Tag Archive | church attendance

Hello, my name is self-righteous

By Doug Kerr from Albany, NY, United States (Otter Lake, New York) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Warning: Long. Ranty. Contains mentions of abuse.

Over the weekend, I read Hello, My Name Is Church, a blog post helpfully shared with me by one of my Twitter friends.  It’s been ages since I almost injured myself from rolling my eyes so much, so I was grateful to be back in the game.  I won’t say this is the worst thing I’ve read so far this year (that prize now goes to another article on girls and modesty, which I may blog about later this week).  It is, however, the worst thing I read between New Year’s and Epiphany, so it’s still in contention for the Top Ten.  Hooray!

It’s hard to tell exactly what Unappreciated Pastor is going for here.  I can’t tell if he’s talking about people who walked away from Christian faith, from church attendance in general, or just from his specific congregation (wouldn’t be surprised, judging by the name he goes by).  It sounds like he’s conflating all of those things.  Let’s get to his “poem,” shall we?

He has some ideas about why people just avoid the whole scene:

Perhaps you have heard that I am…

Boring
Shallow
Cheap
A waste of time

You’ve heard that I am full of:

Hypocrites
Clowns
Greedy people
The self-righteous

So, these people have merely heard that those things are found in church.  Even in my days of poorly-orchestrated evangelism, I never once had anyone tell me they didn’t want to go to church because they’d caught rumors that it wasn’t all that great.  I think a lot of people don’t go because (gasp) they already have beliefs.  Shocking, I know.

Next, he has some words for people who showed up once and didn’t like it.

Maybe you have visited me before and discovered:

Horrible music
Passionless singing
Dry preaching
Rude congregants

Apparently those people were just attending the wrong church, because one visit and they never wanted to go back again owing to the off-key praise band or the pastor’s uninteresting sermon.  There are two wrong assumptions here.  First, how does Unappreciated Pastor know whether these people didn’t just find a church they liked better?  I mean, in my city, it’s not that hard.  We have several within five minutes of our house.  Second, he’s doing the same foolish thing entertainment-focused churches do in believing that superficial things are, in fact, what drive people away.  The only difference is that he makes it the fault of the visitor rather than the church.

Now we’re getting into the meat of the thing.  Here’s what he thinks of people who “needed” the church:

Maybe you needed me and I was:

Too busy
Too “righteous”
Too broke
Too blind

Yes.  Because no one should find it off-putting that we didn’t get help when we required it.  I think it’s a very strange thing indeed that conservatives often claim the local church should help “the poor” (or at least, the “deserving” poor) rather than the government stepping in.  Yet people should stick it out when they are in need, despite the fact that whatever church Unappreciated Pastor is referencing (hopefully not his own) isn’t coming through.  Also, what the hell does he mean by “too ‘righteous’” in this context?  Hm, maybe those two things are connected.

Up next, here’s what happens when you’re a disgruntled member:

Maybe you joined me and found I was:

Distant
Demanding
Dull
Preoccupied

Maybe you tried to serve in me but were caught off guard by:

Business meetings
Committees
Teams
Bureaucracy

We’re back on the dull thing again.  It’s obviously a great filter, since we’ve already weeded out the people who only heard that it’s boring and the ones who showed up once and fell asleep during the sermon.  I wonder if that would work to get jackasses out of the congregation–bore them away.  You’d have to let the rest of the congregation in on the secret first, though, or you’ll lose them too.  And God knows members don’t have any other reasons for leaving the church, of course.  It’s all about how church isn’t entertaining.  No one ever leaves because they simply don’t believe anymore or because they were sick of the constant shaming or because women are considered lesser beings or because the church is vile toward LGBT people or because a person in authority violated them.  Nope.

So, what happens if you try to leave?

Maybe you left and were surprised that nobody:

Called
Cared
Noticed
Invited you back

He’s not serious, right?  Leaving church can be a scary thing indeed.  It would be a blessing for many to go without being hounded.  Also, the way that’s framed makes it sound like people walk away in hopes that someone will give them reason to stay.

Perhaps your experience has driven you to:

Speak negatively of me
Swear to never come back to me
Proclaim that no one needs me
Believe you’re better off without me

I have serious doubts that Unappreciated Pastor has actually tried to find out the real reasons people leave church.  I would venture a guess that he’s never sat down and listened to story after story of people who have been hurt.  Maybe he doesn’t see the pain in the eyes of people who want so desperately to experience the kind of love than many churches promise but only deliver to those deemed worthy.  If he had, he might have to acknowledge that some people have good reason to speak negatively of their experiences or step away and never look back.

If this is true, I have something to say to you:

I’m sorry
I was wrong
I blew it
I made a huge mistake

This would be a great place to stop.  Well, it might also help to recognize that boredom and committees are not what’s driving people away from the church.  Still, it’s nice to have an apology.

But remember, I never said my name was:

Perfect
Flawless
Complete
Arrived

Or not.

We get it.  Churches aren’t perfect.  People aren’t perfect.  And really, if the simplistic view of what’s wrong with the church as outlined above were true, then I could absolutely buy it that we need to be okay with imperfection.  In light of what actually happens, though, I’m pretty uncomfortable with this.

My name is church. I welcome the:

Hypocrite
Dry
Self-righteous
Shallow

I welcome the

Sincere
Passionate
Forgiving
Selfless

And if this were the only thing we needed to be concerned about, I’d be cool with that definition of “flawed.”

I cannot shut my doors to the people who make you:

Angry
Uncomfortable
Impatient
Self-conscious

Oh, really?  Because  I see the church do this all the time.  The trouble is, they’re usually so busy shutting the doors on those who make people angry or uncomfortable because of who the church perceives them to be that the church fails to shut the doors on abusers.

But I would remind you that we couldn’t always worship in the same room. In the Old Testament there was a division between the:

Gentile
Jew
Man
Woman

Your point being?  I’m not sure what parallel he’s trying to draw.

In order for us to all worship in the same room Christ was:

Shamed
Beaten
Killed
Resurrected

Er…okay.  Though Jesus broke a lot of barriers when he was alive, too.  Also, Unappreciated Pastor has obviously not been to a modern-day synagogue.  It’s been maybe twenty years since I attended services, but last time I was there, women and men were sitting right next to each other.  Fancy that.

Which is far worse than being:

Bored
Uncomfortable
Embarrassed
Ignored

Oh!  I get it now.  Jesus died, so how dare you not like church services?  Because you could not possibly have anything in your church experience that is as terrible as being dead.  No one’s ever actually died because of something inflicted on them by the church, right?  Oh.  Wait.

So why not come back to church and let all of these messed up people:

Challenge you
Sharpen you
Strengthen you
Humble you

Why not come back to church and let all these messed up people continue to harm you in exactly the same way they were doing before you left?  Sounds like a date!

I can’t promise you that the people will be great. This is church. It’s not:

Heaven
Paradise
Beulah Land
The Celestial city

Translation: “I can’t promise to protect you, and I might even try to excuse some of the things that are happening to you because I think it’s your fault.”

Come back.

God wants you here.
The body needs you here.
The world needs your witness here.
You belong here.

Hello, my name is church.

I miss you.

I love you.

I’m sorry.

Can’t wait to see you.

“I’m sorry.  It’ll never happen again.  I need you.  I can’t live without you.”  Heck, why not throw in a “No one will ever love you the way I do” for good measure?

If you’ve left regular church attendance or church membership or the Church or Christianity as a whole, you have good reason.  I’m sorry if I’ve ever dismissed you.  I’m sorry that people like Unappreciated Pastor have written whole pseudo-poems discounting your reasons for leaving.  You know what?  I’m even sorry that people think it’s their job to discern what a “good” reason is.  Who cares if you left because you were bored or people acted like ass-hats?  I don’t want to spend social time with a bunch of jerks, either (boy, do I have thoughts on forced friendships).

Hey, Unappreciated Pastor?  I’m sorry that people are leaving your church and you feel down about it.  That actually must suck.  Being a pastor isn’t easy.  May I suggest, though, that instead of writing passive-aggressive and dismissive poetry, you check out my friend Naked Pastor?  He’s been through it too, and maybe his wisdom and humor will help you get by.  Or maybe you’re ready to leave the church yourself, and this is your plea for help.  I’ll light a hope candle for you.

Only the Guilty Stay Home

The other day, I read this post on Faith Village.  The writer, Sharon Miller, talks about the difficulty in attending church services with an infant and her frustrations around how to handle it.  Ultimately, she concludes that although it would be easier to stay home, she will keep going for the sake of corporate worship and raising her child among the faithful.

While I commend Ms. Miller for making the decision that felt right to her, I couldn’t help seeing her perhaps not-so-subtle judgment for people who have made different choices.  She writes,

Despite my best efforts I am not perfect in this area, and having a baby has accentuated my consumerist tendencies even more. Now, I can’t help but think of church as a major inconvenience. It is hard to go to church. It’s a commitment. And as much as I put into getting there, I don’t get a whole lot in return.

She talks about consumerism and compares the decision to stay home from church with consumerist mentality.  I suppose that may be true for her; I wouldn’t know.  But there’s a lot of assumption present on her part about the reasons people choose to go (or not go) to church.

When our older child was born, I was, in many ways, ready to be a parent; we had wanted children for a long time.  At the same time, I was utterly unprepared for how challenging it would be.  Our son was not an easy baby.  He cried constantly, he demanded to be held 24/7 (we literally did not put him down for three weeks straight, other than to change his diapers), and he was a poor napper.  He had stomach troubles which necessitated feeding him nearly round the clock, and I was breastfeeding so I didn’t get a break.  When people brought us meals, they wanted to see the baby, but I was too tired and unhappy and didn’t want anyone to see me, so only one friend actually got to hold him that first week.  We had a major power outage during that time and ended up at my sister’s for a couple of nights.  Needless to say, it was a trying time.

We very quickly figured out that church happened at exactly the time of day that our son needed a nap.  I was not comfortable nursing in public (we had a rough start) and was useless at pumping because of the constant feedings (and hell, no, I wasn’t going to use formula just so I could go out; he couldn’t tolerate it anyway).  We didn’t go to church at all for the first three or four Sundays after he was born.

After that, we began to go back to church.  But because of his neediness and his schedule, we had to choose between Sunday school (the hour before church) and the church service.  When I shared this with the women at church, they were nearly universally in support of our choice to go to Sunday school and then return home.  The other women surrounded us with love and offers of support.

All except one.

One friend criticized us for our decision, saying that it was self-centered and that we should be careful not to fall into a pattern of non-attendance.  She informed us that not attending would lead us down a path of apathy, and said that we would eventually stop coming altogether.

Apparently, she didn’t know us very well.

See, here’s the thing.  When the women at church cared for me and reassured me that it was okay to take care of ourselves, they were doing exactly what Ms. Miller believes a church should do—they were loving us as family.  With the one exception, no one judged us; no one told us we were acting as though we thought church should be there for us to “get something out of it.”

With the brief exception of taking a month off before searching for a new church this year, we have not taken any extended breaks from attendance.  Even through all the times we had to make our son eat dinner in the car between dance class and midweek service, we kept attending.  But it eventually did grow tiresome trying to fit in the expectation of church or church activity three to four times weekly.  I am certain that I will never do that again; not because of consumerist mentality, but because attendance for the sake of meeting some artificial standard isn’t good either.

See, what Ms. Miller is missing is that it isn’t about church attendance at all.  Consumerist mentality is present in church anyway.  When we gear our services to a particular subset of the population; when we try to be hip, cool, or different; when we use gimmicks to get people to show up; when we guilt people into attendance; when we run our churches more like corporations than like houses of prayer—that is where we find consumerism.

Only in our present-day conservative evangelical churches do we find this belief that the very natural need to care for our infants, even at the expense of church attendance, is somehow selfish and wrong.  How terrible that we have made new parents feel that they have no option except to prove—to themselves and others—by way of church attendance that God is important.

I am truly sorry that wherever Ms. Miller is going to church, she isn’t surrounded by the loving community we had when our son was a baby.  I’m sorry that she feels that she must attend church regardless of lack of sleep or challenges with her infant or nap schedules.  My prayer for her is that she finds peace and that she’s able to care for herself without feeling guilty that she might be giving in to “consumerism.”

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That wraps things up for this week, folks.  I’m taking a much-needed break to work on my NaNoWriMo novel and to enjoy Thanksgiving with family and friends.  I hope you all have a great rest of your week, and I’ll see you back here on Monday for the next installment of Fifty Shades.