We aren’t the first generation to become disillusioned with Church and its shortcomings, to feel disappointed by its inadequate reflection of the early Church described in Scripture. After years attending services, most become restless or uneasy at some point. Many feel that the Church has lost its focus or impact.
I have felt intense, diverse feelings about Church over the years, from the time I absolutely loved it and looked forward to it at 18, to the time I utterly dreaded going when I was around 35 and felt more miserable after attending than I did before. I have felt joy and peace and the tangible presence of God in church. But I have also felt disappointment, disillusionment and isolation. I’ve had to fight the urge to disappear out the back door and never return.
Whether you’ve grown up in the Church or come to faith in your 20s or 30s, the time will probably come when you find yourself questioning why the Church does certain things in certain ways, and conversely, why it fails to do some other important stuff. It can be a good thing to assess the situation of Christianity around you and how you fit into the Church. Historically, the Church has moved on or begun to see revival due to some brave and godly individuals who dared to take a stand and make a difference by instigating changes in worship, prayer and theology or calling into question church leaders with too much power.
The Church is defined as Christ’s body. We are meant to be his hands and feet on the earth, reflecting his love to a broken world. The Church is also known as ‘the bride of Christ’; we are meant to be in committed relationship with him. Perhaps we have veered away from these fundamentals, focussing on less important things? It’s worth noting that in the persecuted world, where Christians are driven underground, their faith is often stronger or more fervent and the Church is more organic or streamlined to its scriptural mandates. Where faith is under fire, evangelism seems less of a struggle and more of a joy, and Christians caring for one another is a prominent feature. The Church grows, is passionate about Jesus and is ultra-focused on mission.
In its current form we continue on and we do our best to be effective in our generation and in our culture. The Church may be flawed, in that it’s made up of ordinary believers like you and me, working out our faith and muddling our way through spiritual highs and lows – but it’s still alive and active after a couple of millennia. In my mind a healthy church is one that is prepared to reassess its own practices, successes and failures, and that is always willing to move on, while remaining true to its original raison d’etre. In many ways I’m a sceptic and a cynic, but I can’t let myself give up on the Church.
When faith is centred on Christ and the Church aligns itself with his teachings and his emphases, we begin to see a strengthened Church. However, when faith is institutionalised, the Church flounders and alienates its members. When the focus is taken off loving God and loving others – those two most important commandments, it may easily become entrapped in pushing agendas that aren’t necessarily at the heart of God. But as the Church is stripped back, away from its buildings, its programmes, its peripherals, it begins to return to its true, original form – a body of people.
We are the Church. Not the leaders, its branding, the amount of influence it has. When the Church loses sight of that it morphs into Churchianity, into religion – where systems, policies and personalities take precedence; where appearances of piety become more important than attitudes of the heart.
Truth is, we will all have questions. The difference between today’s church-goers and previous generations is that today people are able to share their experiences online and find a haven among others who feel equally uneasy with the Church. It can be refreshing to find that you’re not the only one who’s dissatisfied with certain aspects of church life, or who longs to see renewal and authenticity in the church community. But this restlessness may also lead to increasing cynicism or loss of faith altogether. If the Church is so messed up, we reason, maybe we no longer want to identify with it at all?
If the Church is ultimately the people – and not its programmes or style or liturgy – we need to first look at ourselves. I became particularly convicted a few years ago when I found myself moaning about all sorts of stuff related to Sunday mornings, while, actually, I wasn’t walking close to God at that time. That’s not to say that you should agree with everything that goes on in churches. No; but your faith walk does make a difference to how you might handle these disagreements. Once I began to change, I found that I could be part of the solutions that I craved to improve or develop the Church.
Over the years I’ve worshipped in various churches, in various denominations. Not one was perfect; each had its own strengths and weaknesses. It’s interesting to note that in the letters to the seven churches in the book of Revelation, where several congregations are admonished for one thing or another, at no point are the readers instructed to ditch their church, found a new one, or start a campaign against its leaders. Rather, the readers are encouraged to stay in the church, be faithful and hold fast to the truth. You don’t have to agree with everything to be part of a church.
Sometimes the best thing you can do is to stand firm in your faith, be a good example and pursue truth. And that might lead to instigating some changes.