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Dealing with cynicism about the church

If you look over the blog I wrote about my angst-producing experience with churches, you’ll see that Debbie, a blog reader and a mom of an AIM participant, recently took me to task for being a poor example to young people. Her experience is very different than my own. She feels blessed to be a pa…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

If you look over the blog I wrote about my angst-producing experience with churches, you’ll see that Debbie, a blog reader and a mom of an AIM participant, recently took me to task for being a poor example to young people.

Her experience is very different than my own. She feels blessed to be a part of a great church.

Debbie finds me overly critical concerning the church. I may be. I often feel like a Cassandra as I look at Barna’s statistics (43,000 a week leaving the church) and wonder what we’re going to do about it.

Church doesn’t have to be complicated – it should help do three things: help us connect deeply to God (discipleship), help us connect deeply to one another, and help us connect deeply and redemptively to the world (missions).

To realize the dream of an abundant life that Jesus promised, we, the church, should do these three things in an atmosphere of celebration and liberty. If you find a church that can do this and harness itself to the power of God, then you may be part of something that is potentially world-changing.

The problem is that most institutional churches I have been a part of don’t even aspire to this. Instead, they seem to be set up to deliver a cafeteria of consumer services, the main course being the Sunday service.

We connect superficially, if at all, to God, one another, and the world. So, what do we do with that? Debbie would have me go quietly into the night, and maybe I should.

Maybe all my exertions about the state of things are more Chicken Little than Paul Revere. I believe that if we’ve discovered a problem, then we need to wrestle with it. But we need to do so in a hopeful, constructive way. We need to not just shout at the darkness, but light a few candles.

I’m as flummoxed by the subject as I am about anything – what are your thoughts?

Comments (12)

  • My wife and I have also struggled with what the Bible says church is, and what it is in reality. During a recent 2 week retreat, we read some books that helped clarify and crystalize what we believe are the basics. Not so surprisingly, your blog entry closely matched what we think the Scripture lays out:

    Love God – Love People – Disciple Nations

    We have watched with both frustration and grief the dripping (sometimes rapid) exodus of believers who are bored and disillusioned with ‘church.’ So we asked ourselves “who is doing church like this?” Let me propose to your (seeking) readers that if they cannot find the connections, then gather with those who will in your homes, at work, play, where ever and as often as you can.

    And for those who are satisfied where they are, don’t rush to disparage others who don’t fit in your forms, because one day you may be wondering inwardly “church is working like before…” When that happens, seize it! because the Holy Spirit is prepping you for change!

  • boohoo… I miss my church in Florida sooo badly! IT IS everything a church should be. I read Debbie’s comment. WoW! I agree (to a degree) with what she said. I believe strongly in the fellowship with others and the unity of the body. I believe in tithing and offerings… HELLO… I’m a missionary.

    I do also believe that what a person does is mostly between that person and God Himself.

    Knowing you and your fruit, Seth, I believe that you are “right” with God. That was quite an rebuke from Debbie; therefore, I bless you in the Name of Jesus Christ.

    On the American church thing… I love church and have had very good experiences there. It baffles me how one could not just love the socks off of our LORD!

    I hope never to have the “bad” experiences you write about… Life is enough w/o that.

  • You should read Dr. Michael L. Brown’s “Revolution in the Church.” He deals with issues that need to be addressed with “local church” in a balanced way that acknowledges the work and challenges of local pastors and congregations. At the Catalyst Conference recently held in Atlanta, Rick Warren said some things that make you go hmmmm. “The church is the bride of Christ. How then can you say you like Jesus but not the church? In another analogy, the church is the body of Christ. How can I say I care for you, but I don’t like your body? We are called to love the church, warts and all.” Concerning local church, I have tried to find a place where the gifts that God has given me can be used and then I plug in. On the essentials I don’t budge, but on style and culture I am flexible. It seems to have worked well for me. I have seen some weird stuff come out of groups who, diallusioned with “the church” have retreated to just meeting in homes and fellowshipping that way, so I am not convinced that it is the answer either.

  • Thanks John. I like “Jim and Caspar Go to Church” and “Rethinking the Wineskin.” I don’t struggle w/ ecclesiology, just with praxis.

  • the church has warts? maybe it’s an STD. i think there is such thing as a perfect church, but only one, in fact. when imperfect people come together in love, unity, and obedience to God, that’s perfect. Remember that the word “perfect” means complete, not lacking anything. God looks at his beloved and calls us, “My flawless one.” I think that when the Bride does that, it’s like putting lingerie on for God. yeah, you heard me right. we’ve cleaned up our language a lot with christianese and forgotten about the sexual language of the Bible in regards to God’s people – how passionate Christ is about his wife-to-be. he’s prepared a place, and he’s excited for the marriage to come. i am, too.

  • You know, I think a lot of it depends on the church and the situation, as well as the people within the church. We have recently found ourselves without a church once againyet we come together in worship and have a lot of Christian fellowshipso are we really without a church? I don’t know. We are without an organized body of believers, but so were those in the early church who were sent out. We, my husband and I, have finally come to the conclusion that God has an individual place for each of us that HE is developing us towards and for some that means they must be kept uncomfortable with the status quoand for others they need a place of comfort in order to do what He plans for them. He likes to keep us moving and from getting too comfortableand we grow in that whch is a good thing.

  • Seth,

    I know the church is far from perfect and yet even Jesus faithfully attended the temple to worship, and you know that Jesus did not approve of all that took place there. God created the gathering of his people to worship Him. I believe that all believers should be active in a local church and strife to make a difference and to help make the church what God desires. If all the people who disagree with how the church is being run pull out there will never be enough people to make a change. God created and loves the church. If Jesus was faithful to attend, I believe that his follows should as well.

    I don’t claim to have any of the answers but I know that prayer can change tons. All believers should fall in love with a local church. We should love the people; we should get involved in the discipleship process and work to reach out to the lost. We should inspire those in the church to do the same. We should love and pray for pastors and make church what God desires it to be. It is rarely easy but all relationships take work. Often times, it is far easier to love the lost then to love those who are followers of Christ.


  • Good stuff here – but mostly missing the point… go “Be” the Church, celebrate your guts out with those you “are” the Church with and watch Jesus come alive in you and those you touch! When we just “go” to Church we get bored and cynical and most of our Church’s have to teach us to just come on Sunday because it’s what our bible schools teach – build a building, set up a system and see if God shows up – if He doesn’t, it’s ok, because your suppose to go to Church, Right? I need relationships, life together, the poor; remember, Jesus never said worship me – He said follow me!

  • Great stuff, Gary. I think that’s it: we keep missing the point. I go to a “conventional” church, but it doesn’t end there. I see these people several times each week; we talk, eat, visit, cry together, read the Word, etc. I get kind of cynical with the programs and who didn’t greet me on Sunday on occasion, but that’s not the extent of my experience with this church. A church building is not the same thing as the OT temple. In the NT, we become the temples, so it’s more about bringing church wherever we go. This should be incredibly liberating – whether or not you go to some kind of building on Sunday should not limit how you incarnate Christ in community on a daily basis. This takes some maturity, discipline, and freedom, but it’s worth it. Find a handful of people who really want to run, and go for it. I love what Shane Claiborne says about this: “We stopped complaining about the church we saw and started being the church we dreamed of.”

  • Lots of responses on this subject! ‘Sounds as if the different definitions of “Church” is behind it all. Some still hold to that building down the road with a pastor and deacons and people and meetings being an official church. Some are hungry to experience the community and mission that Jesus died for and haven’t been able to find it in the “official” church. My husband and I love the people of God and we’ve attempted to endure the unbiblical forms of church to love and disciple the hungry ones that are there because they don’t know anything else. We have little regrets the years we spent doing that, and though we’ve seen some good fruit, we know now is the time to lay aside those hindrances and encumbrances. As Jesus said, “Those who do the will of God are my mothers, sisters and brothers.” While Jesus visited the temple (and confronted them every time He was there), that was not His place of fellowship, discipleship and mission. How hard it is to break free of the norms!

  • I do believe that we are the church, too. However, I believe that we are called to the actual structure of church, too.

    For the Scripture says in Hebrews 10, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works,not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another.”

    I believe in the Trinity… therefore I am called to worship Jesus as I am to follow Him

    Psalm 29:2 “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness.”

    We do have to “bring church wherever we go.” This includes… church! this also includes our everyday life whether church, public or private…

  • I also have been had a variety of church homes as we have moved over the years. I have concluded that when we find a church that is not staffed by and attended by humans, we will have little to worry about.

    Until then, may we each be faithful to where the Lord opens doors for us and enjoy each day serving and worshiping Him.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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