My mother will struggle with this blog because I’ll overuse one of her least favorite words!!!
“I like having my Sundays free. If recent polls are a reliable indicator, a lot of people feel that way. Maybe you do too. I know a ton of awesome people who don’t go to church, and there could be a hundred reasons why. We church people have to own that at least for some of them, the reason is that church kind of sucks. Most pastors and churches have to try to do a lot with very little. It isn’t their fault. Maybe they need to do less.” ~ Jerry Herships, “Last Call: From Serving Drinks to Serving Jesus”
The above quote from Jerry Herships appeared in my Facebook Memories feed today. I found the quote to be just as, if not more, relevant today as when I shared it on April 27, 2016.
This brief paragraph stings a little for those of us in ministry. When I pause to consider why more and more people have decided that the Church is not for them, I am tempted to shift the blame. I mean, why would I (a pastor) take any kind of personal responsibility for people not participating in the life of the church? Certainly, my church doesn’t suck, right? (That’s rhetorical…so feel free not to answer that!)
Think of some of the “go to” answers and excuses we offer as a defense for why our church is boring/irrelevant/suck-ish:
- “Sunday used to be sacred. Now we have soccer, basketball, football, softball, baseball and even lacrosse on Sunday morning.”
- “Restaurants used to be closed on Sunday. Now we have brunch specials offered at the same time as our worship gathering. I mean, who doesn’t love a Belgian waffle?”
- “Businesses used to be closed on Sunday. Now the best time to shop for groceries is Sunday morning.”
- “People are so busy these days, Sunday is their only time to slow down, sleep in and take a break.”
- “If we just offered ______ style of worship at ______ time, people would show up.”
- “If we had a better ______ ministry for _______, people would come.”
- “If our pastor preached better sermons…”
- “If our pastor did more home visits…”
- “That big church is light on theology. They may have fancy lights and a great band, but they just have a bunch of ‘feel good’ psycho-babble preaching.”
The reality is, I could go on and on. This a blame shift. If we’re being honest, we generally shift the blame to something for which we are not personally responsible. Rarely, if ever, do we own up and admit that WE might actually be part of the problem.
As long as we keep shifting the blame, rather than owning up to our role and taking personal responsibility, our churches will never improve. We continually see people make the decision to not have the church be part of their lives. And, rather than make appropriate adjustments, we tend to continue “business as usual.”
Herships forces his readers to get to the heart of the matter. Sometimes church just sucks!
Again, if we’re going to be honest, we ARE most likely part of the problem.
Maybe part of the issue is that we expect our ministry leaders to be generalist, rather than specialist. With that, we expect the pastor to excel in a number of areas (preaching, teaching, pastoral care, vision casting, serving in the community, business management, fundraising, etc.). Too often, we have similar expectations for other ministry leaders (the youth director probably needs to be able to play guitar, lead the praise team and specialize in fundraising; the children’s director should also be able to head up the Tuesday night meal and oversee the missions team; the business administrator should also be able to update the website and social media accounts).
Would the church be better served if we allowed people to lead from their areas of giftedness and then staffed to address the areas that are lacking?
For example, if the pastor is an effective and dynamic preacher, but terrible at administration…maybe the church should hire an executive pastor or administrator? If the pastor is a lousy preacher (yes, they do exist, even though most of us think we are better preachers than everyone else!), maybe hire a teaching pastor who can be the primary communicator? Or maybe this is a time to radically reconsider the entire staffing structure of the church?
Many pastors and ministry leaders have a decent working knowledge in the expected areas. Most pastors and ministry leaders only excel in, well, less than a few categories. There are pastors who are excellent communicators and vision casters, however they struggle in areas of business management and community involvement. And vice versa.
It’s been said that members of the congregation and those looking for a place of worship will tolerate subpar music if the preaching is excellent. It has also been said that folks will tolerate subpar preaching if the music is excellent. If both the preaching and music are subpar, you better plan on having out-of-this-world children’s, student and hospitality ministries.
Maybe part of the issue is that we have not focused on what truly matters. Is the Church on the frontlines to address the most pressing issues in our community? Is the Church offering ministries that meet the actual (not assumed) needs of our neighbors? Does church suck, not because we have subpar preaching and music, but because we have lost our way?
Maybe we can use this time of physical distancing and online worship to embrace the old Cubs mantra of “try not to suck.” We have a great opportunity to make some shifts and address some gaps to offer something a bit more appealing to the world around us. I know that I have been thinking about the areas where I need growth, additional training or assistance.
You see, as the Church, we have a call to share the Greatest Hope the world has ever known. If the world around us is writing off the Church, that means that we have lost our way. When I read the book of Acts, I don’t think one would label what was happening as boring (well, maybe Eutychus would have a slightly different opinion).
I hear a lot of talk about how this pandemic might lead us to a time of revival. I hope and pray that’s true.
However, I am far too cynical and believe the harsh reality is that there will be folks who use this time of physical distancing to exit the church. There will be people who grow accustomed to the convenience of not having to leave their dwelling place on Sunday morning to attend church. Many will continue to worship online, many will not.
So, how do we respond?
We have a great responsibility to continually evaluate and consider what we’re doing in order to reach the world for Christ. If what we’re doing isn’t bearing fruit, it’s time to do some pruning.
What better time than now?