If you ask this question, you will be told this gem of wisdom, a cross between a joke and a proverb:
If you find the perfect church don’t go there, because it’ll stop being perfect.
This is sort of true, but rather annoying to hear, and certainly doesn’t carry the full weight of the question.
I know a lot of people who are very disappointed by church. It is an epidemic amongst evangelicals, and almost a requirement for anabaptist types. Often some of the fault lies with the complainers, but not all of it.
It is an apologetics question and a pastoral question.
- If Christianity was not true, what sort of churches would you expect to see? Would they differ from your experience of churches? If the churches you have seen were merely a bunch of people trying in their own power to do what they do, would they look any different?
Not sure. Unfortunately several of the situations I have seen would be much the same. But this is speculation.
- To what extent has Christianity generally taken a wrong turn and lost touch with the source of its truth? To what extent has (for an anabaptist) a constantinian compromise, a lack of emphasis on the radical teachings and call of Jesus, an embrace of consumer values (etc – or substitute your analysis of what is wrong with Christianity) made the church disappointing? The shift away from participation, community and love between brothers and sisters?
This is exactly how I used to answer the problem. But that was when I had the Answer, and was modelling something different. That was when I thought that if people attempted a form of Anabaptism in their loungerooms, their dissatisfaction with church would end. As it happened, my church disbanded and left people disappointed. Now I have questions and am not so sure of the Answer.
If this analysis of a largely fallen church with pockets of renewal and revival the signs of faithfulness amongst the rubble, how can the church find its way back? Is it a narrow way that only a few will find?
Working for the ‘system’ has also given me a different outlook. I see students, pastors and leaders asking questions, and most of them earnestly seeking after God. It is not easy to generalise too much when you have to include specific people and churches.
- To what extent are people’s expectations of church too high? The church at Corinth was full of torrid problems and divisions and undoubtedly disappointments.
- The desire for community and connection in a culture which works against these things make the church’s task much harder. Busyness is a terrible disease in Perth: people too busy for community, for connection. Some people’s comments have made me think Perth also lacks a culture of hospitality. It is surely not confined to Perth, but it is severe in Perth. Some American friends say it is only in Australia that you could attend a church service and leave without anyone speaking to you.
And this is so much a part of the problem I see! Congregations of strangers. So few members of churches making an effort to welcome new people in churches.
- To what extent does church disappoint? Maybe it’s only people I know it disappoints. There are a lot of people who seem relatively content. The malcontents could learn something from them. And they could learn something from us.