I received this letter from someone who represents hundreds of emails that fill my inboxes each year. You can hear the pathos and brokenness in each sentence as a struggling child of God wrestles with what we have been learning is becoming the basis for the mass church exodus in America. Of course, this particular email does not represent EVERY Christian church, nor do I even want to imply a smidgin of that aspect. But, I do believe that her struggle can open up an honest conversation about the realistic “whys” of church-anity in an era of church, that, according to our communities, demonstrate more fork than steak.
I am struggling with some things. I keep trying to think of someone to confide in, and your name keeps coming back to my mind. I don’t want to be taken the wrong way, because I love the church. Please understand that my dissatisfaction is aimed at myself as well. Some of these things have stuck in my mind and have just added up to a general discontent that seethes under the surface.
I just feel like, “What are we doing, church?”
1. The prayer meetings. Almost always a gossip session discussing those of are own who are physically sick. If the lost are mentioned it is an almost embarrassed family member requesting prayer. There is no desperation for God, sense our own inadequacy, need for God, or truly broken hearts for the lost.
2. We have started a new kids program called *****. Through attendance and scripture memorization, kids can earn points to spend in the ***** store, patches which are displayed on vests, and other awards.The kids who visit are behind on patches, points, and awards. I just don’t feel it is outsider friendly. If you’re new, you’re outside the group. I look around at the kids who are brought every week that have parents who help them, and I wonder if we are breeding the next cliquish “in crowd” at church, the “good” kids. Do I want my kids to be in that group? Do I want them to be the patted-on-the-back kids who God must love because they do all the right things? How will they learn their need for God if they are the “best” at this church thing? I think the scripture memorization is good, but I was assisting with recitation one night. A young man in 6th grade recited 2 Tim 2:15 flawlessly. All the verses are in KJV in this program. I asked him if he knew what it meant. He said no. I explained it to him. He asked me, “Do I still get my points?” It just unsettled me.
3. Corporate worship. I never see tears, people on their knees overcome by the presence of a holy God. If we are really worshipping, if God is there, why does this not happen? The altar is more often than not empty.
4. What does it mean to be a Christian around the unsaved? Should we piously ask people not to swear around us? Does that make people respect our faith, or just make them feel weird and erect barriers? I have Christian friends unfriending unsaved people because they don’t want to be exposed to profanity. What about them being exposed to Christianity? Are our hearts so fragile we can’t tolerate a few 4 letter words? Is our God so small He can’t wash off the dirt in studying the word and prayer? How do we really love people and make them feel loved if they have to modify themselves to our presence? Thank God He didn’t expect me to clean up first before He loved me. What about immature Christians? When do we start shunning them because they’re not progressing “fast enough”?
5. I feel my own heart getting dull. Church is an endless parade of already saved, smiling people in nice clothes with no real problems (yeah, right). I didn’t grow up in church. I grew up in a cesspool of dysfunction, alcohol and drug abuse. When God came looking for me, he found a very angry girl who hated everything except the needle in her arm. When I was saved, I cannot explain to you the miracle that took place in my heart. Maybe you know about really coming out of deep darkness, I suspect you do. However, the memory of that darkness is fading. Business as usual has dulled it. Church speak and polite smiles have sanitized the grittiness. Last Wednesday night, I was restless at church. I couldn’t go to prayer group, couldn’t help with the kids. I went looking for a place with darkness. I wanted to go to an AA meeting or an NA meeting to remind me of where I came from, but none were in session. I wanted to see some unsaved, suffering people. That’s where I wanted to be. I knew that there would be nothing I could do in an hour that would mean anything, but that is just where my heart was.
I just wonder, what are we doing in church? What is the point of all this? Am I crazy? Am I overthinking things? I just feel discouraged. And I feel like I can’t say it to anyone. I love the church because Jesus loves it. I just feel like we’re playing around and missing the point. I just feel like God stormed the gates of hell for a bigger purpose than raising nice kids, potluck suppers, and praying for people saved who have come through hip replacement surgery with flying colors.”