“I love my church, but — ”
Fill in the blank.
Surely there’s something. In fact there may be a lot of somethings! We in America are some of the world’s greatest consumers, and we often take our consumerist attitudes to church with us. We complain about the length of the sermon. The topic of the sermon. Which pastor or minister is preaching. The children whispering behind us. The style of music. Too many/too few hands in the air. Too many/too few musicians. The praise team because we prefer choirs/the choir because we prefer praise teams. The parking space that required a five-minute walk to reach the sanctuary. Too many jeans/too many suits. The size/shape/consistency of the communion wafers.
Surely, surely, by now I’ve written something that you’ve actually complained about. If not out loud, in your head. (God knows about those too! 😉 ). I was able to come up with them because I’ve had critical thoughts about most of them at one time or another!
Some complaints are legitimate. God calls us to be discerning. One of the churches I visited in the area where I live had a lot of things about it I liked. The sermon was biblically-based and delivered well. The church’s doctrine seemed pretty much in line with what I believe the Bible teaches. But the music…well, for part of the music they sang TV show theme songs. There was a point to this, as the theme songs were all on topic related to the topic of the sermon. Is it a sin to sing TV show theme songs in church? I would not be so legalistic as to say that. It seemed weird, but…okay, fine. But then they did the Laverne & Shirley theme. Is Laverne & Shirley a wicked show? Well, actually I’ve never watched it, but I wouldn’t guess so. But the chorus basically repeats how “I did it my way.” Sinful words? Well, not necessarily, probably depends on the context. The context here was church. The House of God. Rather than shaking a playful fist at convention or men or whoever it was those gals were shaking fists at, it kind of seemed like shaking a fist at God. In my opinion, at best it represented a glaring thoughtlessness about the choice of songs. I never went back to that church. Did I overreact? I don’t know, but I think this example goes beyond a personal preference, and it wasn’t about what I “got” or didn’t “get” from the church.
Another example from music — where so many of our criticisms come from — is the song “You Deserve the Highest Praise,” which has bothered both me and my friend Amy because of the phrase “sendin’ it to ya'” — boy that sounds petty, doesn’t it? But should God really be referred to as “ya”? It doesn’t feel very godly. It doesn’t feel very respectful. It certainly doesn’t remind me of God’s holiness. And therefore it bothers me.
So, what’s legitimate to complain about (broadly speaking, to include critical thoughts), and what is a sign of an arrogant and ungodly consumerist attitude toward church? I certainly don’t claim to have the answer (now THAT would be arrogant). When it comes to the things that are clearly personal preferences rather than clear violations of biblical teaching, I think it has at least something to do with (1) how we express our disagreement or criticism, or otherwise respond to it, and (2) whether it distracts us (or worse, prevents us) from worshipping God and fellowshipping with church family.
At the third service of my church (the service I usually attend), there is a young man, almost certainly in high school, who plays the electric guitar. I do not like this electric guitar. I think the music would sound much better without it. And after all, shouldn’t three guitars be enough? I try very hard not to let this electric guitar distract me. It has only really distracted me twice — when I found myself wincing from a headache I’m pretty sure it contributed to. But I say this only in a very anonymous fashion here. I’m sure the young man who plays that guitar is very talented. I’m so glad (SO GLAD!) he’s using his talent in public worship of God. I’m glad he’s there as a testament to the youth in the service. I’m glad he’s there to bring a sound to the music that — while I’d happily do without it — others may really enjoy. I hope that his participation is as much a blessing to him as it is to anyone sitting in the pews. So I try not to think critical thoughts, and I succeed. Usually. And writing all this has made me realize that I should pray I succeed all of the time.
Without further ado, though, check out the following two illustrations of the negative and critical attitudes we sometimes bring to church with us. Laugh…but be convicted as well. And please, I’d love to see your comments on the things you’ve said or thought (or you’ve heard from others) that you know are signs of an improper attitude — again, funny, but convicting.