Sometimes you find that the things in life you always thought were in one place were actually never there to begin with. Sometimes you misplace something that you think is very important to you. Sometimes you think something is really important until you realize you lost it and never even noticed it was gone. Well, what if that misplaced thing was God? I’m not actually saying we can misplace God. I don’t think we can do anything with God. But as far as where we look for Him, or where we encounter Him..well..That’s a whole different story.
Recently I was having a conversation with a stranger in a Starbucks about God, or rather people in relation to God. They found out I work in a church and decided to openly offer their opinion of church, unprompted. This person told me they didn’t understand church because they didn’t see the point in going because they were pretty convinced they weren’t going to find God there. I started to counter their comment with a response about what church is as the bride of Christ, I began formulating my thoughts and opinions based on theology, history, and philosophy of what church is, but then I stopped. I stopped and thought for a moment. What I realized is that I was surprised to find how much I agreed with this person’s comment. I couldn’t respond. I didn’t know what to say. The reality was that I knew exactly what this person was saying. I knew where they were coming from and how they felt.
I’ve been working in churches for many years, as a worship leader, of all things…And the things I’ve had to put up with are things you wouldn’t believe. You never know just how broken, self-centered, arrogant, and completely misled a group of people can be about God and church until you help lead a congregation. I’ve endured many years of this. I used to think “Oh it’ll get better over time. Eventually they will see and encounter God in a real way and it will all be different. I just have to preserver and keep doing what I’m doing and eventually It will work!” I’ve said and thought that so many times for so long, and I’m beginning to lose hope that such a scenario will ever come to fruition.
To be quite honest, I just can’t handle it anymore. I can’t put up with churchy people being consumed with churchy things. People complaining about the arrangement of the chairs, or the temperature of the sanctuary, or how loud the drums are, or that the service is too early/late, or that the music isn’t traditional/contemporary enough, that I don’t play enough hymns, or that I play too many hymns. I’m so tired of people saying they will stage a walk out because the pastor made a decision without first consulting them, because how dare the pastor make a decision as the leader of a ministry that God has appointed, called, and ordained him to be in without first consulting the almighty opinion of every single person in the congregation, because that would just be unthinkably ridiculous. I once had someone very angrily tell me that the youth don’t belong in the main church building because they just ruin everything they touch and they needed to stay in the building in the back! (God forbid they feel like they are a part of the church..No..Its better they are kept in the back, out of sight, constantly reminded of their worth to the “adults”).
Everything I just listed above has happened in just about every church I’ve ever been in at one time or another. Well, all but one, but they had their own much more severe and damaging problems.
I deal with these things. I put up with people always telling me what they like or don’t like or how they wish it was instead of how it is, and all the while I can’t help but think ” DON’T YOU REALIZE THAT A MAN CAME WHO CLAIMED TO BE GOD HIMSELF, DIED FOR ALL OF US AND BURIED OUR SIN IN THE GROUND AND RAISED HIMSELF FROM THE DEAD!!!” This fact should be so devastating to us that we are overcome with thankfulness, joy, gratitude, and other emotions that we can’t even put into words.
We come to church on Sunday morning in our nice, ironed, neat, clean clothes. We sit in our favorite chair/pew, we sing some songs (or stare blankly at the worship leader while HE sings us some songs…Don’t think I don’t see you), we hear a nice encouraging talk, and we leave, complaining all the way home. All the while we miss the most incredible reality that this universe has ever seen!!! God Himself became one of us, and died for all of us, so that we don’t have to endure the unleashing of Hell on us, which we happen to deserve every bit of, by the way.
How is this not the ONLY thing we are thinking about!? How are we not giving ALL of our attention, glory, honor, and praise to Him EVERY chance we get. I’m sorry, but I have no sympathy for you if your beloved chair has been moved a little bit. There are people in this world that are worshiping God on their faces in the dirt in the cold damp basement of a building with the threat of being KILLED for doing so, all because their worship to God is THAT IMPORTANT to them!
We are so much more blessed than we could ever imagine, not just with the things we have and the freedom we possess, but namely because God even died for us, the obnoxious, arrogant, painfully self-obsorbed Americans who think every single thing is all about us!
I never walk into church on Sunday morning wishing it was how I want it to be. ME! The one who could actually make it exactly how I want it to be! Its been a really long time since I’ve thought about that, actually. Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not trying to be self-righteous or holy or boastful by any means. I’m just as sinful, selfish, broken, and self-centered as the next guy. I have just experienced enough of the American church to know that this is not what God ever intended it to be, and I just can’t take it anymore. I long to create an offering of worship for God that is pleasing to Him. Period.
I’ve been guilty of being a bit too zealous about my beliefs of God, church, and worship and I’ve surely hurt people’s feelings and been insensitive, and I don’t think that’s right either. But isn’t it about time that we long for more than mediocre? I know that God doesn’t settle for mediocre from us, so why should we?
I long to be a part of a church that seeks to encounter God in a real way, and be devastated by Him, ruined of all other loves, so that He is the only enough we will ever know. I’ve been quite discouraged that I’ll ever be a part of a church that comes together for this purpose. I want so badly to believe that this is possible, but is it? Can we, as Americans, really get over ourselves enough to REALLY experience God? Can we really hear the Holy Spirit over the volume of our TV’s, in between the texting, over the meaningless conversations over Facebook, the errands we run, the shopping we do, the careers we get consumed in, the dreams we chase. Do we ever stop to really listen? Do we ever really seek to know God and experience what He has for us? I’m not sure we do.
My heart is breaking for the church. I feel such an immense and deep pain of sadness for the body of Christ. The reality is that we have severely lost our way, and only a God-sized intervention into our lives will ever bring us back.
I find that these days I encounter God in the most unexpected places. Christ has met me in coffeehouses, bars, clubs, and random street corners. Christ reminds me of who He is, and what kind of man He is calling me to be in every day conversations, and encounters with strangers. He reminds me of His love for me in great memories being made with those I love, in shared laughter, my wife’s smile (the one that makes her eyes disappear), and painfully tight hugs from my granny. His Spirit meets me in the quiet of a coffeeshop, walks downtown on a rainy day, and the stillness of the moment before I fall asleep at night. Jesus reminds me of His extravagant grace every time I play my guitar, sing a song, or play in front of a crowd, because I am not worthy of such gifts, yet He lavishes them on me anyway. Not the gift of playing music, but the gift of sharing such a special moment with another person, and even more so, doing something I love so much and am so incredibly passionate about.
Why can’t church be more like this? Why can’t we come together the way friends come together for a beer in a bar? Why can’t we have the type of community that actually cares if you’re not there, or invites you into their lives and cares about each other. I’ve always loved playing at local pubs…not because of the drinking, or the crowd, or the loud chaotic atmosphere….but simply because everyone is happy just to be there, hanging out with friends, and making memories together. I think this is also where we can meet God if we want to. You’ll know when you meet Him, because nothing in your life will ever be the same.
(written from a coffee shop, and from a table in a corner inside a pub in the city on a rainy night.)