archer's technique in how he attempts to get the arrow to the bulls-eye.  Preferences may come into play, but most disgruntled come from secondary or tertiary issues.

But whether or not the right 'target' is being considered is a whole other discussion, and worthy if not obligatory to be challenged.

beardonabike
beardonabike moderator

@sried Yeah that's well said. Of course there are legitimate issues like I mentioned in the post, but it's a different topic all together.

Micheal M
Micheal M

Could it be possible to include the word "unconditional" as a means to circumvent many of these problems you have described? My opinion is that stressing the unconditional in love, worship, and heart as expressed by Jesus helps to embolden people to live as Christ lived and love as Christ loved. Being a Christian 24/7 is easy [to  me] in this manner. It can be as easy for everyone who would let the spirit of God be.

Guest
Guest

I have been to many churches and it is incredibly hard to get involved or be accepted at outside activities. I have literally asked to volunteer and been told theres no place for me. Your list ignores the fact that most churches are unwelcoming and its people unkind.

beardonabike
beardonabike moderator

@Guest I don't know if it's fair to say that MOST churches are unwelcoming. I think there are many churches who would LOVE your attitude and what you can offer the community.

Rhonda Anne
Rhonda Anne

@Guest

I agree. I love the Lord and I thank Him that I have internet. I can listen to one or more sermons everyday and do my Bible study from the privacy of my own home without worrying about which "Christian" is going to stab me in the back next. Especially the ones in my own family who are absolute monsters when they are not in church. 

BruceAlanWilson
BruceAlanWilson

@Rhonda AnneI have never yet seen an Internet connection that can administer Holy Communion.  The Baptismal Vows say that you will 'remain in the Apostle's teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the Bread and the prayers.'  (That's a quote from the Book of Acts, btw.)  Can the Internet hear your confession and give you absolution?  If you are in the hospital, will the Interntet call on you?  If you have a death in the family, will the Internet bring you a casserole? In short, how can the Internet be the Body of Christ, His Hands & Feet & Voice to you?

(Even as far as Bible study and sermons--can the Internet challenge you, call on you to see the text in a different way?  When an Internet Bible study says something you disagree with, or don't understand, or which is not in accord with your presuppositions, you can click 'back' or 'close'--harder to do with a preacher or teacher right in front of you!)

FrustratedChristian
FrustratedChristian

@GuestI thoroughly agree! I have experienced this not only in "outside activities" but Sunday morning church services as well. I have also been told that, after faithfully attending a church for several years, I am not qualified to work in the various ministries because I am not a formal member (on paper) of the congregation.  Pretty difficult to be satisfied in a church that values my signature on a document more than my desire to serve!

FrustratedChristian
FrustratedChristian

@BruceAlanWilson@Rhonda AnneYour comments and descriptions would indicate that you attend the Catholic church.  (Nothing wrong with that, btw)  However, I am a believer attending a Protestant church and I can confess my sins directly to my Lord and Savior without a priest. Likewise, I can receive absolution from my sins without an intercessory.  


I do agree with you that we all need a support group (to visit us when sick, support us in our times of need, etc.) and, for many, the church provides this.  However, many churches - in my experience ESPECIALLY the big "mega" churches - fall completely flat in these areas.  The pastors do not even know a small percentage of their flock by name and rarely know their needs. Nor do they have ministries to care for the grieving. My neighborhood association, on the other hand, offers these things to me and they are provided by people who personally know me and are invested in me.


As for the "Internet Bible" (no offense intended, but it matters not to me if the Bible is spoken or printed, on paper or screen, if it is a legitimate translation, it is simply the "Bible"), there are actually advantages to it that a preacher cannot provide.  If I am confused, I can read the text in multiple translations to expand my understanding and I have immediate access to Concordances and other reference materials that can help me understand.  Understanding the Bible is far more important that blind acceptance of a preacher's sermon.

beardonabike
beardonabike moderator

@FrustratedChristian I'm sorry that happened to you. It's sad when churches close doors to people because of a signature. There are churches that would love to have you as a part of their community.

Brian Tubbs
Brian Tubbs

@FrustratedChristian I want to be careful not to defend the particular church(es) of which you may speak. I don't know the details of that situation or those situations, so take my comments in a very general way, please. First, I agree with Shane that no church should turn away participants/volunteers simply on the basis of formal membership. Our church has formal membership, but we are blessed by the active attendance and volunteer participation of many who are NOT members (formally) of our congregation. That being said....


Of those churches that do have formal membership, most of them do require that a person join the church in order to be considered for a LEADERSHIP position within the church. At our church, for example, we have non-members assisting in many of our ministries. We love and encourage that. But I would not support a non-member serving as a trustee, treasurer, Sunday school director or lead teacher, deacon, etc. When a person wishes to take on a leadership role, they need to first submit to authority. Submission to authority is crucial to leadership. If a leader isn't willing to submit to a higher authority than himself/herself, I will NOT follow that leader. No way! And that's what membership is about (or at least that's what it's SUPPOSED to be about). By becoming a member of a church, you are making a commitment to submit to that church's Statement of Faith/Beliefs, to cooperate with that church's leadership, and to take your place WITHIN an organized body of believers (in such a way that you'll be - to use a metaphor - rowing in the same direction with the rest of them). All that is important.


Again, I don't know the specifics of YOUR experience, so please don't "shoot the messenger" here. I'm not defending how YOU specifically have been treated or neglected or disrespected. Not at all. I'm simply trying to shed some light on why some churches take membership seriously. Hope that helps.


Happy New Year. 

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