I’ve seen several blog posts floating around on social media lately, popping up in my feed multiple times over the past few months. These posts argue for different opinions of what’s wrong with Christian churches across America. And then well-meaning Christians have been sharing these posts more virally than a common cold making its way through an understaffed daycare. I get it, we are all really good at seeing what’s wrong with stuff.
This post isn’t an attack on those posts. I felt like the few posts that I read were written with heartfelt honesty by people with pure intentions. At least, the posts seemed to come across that way. So I’m certainly not attacking them. In fact, there were very few ideas in the posts that I read that I would disagree with at all. I found a lot, if not most of the critiques they made against the church to be fair and accurate.
I did have an issue, however, with how these issues were being presented.
No, I don’t mean through blog posts. I obviously don’t have an issue with blog posts. This isn’t the pot calling the kettle black (whatever that means?).
I actually had an issue with the pronouns being used throughout these posts. Before you label me as a grammar snob and line me up before the firing squad of normalcy, let me explain what I mean.
The one commonality between the posts I read that jumped out at me (other than the common purpose of criticizing the church) was that each of the posts’ authors referred to the church in the second and third persons. In laymen’s terms: they called the church “you,” “it,” and “they.” Let me oversimplify and summarize the arguments:
The church [it] has a problem.
People are leaving the church [it].
That’s because the you [the church] say and do a lot of stuff that you [the church] shouldn’t.
So you [the church] need to stop doing/saying these things.
And you [the church] need to start doing/saying these things.
If you [the church] don’t shape up, then people are going to keep leaving you [the church].
Remember, these are posts written by self-professing Christians and spread like wildfire over social media by other self-professing Christians. They’re not critiques from the outside looking in. They’re critiques from church-goers. Insiders.
But they’re all about what someone else needs to do in order to fix the church, an institution referred to as if it could be pointed out somewhere down the street over there, somewhere clearly other than where the posts’ authors and sharers are coming from.
And in this subtle nuance you find, in my opinion, what is really wrong with the church:
We don’t see ourselves as part of the church.
We see the church as something out there, an institution that exists outside of our own direct influence. We talk about the church as if it was some company trying to win our business. But the church is not any of those things without us.
I think the real problem is that if we stopped viewing ourselves as outside the church and started seeing ourselves as part of the church, we would logically have to own up to two conclusions:
We’re a part of the problem. And…
We’re supposed to be a part of the solution.
Imagine what would happen if we started accepting the fact that we’re part of the reason the church is in the state that we’re in today. I expect that there would be a lot less complaining about the problems and a whole lot more working toward fixing the problems. We tend to do that when we realize that we caused the problem in the first place.
But it’s a lot easier to just complain about someone else’s problem than it is to work to fix our own problems.
Unfortunately, our society doesn’t help. In fact, it just adds fuel to the fire. We live in a replacement-oritiented society. If something is broken, we see it as cheaper and easier to just replace it than to go to the trouble of fixing it. A button stopped working on your TV? Just go to the big box store and get a new one. Is your car starting to sputter a bit? Just trade it in for the newer model. Your marriage doesn’t seem to be working out the way you expected it to? Just call the smiling face on the billboard offering to do your divorce papers for an easy $200. In our minds, if something is broken, you can always just replace it and get a newer, nicer model.
This replacement mentality unfortunately bleeds into our understanding of the church as well. Have you noticed a problem at your church? No worries! Just run down the street to one of the hundreds of other ones! Our initial reaction to most broken things is to replace them. So why should the church be any different?
I recently experienced this concept first-hand. I purchased my microwave used. I know, I’m cheap. Deal with it. But unfortunately, being cheap sometimes carries negative consequences. A few days ago, that previously-owned microwave started beeping unconsolably and displaying what I could only assume was a very angry error code. My initial thought was: It’s time for a new microwave!
But then I looked at my bank account and decided (or more specifically, had decided for me) that maybe I should try to fix it first. So I watched a YouTube video about problems with my particular brand of microwave. After searching for two minutes and watching a four minute video, I was able to take the microwave apart, clean the connections on the button panel, and get the microwave working again. All in less than ten minutes. It was like magic!
Imagine how the church would look if we stopped seeing it as someone else’s problem and instead recognized ourselves as both part of the problem and an integrally necessary part of the solution. What if we decided the church was worth our efforts to fix because we are the church and we’re worth fixing?
Unfortunately, it’s a lot easier to share a complaining blog post on social media than to roll up our sleeves and actually do something about the problem.
Before you go there, I recognize the irony in this statement. I’m writing a blog post criticizing blog posts. But my problem isn’t with the posts that I read or the authors that penned them. My problem really isn’t even with the people who share the posts (in fact, I hope you share this one!). My problem is with the people who only do those things.
If all you can do is complain about the church and join together with other people who complain about the church, then you’re not really doing anything to help.
I would contend that there are two very real truths that we cannot escape:
The church is in trouble.
This is definitely a time of crisis in the church in America. We aren’t growing like we should. Instead, we’re actually losing ground. Let’s recognize this truth, own up to its reality and the part we played to get there. But also…
The church is worth fixing.
I, for one, am working to do my part to change things. I am an active part of a local body of believers that I recognize as far from perfect. But I’m not looking for a new group of people to call my church family simply because my present church family has problems. I’m rolling up my sleeves in prayer and getting my hands dirty in service so that my local congregation of the church, whom I love dearly, can be better than we were before. I am doing my part to be the church. Because if I’m not going to be the church, who is?
I know that the church is not some entity out there. I am the church. I own that.
And so are you if you are a follower of Jesus.
So let’s join arms and work our tails off under God’s direction and in God’s power so that we can change the problems that we’ve created for ourselves.
Yes, the church is messed up. But it can be better. We can be better. So let’s do it. Let’s be the church.