the man behind the pulpit

i don’t like church as much as the next person.

i can rant and rave and wave my social justice flag and flog down the latest pew-sitter and condemn the most complacent worshiper. but who is that really helping?

church is nowhere near what i believe Jesus wanted it to be. for him, it was about going to where the people were. climbing a mountain and having a picnic, sharing stories. it was about bringing God to the people.

today’s church is a building… an empty building waiting desperately to be filled so it can fulfill its mandate to preach the gospel and fill the offering plate. it doesn’t go; it waits for people to come to it. and no one comes because they don’t understand the church’s language and feel like a foreigner within its walls.

so ya, church leaves a lot to be desired: miracles, warmth, relativity, funk and compassion for the outsider…

but at the same time, how will it ever improve if all we do is rant and rave and wave our pathetic little flags?

we say “nature is my true sanctuary. that’s where i find God.” but com’on… it’s really an excuse for “i’m too busy every other day of the week to get into nature, to have a rest, so i prefer to sit in a park and read on sunday morning instead of sit in a church and be preached at.”

We should really be taking more time to slow down the other six days, and not use that as an excuse for not attending church… because by attending church, we have a presence, a voice, and we can potentially ‘earn’ the right to be heard by the man behind the pulpit.

that’s right… the preacher, the one in robes, the untouchable saint whom we all secretly hate because we feel he condemns us… well, he’s real. he’s human too. and if he’s anything like my father, he’s trying his best.

my father is a pastor. i was raised a PK. i recently told my dad i wouldn’t become a member of his church, but i will continue to attend faithfully every sunday and give him my financial support because i believe his heart is sincere and i like the humility of the people who attend. i just don’t support the idea of ‘denomination’… nor the concept of church as an institution which requires my name on a dotted line.

my dad sat for an hour tonight and listened to me rant and rave about the church and he nodded his head and his eyes got a bit watery and his heart bled for the church which he loves so very much and the daughter whom he’d die for. i know he was torn. i know he wants me to be happy, and wants desperately to show me how good the church COULD be if done properly. and i believe the church has potential… that’s why i go every sunday. but i can’t fully commit because it’s not living up to its potential.

so bring your thoughts and concerns before your pastors and let them hear the cries of your hearts. if you don’t, church will never change. it will remain in the darkness, not due to any fault of its own, but because its people gave up on it and walked out on it without ever explaining why.

we all screw up and need second, third and even fourth chances… let’s not give up on something which at one point, occurred on a hillside in the form of our savior handing out bread and fish.

let’s all give that man behind the pulpit a second, third, even fourth chance to get it right. because no doubt he wants to. and seriously… would we do any better if we were up there?



  1. Teneale said,

    June 16, 2008 at 2:19 pm

    I have the same struggle with churches. I too feel that they are not living up to what Jesus intended churches to be. I went through a dry spell where I didn’t want to attend church either, because it was too disapointing. But by not going I’m only hurting myself. Rob and I have recently been going to Millwoods Pentacostal, and been enjoying it. It is a building that people come to, its true, but I see the potential to be part of a great community there. I’m hoping this is a church where we can raise our kids. As for its faults, becuase all things human made have faults, hopefully we can create a household that is like what Jesus wanted the church to be. A welcoming loving atmosphere teaching about him.

  2. Pa Dow said,

    June 16, 2008 at 3:02 pm

    Really insightful, Emily, and sensitive at the same time. The ‘man behind the pulpit’, while in a position of some power, can only truly minister under the authority of the Word as the Lord leads – and people pray for him/them.
    Each generation – now yours – has a chance to re-form the church in a shape that’s relevant to its surrounding culture, while remaining true to the gospel. Glad you’re involved! Don’t give up!
    – Your preacher Pa

  3. June 16, 2008 at 5:53 pm

    I feel the same way, Emily. I still am a member of the same church I joined at age 13, and attend most Sundays–even though nature and the green lounge chair in my bedroom are the places I meet with God!

    When I rant about what the Church/church is not, my husband reminds me that even though it may not meet my needs or live up to my expectations, my presence may be meeting someone else’s needs. Perhaps others are being blessed by my saying hello, giving a hug, or listening to how their week was while we pile into the foyer in our rush to get our the door.

    Your dad is right, if your generation (and the disillusioned who are a little older, like me) abandons the church or remains silent, nothing will change. Maybe affecting change in the Church is our cross to bear. 🙂


  4. Annie said,

    June 16, 2008 at 11:08 pm

    My Dear Emily,

    I think of the Church as the Body of Christ, spread across all the earth, through all nations, languages and time. While Jesus was on earth, He had physical hands and feet. Now God, in His infinite humor, has determined that His faithful followers should be His hands and feet, and arms and toes and all the rest. (All the rest besides the head, that is.) There are plenty of images in Scripture that describe the Church as a holy community, a living body, the branches of a vine. The Church (in that sense) is God’s idea, His work, His calling, His vision. It will continue to be so until the day of its fulfillment, when He returns to renew and reclaim all things. So despite our valid criticisms of human institutions, the Church is God’s design for reaching and ministering to the world. There may be branches on the vine which are not healthy, but we can be assured that other branches are attached and flourishing. We are not alone, but surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses – the humble saints who have gone before us, and who are out there in the world today! There are still people living and dying in powerful witness to their faith. For this reason, I am reluctant to apply my criticisms broadly to “the Church,” but try to be more specific in my complaints, lest I wrongfully malign those who truly are being the Body of Christ. I want to be discerning (and I can discern lots of problems), but I don’t want to belittle or alienate my brothers and sisters in Christ. This involves acknowledging that my limited vision is not the extent of the Spirit’s activity in the Church in the world today.

    Also, as believers, we cannot “do” this on our own. It is not an option to be a follower of Christ, and not be in Christian community. God knows we need special times to receive teaching, help, strength, guidance and nourishment, so we can be equipped to go back out into the world and BE the Church there too. Our times of “worship” can accomplish this, but they are also intended to be focused on God – on giving Him honor and praise and glory as His children, who are gathered together for that purpose. This is a unique desire which may not attract many people “outside” the Body – at least not initially. So it may be helpful to clarify what the purposes of meeting together on the Sabbath actually are. And that focus may be just a little different than our walkabout, weekly lives. Jesus went out among the people, and He even sought times of solitude in nature, but He also attended the synagogue every Sabbath (in every town He visited), from His boyhood through His adult years. He alone understood that true worship can only be “in spirit and in truth,” and yet he also recognized the importance of “my Father’s house.” We are certainly not limited to a physical building or location, but as members of the organic, living Body, we must reflect that unity by gathering together regularly. And as members of that Body, we are also given a very specific mission and task: to be the light and salt which this world so desperately needs, wherever we are. In that sense, the place where we gather each week might be viewed as a mission outpost, and all who gather there, as missionaries. The weekly worship service cannot encompass the entire breadth of Christian experience – some of that takes place during the week when we go out on the hillsides of the world to do ministry – but it does have a purpose in the life of the believers who gather.

    Our gathering places should be welcoming, but perhaps not completely comfortable. Sometimes I think the unfamiliarity of language and customs in worship – the use of words like grace, love, sin, repentance, forgiveness, holy – reflects the tragic distance of our population from God, rather than a fault of the words or customs themselves. To some extent, God (and worship of Him expressed in church communities) will always seem foreign and unfamiliar to us in our “natural” state. While I agree there is always a need for renewal and revival within human congregations, in every generation, I think being present in communities of faith should entail some degree of learning, of stretching one’s awareness to include new expressions and different standards than one had before. The Church should always seek to conform to God’s vision for her, but never to conform to the familiarities of culture, in order to avoid making people who need transformation themselves uncomfortable! If there’s one thing we ought to know about becoming followers of Christ, it’s that we’re going to experience some discomfort in this world! Being part of the Church, the Body of Christ, requires us to grow in many ways, not be reassured by its similarity to the world. So we should probably evaluate why we do the things we do, but sometimes we may rediscover fresh meaning and significance in them, and realize why they were started among believers in the first place. Then, in turn, we can help others to share our discoveries, to grasp the beauty or meaning in a particular word or element of worship. The Church eternal is after all not a human institution, whose direction can be democratically guided by voting constituents – it is the Body of Christ, filled and guided by the Holy Spirit.

    As far as denominations, they are an outworking on the human level of differences in understanding (or preference) in matters of theology, ethnicity, history and practice – we can hardly avoid these differences in our human pursuit of truth and authenticity on this side of the grave. They are the result of genuine believers over the centuries who realized that change needed to occur in a certain area, or who perhaps simply lived in different areas. Some issues may have been relevant in their time, but become less relevant or emphasized in ours. Try as we may, we humans cannot avoid putting labels on things, so this should not overly alarm us as Christians. Even “nondenominational” churches have a particular theology, atmosphere, and style. We simply have to find a congregation with a good heart, and at least the orthodox basics (so we know they are not a non-Christian cult). We can actually rejoice that there is such diversity and colorful flavor within the Body of Christ! I’m pretty sure there is no such thing as a perfect local “church” living up to its full potential – although some may come closer than others. If we did find such a church and joined it, it would instantly become imperfect. It’s also not a precedent which would bode well for marriage, if we believed that we couldn’t commit to something/someone simply because they’re not living up to their potential. Our petty human differences (whether in passionate belief or preferential style) may be discussed, but this does not need to divide the Body of Christ. In fact, ultimately it cannot, and does not.

    We are all members of the Church, if we are joined with the life, death and resurrection of Christ. And God is the one who keeps the records, with all of our names lovingly inscribed. That said, we should not be reluctant, or above “belonging” to any particular community of genuine believers during our lifetimes on earth. It is both necessary to us, and necessary to the earth. It is pleasing to God to see His children actively renewing the Church (and thereby the earth) with our lives and service, and He has gifted us especially for it.

  5. Annie said,

    June 16, 2008 at 11:14 pm

    My gift is obviously to write a lot of words. 🙂

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