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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112 thoughts on “5 Ways To Be Unsatisfied With Your Church

    • Thanks William. I’ve heard of Rainer’s book but haven’t read it. I don’t mind links in the comments if they’re relevant, which yours is, so thanks for sharing. However the link didn’t work for me.

  1. Great thoughts Shane! Consumerism is having it’s way with the church. One of the hardest things for me to hear and something that is really bugging me is hearing people talk about the church as if it is something that is consumed rather than something to be actively living out in our lives and community.
     
    The problem is that our North American culture allows for this kind of flippant Christianity, and our churches do as well… I don’t judge a person’s desire to keep from going to hell, but I do judge their selfish and consumeristic motivations for being a part of the body, the house, and the bride of Jesus.
     
    Thanks again for this post.

    • @Joe Puentes It is true, that here in North America we have forgotten that as  members of a THE CHURCH, The body of Christ, we should be careful that we are walking with the Lord and not telling the pastor what our itching ears want to hear.  If the sermon caused you some spiritual conviction…then look up the issue in THE WORD and God will reveal what you need to deal with in your own life. It is not all take, take, take….we are called to serve, serve, serve. Jesus being our best example of servant-hood!
      My mother also told me when I was a very young Christian that if I was hearing a message that didn’t agree with THE WORD, to check it out.  If It is not in line with what the Bible says, then ask discretely of the pastor, that if by some stretch you were hearing it wrong.  If in that conversation the pastor sticks by an errant belief…the gracefully exit that church and find one that preaches an unadulterated Scripture.

  2. Love it, Shane. I’m tired of general complaints about systemic consumerism in church culture. It’s so much better to look at ourselves first, and see if we are contributing to it. Great words.

  3. I pastor a good sized church and I couldn’t agree more! Reading it has left me wondering how do we share this information with people who don’t want to hear it, to in effect, change their behaviors.

    • @MGronek That’s a great question. I’m not a pastor but I used to be and this is a post I could have written while I still was a pastor, but it might have sounded self-seving. I think having been on that side of things has given me a unique perspective. When i joined the church I’m at now one of the things I really wanted was to be an advocate and support for my pastor and say things that might be better coming from a member rather than the pastor. Maybe you have an advocate in your church that can do the same and say some of these things. 
       
      Or you could just post the list on your churches bulletin board, HA!

      • @MGronek For any other non-church-staff reading out there. BE AN ADVOCATE FOR YOUR PASTORS AND CHURCH LEADERS!

        • beardonabike MGronek I personally will never advocate for either after having been a homeless woman on the street for three months in 2005. After having brain surgery three years previous in 2002, I had to disenroll from college during that period. It was too difficult to remain in school while homeless and having seizures. I checked with several churches to see if I could sleep inside for safety. The answer was a resounding “No.” I was bodily clean and forty-eight years of age, not on drugs or alchohol. I had been evicted from the YMCA dormitory I had been staying in because the manager was afraid of my seizures. I won the “Right to sue,” for housing discrimination, altho I never did sue the YMCA. My daughter had been pre-schooled in the YMCA in another state where I had been a family member for many years in support of the many fine programs they offer. Forgiveness is an important value to embrace, however, I will not forgive the many houses of worship that do not house the homeless. I turned my back on those that could but would not help myself and, those that remain homeless across the nation, their most important and need-based flock. You see, it is houses of worship that consume via the plate. I will always have my completed Archeology, Sociology, and Psychology degrees gained in 2010 after I returned to school, and I will know where the houses of worship believe when people need the churches to intervene on their behalf directly in their most dire needs. Leaders need to lead. I have since housed and fed homeless people as I can on my SSDI. Churches need to be ashamed of themselves for leaving this population in the lurch.

        • soshaljustic beardonabike MGronek You have a very legitimate ax to grind. I’m so sorry you had that experience. Please know that all churches aren’t that way.

        • soshaljustic beardonabike MGronek I too am sorry to hear of your experience and I wish they could have blessed the Christ in you, and found ways to support, love and respect you.

    • MGronek Easiest way to “…change their behaviors,” is to stand before the people you desire to change, every week, say to them, “Go see psychological professionals and they will change your behaviors as they have been trained to change them through various techniques” Many people seek assurances of love and forgiveness from their god(s) and/or goddesses at the time they return to their houses of worship or communal societies of worship. To seek that encouragement of the blurred path in this futuristic society from historical and aged messages from the sages of old, people have not necessarily strayed far and do not need condemnation, seek no masochistic treatment! From this post I get the sincere impression this pastor has forgotten the main messages of forgiveness and love. I may  be very wrong but, these qualities above all else, attract and never repel.

      • soshaljustic MGronek You know, as soon as I posted that comment, I regretted those words. And, I’m not sure if it is possible to
        change another person’s behaviors, I can only try to acknowledge and work on my own shortcomings, and therein, to model a broken and persistent kind of faith. Forgiveness and love are indeed core to the life God calls me to live as a pastor, and I pray every day that Christ sticks around to help me embody his wholeness of heart in my highs, and my lows.

        • MGronek soshaljustic Editing is a never ending process! I believe you completely! There are countless occasions where I post on a stream and instantaneously regret my wording. I often wonder if the many scribes of ancient parchment and turtle shells had these same misgivings! haha! Our languages are scant in what our hearts yearn to sing to our fellow humans. Perhaps that is the reason, I may never truly be, ever able to judge another? 
          That lesson alone…is one I keep closest to my soul. For I never will ever be able to really know, the true intent of another, because words seem to fail me, thoughts do not go as far as they need to. When I need them to reach their appropriate mark on another human heart, just right, for them to know I love them and mean them no harm, want to teach, perhaps to lead. 
          To help in any way I can, that clears a path toward the one that helps produce any needed change?  Isn’t it true-words always fail when greatness enters the picture? But, that is soooo wonderful…that is when I will really, really know. I made a difference, it sounds as ignorance, it’s not! I hit the spot!   Quiet entered the picture, the still of humanity, that is peace and solemnity! Thankful for my lows, they give comparison quality for me, to know my highs. 
          I was able to know this, after my better than six hour long brain surgery to remove part of my brain, eleven years ago. Happy I was still alive when waking from the anesthesia the next day, my exclamation “I’m still alive!,” the first thing I said. Life has a beauty, both highs and lows. I promised myself I would keep the lows as sacred as the highs, and have tried to do so since that September day in 2002, when feeling myself slipping into a pot of self-pity. Praying daily, I believe in all gods and goddesses that global peoples pray to as well. I need my faith belief. They need theirs.
          I can only know what I was shown, and I was shown much in my life, for that I am grateful. I have taught my faith belief, helped start churches of other faith beliefs, too. I support people of no belief, knowing they have a special love guiding them on their path.

  4. {I didn’t know you had a child on its way, congrats}I think I’m pretty satisfied with my church. Granted we have the celebrity pastor who gets people coming from the US or wherever to hear him speak, but it’s the people that really make it great. There’s always something going on and someone reaching out to others, we spend time in and out of the church and the small groups come in huge quantities and varieties and people really care about serving, whatever you can do. I hardly miss my previous church, though I am fond of the vicar at that one who is a very entertaining man able to teach with simplicity and very welcoming, because it feels like family now. It gives meaning to the idea of brothers and sisters in Christ.

    • @uponacloud That’s such a great thing to hear. I think we feel like most churches are all wrong because those with bad experiences speak up the loudest. BTW, I have nothing against celebrity pastors. In fact I interview them all the time on my podcast 🙂 . I just know that for every celebrity pastor, there are 100 non-celebrity pastors who are doing hard work and it can be really demoralizing for someone to make unfair comparisons.

      • @beardonabike I was being ironic because over here we don’t really have a celebrity pastor culture, though some bishops or even in this case vicars do have a reputation that precedes them to the corners of the world. I find it amusing sometimes, but so far I never met a person who didn’t teach me something whether or not I liked the style so the idea of holding someone to high standards seems being spoilt. I changed church too but it was much more personal than what service the church offers.

  5. This hits a little too close to home.  There have been many days, months, perhaps even years that I have found reasons to be unhappy with the church.  Believe it is time for me to look at the way I have been dealing with the issues and not with what is wrong with the church.  I think I might be wrong about the church.

  6. I don’t think you’re being fair.  It is the right and expectation of any member to be critical, in a constructive manner, of the pastor.  The pastor is a paid employee, and there are standards to which this person should be held.  It is not the same as if you were an elder or deacon, an unpaid position that is not full time.  Employees of the church getting paid to do a specific task are responsible at a level comparable to us at our own jobs.  When things aren’t getting done, according to the people paying the bills, then things have to be addressed.  I’m not saying you should be dressing down the pastor every chance you get.  But we are consumers in a lot of ways.  Today, whether we like it or not, churchgoers are looking at what happens to the dollars that they donate.  Isn’t that really the way it should be?  What’s wrong with expecting high quality preaching and pastoral care?  Why should a paid preacher be treated differently because he gets his paycheck from a church as opposed to working for a software company, kroger  or dell computer?  I do not condone bashing the pastor either.  But I do believe that paid ministers are responsible at a much higher level than just a volunteer helping out in the nursery.

    • @SUWANEEGEORGIA (WHO’S FABIO) I agree, especially when they are preaching contrary to the church’s doctrine and not working to serve in the capacity of shepherd of their parish.  I agree that we should be respectful and not petty, but constructive criticism is needed in order to grow and strengthen the church body and keep it healthy.

    • @SUWANEEGEORGIA (WHO’S FABIO) There is a difference between criticizing the pastor for his/her legitimate deficiencies and holding him/her to impossibly high standards.And, BTW, according to the law in most churches the pastor is an independent contractor, not an employee.

      • @BruceAlanWilson  @SUWANEEGEORGIA (WHO’S FABIO) @yellowstonegirl As I stated in the post, it’s a different situation if a pastor or church leader who does something “Unbiblical, sinful, illegal, harmful.”I just have to outright disagree with the notion of treating a pastor like a hired hand or someone working in a customer service capacity. I think we make a mockery of God’s calling to vocational ministry when we do that. 
        I’m in no way endorsing the idea that a pastor has unquestionable authority, but I find that we’re often on the other end of that spectrum, demanding more benefits of attending our church or we’ll up and leave and go to the church down the street who will give us what we want. It’s like demanding that AT&T keep us happy with lots of services & perks, because if they don’t we can easily switch to T-Mobile.

        • @beardonabike  @BruceAlanWilson  @SUWANEEGEORGIA (WHO’S FABIO)  @yellowstonegirl I agree with you, Shane. I had a very bad feeling reading the comment in which there are expectations on the service and we are defined consumers when we are talking about church. On the young vocations website kept by the Church of England there’s written pretty clearly that God calls a variety of people with a variety of ministry styles and personalities…so yeah, exactly what you mention about mockery of God’s calling, same feeling.

    • @SUWANEEGEORGIA (WHO’S FABIO)
       A Pastor does have a higher responsibility and should be held to a higher biblical standard.  However, a Pastor is not an employee at the beck and call of congregants.  That perspective reflects an assumption of our mission context concerning a Pastor’s role rather than a biblical definition of the office.  A Pastor is a called servant of the body of Christ.  There is a world of difference between that and a paid employee.  The Pastor is beholden first to God.  Secondly, anyone who has a consumer mindset about Church and specifically worship is missing out on what God really has for us.  Worship is about giving glory to God; not about what we receive.

    • @SUWANEEGEORGIA (WHO’S FABIO) What’s wrong with verifying what happens with your tithe? If you can’t trust that, you will most likely not trust anything within your church, or any church for that matter. Also, I think you’re looking at the wrong qualifications… not once did you mention that you desired a pastor with love, compassion, humility, and a spirit of servanthood… nah, you want preaching AND high-quality pastoral care (when, as a pastor, I’ve noticed most guys have one or the other, they rarely excel at both)… and you want it in high-quality… I think you need to refer to point #1 of this post… and point #4.

    • SUWANEEGEORGIA (WHO’S FABIO) A pastor’s job is much more difficult than an ordinary business man.  He walks a tightrope all the time of trying to motivate people to do the things they should without making them so angry that they leave.  A supervisor in a business tells their employees what to do, and they do it or they lose their jobs.  That paycheck is a HUGE incentive!!!  Pastors work with mostly volunteer workers.  MUCH, MUCH HARDER!!!  They are under more stress than people understand.

    • SUWANEEGEORGIA (WHO’S FABIO) I’m thinking that the standards for a church worker should not be diminished simply whether or not they are paid or not paid.  Too many efforts are degraded by this assertion that we can’t expect ‘quality’ in every respect from our volunteers.  And yes, I believe that sometimes we should fire some volunteers.

    • SUWANEEGEORGIA (WHO’S FABIO)  as a consumer, will you allow that hired hand to speak into your life with grace and discernment.  Will you allow that employee to hold you accountable when you sin and teach things that are uncomfortable for you to hear?

    • SUWANEEGEORGIA (WHO’S FABIO) This makes me very uncomfortable. I want to lovingly caution you that you’re making an idol out of money. You think because the congregation pays the pastor they have the power? No. It is because God called the pastor that he is there…. and God retains the power. No pastor is above the congregation, and no congregation is above the pastor. Both are to regard others as better then themselves, and the same God is above them both. We are all called to what God calls us to, and accountable to him, not to others, even other Christians. That doesn’t mean other Christians can’t “hold us accountable” but that just means keep us on task and in the right direction with what God wants us to do- not with what they want us to do… Any money, and yes I say any money that the congregation gives to the church should understood to be God’s money. The congregation gives to the church because they feel it is a loving act towards God. Those God called to administrate and steward that money pay some of it to the pastor because God calls them to do so, and they feel lead that this is the pastor meant to be over their church, chosen by God. In this way, God chooses the pastor and God pays his bills. The way you describe is the way of the world, not the way of the kingdom.

    • SUWANEEGEORGIA (WHO’S FABIO) Oh, I need to add because I realized I’d forgotten to mention, but had thought it, that of course constructive criticism is allowed. But the article is saying not to be critical to others, not saying don’t criticize the pastor. Talking to the pastor about what you might feel convicted about is different from just complaining to friends and neighbors without ever bringing it up with church leadership.

  7. CS Lewis talked about this in “The Screwtape Letters”, about how Wormwood could allow the patient’s going to church work for “Our Father Below”s desire.

  8. Sometimes the “dissatisfaction” comes down to a difference in philosophy. I enjoyed the Church I used to attend until I realized their views would never mesh with mine; the Pastor considered homosexuals a threat to healthy Christian marriages, and while it was his right to believe it, as someone with gay friends, that made me uncomfortable. The Pastor also felt certain religions and practices were a threat, including horoscopes. i didn’t complain because again, it was his right, but I did stop attending because that’s just not in line with my beliefs.

    • @Stephanie  That’s one of the main problems. People are looking for a church that agrees with them the way they are. They are not looking foe a church that will help lead them to where they need to be in a relationship with God.. YES WE ARE ALL SINNERS BUT HOPEFUJLY WE ARE WANTING TO LEARN AND IF THERE ARE SINS WE NEED TO QUIT WE WILL BE CHALLENGED TO QUIT.. TOO MANY ARE SATISFIED WITH THEIR SINS AND HAVE NO INTENTION TO CHANGE. JUST KEEP LOOKING, THERE ARE SOME CHURCHES OUT THERE THAT WILL ACCEPT JUST ABOUT ANYTHING.

  9. Wow.. very well done and the other comments just add to the validity of the article.  the Key to all this, the article and the comments is accountability to Christ.  Which people just don’t want to hear.  That is what is wrong with the church and outside of the church.

  10. 5 MORE WAYS:
    1.  Be dissatisfied with their lake of care for their community
    2.  Be dissatisfied with the way they bestow their judgement like Pharisees of old
    3.  Be dissatisfied with the way they insist the church must run like a business.  In most churches I have served there was more emphasis on Stewardship Sunday than Easter Sunday…interesting.
    4.  Be dissatisfied with the fact that even though most people see warm and fuzzy on Sunday morning, Monday morning brings the staff meeting which usually revolves around planning and not truly seeking the heart of Christ.
    5.  Be dissatisfied with one more article that points the finger at members and doesn’t require the leadership to own the detriment they continually do to the church.

    I have served in Student Ministry throughout the southeast.  Ill own the things I did wrong.  I think most will tell you that.  However, I have seen so much go on behind the scenes, that I can no longer take a church seriously.  That hurts me to say.  I have instead found community amongst great friends that love the Lord.  We believe in social justice.  We believe in a balance of reason and experience.  We believe in kindness to all.  We believe that God is love and love still wins!

    • @lance I think we’re talking about 2 different things here. No doubt what your talking exists, I’ve seen it too. I’ve seen it most pervasive in larger churches. Is that the case for your experience? I have nothing against larger churches in and of themselves, but sometimes being large makes them vulnerable to the problems you’ve pointed out.
      I stand by my post, but I don’t see why, both what I’ve said, and what you’ve said, can’t both be true. 
      I hope you can find a church that is redemptive for you and reconciles your bad experiences. I in no way want to make it seem like your “5 Ways” aren’t legitimate because they are. 
      You said “one more article,” but the reason I wrote this was because I didn’t hear anyone talking about these things. 
      I think I made it clear that “unbiblical, sinful, illegal, [and] harmful” matters were a different issue all together, which are really things your comment was about. 
       
      So I’m sorry if this post offended you, but I think we need to remember that for every judgmental  two-faced pastor who is concerned with making more money, there are several other pastors who are just trying to serve their congregations and lead them to the heart of God as best they can.

      • beardonabike first, i want to say that I mean no offense.  I can say throughout my ten years in ministry, I saw it in everything from startup churches to Non-profits.  I have worked for churches both small and large.  I say one more, because I know this is the same exact logic I used to spew at our less dedicated members, or more often sadly, about them.  I realize what you are saying are legitimate concerns, other wise I would not have said 5 MORE concerns.  Trust me I get it.  I just believe that people are tired of being pushed to the church.  More importantly, this is how I believe our non-believing friends perceive the church; which in all honesty I am close to becoming one.  I still have faith, but I am testing this whole mustard seed thing out.  Jesus led and compelled people to belief.  We can hide behind the shadow of “discipleship, Godly counsel, and accountability,” but I am realizing more and more is that people are tired of hearing the church!  THEY WANT TO SEE IT!  I am no longer accepted in 90% of churches due to certain paths I have decided to follow, which have ultimately led to the first time i have ever felt fully whole and authentic.  It has made me a better son, brother, employee, and friend.  Yet the church has cast stones?  Again, there is no offense intended.  I just believe we should start leading people to Christ through our lives and actions as opposed to blaming them all the time.  At the end of the day, if a church family has those issues, they might should look torward their leadership before instantly pointing fingers at the membership.  Thanks for letting me share.

        • lanceegreen I think that’s why it’s important for you to be in a church (that appreciates and loves you), because they need you spurring them on to do things that people can see.

    • @lance Point n 3 left me absolutely in shock. Thanks for bringing your testimony to the table, I start to see a clearer pattern of why Christians have such a bad reputation…

  11. Or just live a happy fulfilling life without living in the fantasy land called religion.

    • User123456789   I find it interesting that you take the time to read an article that it obviously about religion and then call it “fantasy”.  If you don’t believe in God or attend church, why do you read and comment about it?  (I’m asking a serious and legitimate question — I’d like to know what purpose it serves for you.)

  12. 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.

    • @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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

    • 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.

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

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

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

    • @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.

  18. 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.

    • 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.

  19. I agree for the most part…I believe you get out what you put in. If you go to church and just “take”… without participating…then more than likely will leave feeling empty.
    We tend to arrive each Sunday with our minds and hearts in any place but focused on God. Most of us have rushed around the house, dragging our kids out of bed, slapping some jelly on a slice of week old bread that we purposely burned in the toaster to kill whatever was growing on it, ironing our wife’s skirt that she just decided to change in to right before we thought we were ready to leave….you get the picture?
    So how do we get “in the spirit” so we can leave feeling we have had an experience that keeps us and brings us close to God?
    Pray that God will open our hearts and minds and be ready to receive. Smile and laugh at yourself at the chaos of the day….enjoy the moments because your kids will be grown and gone before you know it.
    Take a deep breath and a sip of coffee and participate….sing, praise, read, greet and love…you will be blessed.

  20. 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.

  21. @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.

  22. 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?

  23. 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.

  24. 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..

  25. @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!

  26. BruceAlanWilsonRhonda 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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

  31. 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 is 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.”

  32. 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. 🙂

  33. 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.

  34. 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.

  35. 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.

  36. 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!

  37. SUWANEEGEORGIA (no more excuses)Yep.. they seem to think a paycheck gives them an edge of superiority. Yeshua came to serve not be served. He was a very good example when he washed his disciples feet. So a pastor should take on more of a servant role than his volunteers who already hold down a job to help support him. The volunteer is showing his servant role.
    I’ve observed that church is just a corporation. Church has become nothing more than a dog and pony show. Congress does the same thing to its people… take & take & take from the people.

  38. 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.

  39. soshaljustic beardonabike MGronek our small church trys to impact the people in our community the best we can.  We  have health fairs, have started a free clinic in our church and we work with many agencies in our community to meet the vast needs of the people.  

    However, I have to say there is more involved in helping the homeless than allowing people to sleep in the church.  Many not have posed a threat, there are many safety issues with a homeless ministry that many churches do not have have the resources to face or undertake.   I remember  a few months ago spending hours on the phone with a man who was about to be evicted.  He came to our church and did the crying routine, the song and dance and then wanted the church to write him a check for $3000.00 to pay rent in which he was behind.  WE do not have that kind of money however after spending  hours researching to find him some help, he had already exhausted everything in our community and when I tried to direct him to a homeless shelter,  he refused to go because he had a dog.   It would appear that I had abandon him on the outward appearance, but  really I did everything I knew to do…including offering food…he refused.  In the end I had to terminate the  relationship because no matter what I did, he wanted nothing but a check and I could not in good faith write that out to him.  

    By the way for the record,  I am not paid by my church.  I am bi-vocational.

  40. 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.

  41. @guest2 SUWANEEGEORGIA (no more excuses)  Unionize the clergy and they will straighten up and fly right.

  42. mrnatewalter SUWANEEGEORGIA (no more excuses) I come from a family of priests. The old-timers did it all and still had time for themselves and their families. They could hang out, go drinking with churchmen, etc. Today’s priests cannot do that.

  43. beardonabike BruceAlanWilson SUWANEEGEORGIA (no more excuses) yellowstonegirl He is not my hired hand. I would never think of such a thing. There are many who are treated as such.

  44. soshaljustic MGronek Two primary reasons for homelessness are mental illness and substance abuse.  I don’t know where television reporters come up with so many people who are on the street because they couldn’t pay a month’s rent and a power bill.  That is baloney.  A lot of people help the homeless because it meets their own need to feel good about themselves.  To really help the homeless, work in a mission that is established.  Learn the value of 12-step programs.  Donate to programs run by Christian organization.  Don’t try to go it as a single church.  People will drain your church, then, if you let them, they will drain you, then they will spit you out and move on to the next church and complain to the church that you wouldn’t help them.  The end game is accountability.  No matter who or what they are, there has to be personal effort and accountability.  This is God’s money and God’s time we’re talking about.

  45. @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.

  46. 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.

  47. @Stephanie I just want to lovingly encourage you to see this from a different lens. It’s not about seeking a church or pastor that comports with OUR views, values, and preferences. That, to me, is too close to what Paul says about itching ears. Truth is not relative. It is objective. We should seek out a church that teaches the truth – including truths that we may not want to hear or that our friends and loved ones don’t want to hear. The key question to ask isn’t: “Do I like this?” but rather “Is it true?”

  48. 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!

  49. mdags  Yes! Shortly after posting this I linked to this excellent article by Roger Olson, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2013/08/14/nine-reasons-to-run-from-a-church/
    I’m planning on writing further on the things covered in this post and I definitely going to include something on spiritual abuse and the very legitimate reasons to leave a church.

  50. 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.

  51. 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.

  52. 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.

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