I Want To Be Used Minimally

For years it was a thing we in the evangelical church prayed over each other, or was that just in my church circles? As a young person, it was confidently pronounced over me as if prophetically. In Bible college, it was the unspoken goal.

To be used mightily. 

I’m pretty sure the intent was to allow God to move through us powerfully. Or, we were going to move in Him visibly. Or, operate under His power, or…something.

christianese1Christianese is tricky because if you grow up using the vernacular it’s difficult to actually define it when pressed. I’m not sure what “being used mightily” is supposed to mean. I only know what I imagined it would mean for me.

I had visions of grandeur. God was going to use me in a big way. I was to command a large stage. Lives were going to be transformed. Hearts were going to be changed. I was going to love large and lavishly and publicly.

Mostly, it meant I would be known. 

Can I just be painfully real for a second, here? There is a part of me that still craves some of that recognition. I don’t know if it’s the taking stock of middle age or the availability of everyone else’s success right in front of our faces at all times, but sometimes I think I’m not doing enough to get myself out there.

We just finished a series at our megachurch called Pursuing Awesome. I admit to getting a little caught up in the hype of setting goals, learning from failure, and working hard to go after what we want. The slick video that introduced each segment flashed images of people doing amazing things like climbing mountains, conquering waves, and winning championships. Each point was punctuated with a real life example of greatness like Ray Kroc of McDonald’s fame.

I walked out each week convinced of things I should do differently.

I should figure out how to set my blog up to automatically post to Twitter several times a day. I should work to get more “likes” to my blogger page on Facebook and post there regularly. I should re-post articles I’ve already written for those who’ve missed them and encourage others to share them in hopes of a wider audience. These shoulds have been proven to increase success in blogging and even lead to paid authorship.

After all, success is what we’re here for, right? We can’t settle for mediocrity. I can’t live an average life. I want to be used mightily! 

Until I realized what I was hearing sounded less like a service and more like a seminar. The examples of “Awesome” seemed very much like the American Dream – financial success! publishing a book! job promotion! – and so very less like the Awesome I think Jesus would have us pursue – taking up our cross, dying to self, serving the least of these.

I was brought up short.

How many times in my lifelong desire to be used mightily or my Pursuit of Awesome have I overlooked an opportunity to be used, well, minimally? To love on a smaller scale, without recognition? To speak a word of hope and encouragement where only one could hear? To provide a hand behind the scenes?

I don’t want to be used mightily, anymore. I don’t want to Pursue American Awesome.

I want to be used minimally. I want to be content with the unknown American average, while pursuing simple obedience to God.

I want my eye on the only prize that actually matters. I want to be focused on eternity.

I do all this for the sake of the Good News in order to share what it offers. Don’t you realize that everyone who runs in a race runs to win, but only one runner gets the prize? Run like them, so that you can win. Everyone who enters an athletic contest goes into strict training. They do it to win a temporary crown, but we do it to win one that will be permanent. I Cor. 9:23-25

I want to be one who sees and responds to imago Dei in everyone, never losing sight of anyone’s humanity based on their color, behavior, ability, beliefs, age, finances, health, sexuality, gender, or attitude. I want to speak love, first. I want it to ooze out my pores.

In the middle of my anxiety and my brokenness, I want to continue to speak out against injustice done to some of them, no matter if the majority refuse to hear or even cause me pain in the process. I want to be a truth teller.

I want to be the friend that shows up with the grocery store bouquet and the listening ear, who wakes in the wee hours and slides on her knees to intercede, who bakes a casserole when there are no words, and who laughs until she snorts knowing you need that, too.

I want to be the encourager who says, “Oh, honey, you’re doing great! Mine was a hellion at that age. At least he’s wearing shoes!” to the struggling young mom in the grocery store while I help her load her bags.

I want to let my nursing home residents greet me with big hugs and wet kisses, not because they’ll remember, but because, for a brief moment, it will bring them joy to do so.

I want to give until it hurts (and not just tickles a bit) to those adopting, those serving in children’s homes, those working for 20150208_155036family unification, and those providing temporary shelter because that is what I say I’m about and, for crying out loud, it’s written on my arm!

I want to deny my own selfishness and do the normal loving of my big family, too. I want to review spelling words with the kid with an intellectual disability who thinks “p-o-o-p” is the funniest answer every time, and put down my phone to watch yet another cat video with my animal lover, and ooh and ah over the thousandth masterpiece today from the four-year-old. I want to clean up craptastrophes with a sense of humor and less foul language and really engage with my ten-year-old about whatever it is he talks about. (Clearly, I have this category sewn up.)

I want to be the neighbor who shows up with cookies to welcome you when you first move in, who brings the chainsaw waves as her husband goes over with the chainsaw when you have a downed tree, who embraces the neighbor kids even though they throw the rocks out of my flowerbed.

I want to love lavishly and boldly, even while privately, not because I should, but because I can’t help myself. He loved me, first.

It doesn’t have to be mighty to be holy; it doesn’t have to be Awesome to be ordained.

Sometimes all I need to do is just show up and actually act on my good intentions. I have to put down my phone and engage. I have to get off the couch and be present. It will never make it into a slick video. No one may ever acknowledge the effort, but it so counts. It matters. My “success”, our success as followers of Christ is only measured in our obedience to Him.

The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12: 29-31

We love God with all of who we are, first.

And then, we love those around us with the same love we have for ourselves. In the same way we desire only the best for ourselves, we must want the best for them. As everything in us rises up to defend ourselves, we must rise to defend them. Just as we would fight to the death to preserve our own lives, we must be willing to fight for theirs. In the same way we seek comfort and solace in the face of heartache, we must reach out and offer it to them. As we want people to react kindly to us when we are not our best, we must extend grace to them.

Whatever privilege, rights, comforts, and benefits we cling to, we must insist that those around us can access them, as well.

We love them as we love ourselves.

Loving like that may be minimal and way less sexy than Awesome, but it’s right, and good, and true, and well, commanded. (I contend that Pursuing Obedience is a whole lot harder than Pursuing Awesome, but that’s a post for another day.) This is who I want to be – one used minimally for the sake of Jesus. Mightily and Awesome aren’t even on my radar.

And I have tons of grace for that.

I Won’t Take a Stand on Gay Marriage

It smells like fear to me. And fear mongering. I try really hard not to make decisions based on fear.

I’m a follower of Christ. I know many of you are not who read my words and the term “Christian” has gotten all kinds of bad press, some of it well-deserved. So you may not grasp what Jesus means to me. He’s the reason that we felt compelled to travel across the world to get our Bo. He’s the reason that, even after two years of sleepless nights, I was determined to learn to love that little guy. He’s the reason, the only reason, I succeeded and feelings finally followed actions. He’s the reason my heart weeps for the unloved and the broken and why I so desire to love the least of these because that is what He taught me to do.

He’s the reason that I hope, when hope is in short supply; why I stand when my knees are quaking; why I say yes when common sense says no. Because He has shown me amazing grace, I am undone. I am not who I once was and I know redemption is sweet.

Because of Jesus, I have a soft spot for the marginalized, those thought to be unequal in our culture. Those with disabilities, racial minorities, those with mental illnesses, and those who are gay.

A few months ago, I read this post about gay marriage by Glennon on Momastery and it resonated with me. I particularly loved this quote, ” I think if people don’t believe in gay marriage, then mostly they should not get gay married.” It made me chuckle and want to put it on a t-shirt. Her ideas on grace were spot on, as well.

It’s like we Christians love the idea of grace, but we don’t want it distributed indiscriminately- we want make rules about it and dole it out carefully and strategically. It’s like we’re worried that if everybody knows that she’s loved and accepted by God – it will be Grace Anarchy! I want that. I want Grace Anarchy. I want people to be free to be who they are. It makes sense to me that the free-er people are, the BETTER people are. I believe in people because I believe in God. I think God knew what God was doing when God made each of us.

I’m not sure what I think of her theology when it comes to homosexuality, though. Truthfully, I’ve been praying about and wrestling it through for months. My poor husband has certainly gotten an earful. I felt like I finally need to figure out what I believe about all of this. Now that SCOTUS issued their ruling, I feel like it’s time to take a stand, either way. I don’t believe that being gay is a sin. But gay sex? I really don’t know. An entire life of evangelicalism, years of Baptist primary school, a year of Bible college, and a childhood as a pastor’s daughter are not so easily shed. I know I’m not alone in my ambivalence and confusion. I want to rightly divide the Word of truth like it says in II Timothy 2:15. Freedom comes with truth. 

I then, as a seeker of truth, proceeded to read all 1,986 comments on the Momastery Facebook page about this post because I am also an idiot. I’ve also read numerous articles on both sides and the comments following since the decision was announced. It’s enough to make your head spin.

A few things jumped out at me. Those that oppose gay marriage, are the least loving in the comments. To be clear, I’m not talking about the trolls. I’m talking about those sincere in their beliefs who disagree. More than just disagreeing, though, they almost always take a slippery slope argument. If Christians support gay marriage then it won’t be long before pedophilia and bestiality will be the norm in the church. Or, they assume that, any Christian who agrees with certain Bible pastors that believe those passages that refer to homosexuality are speaking to non-consensual sex, has decided there is no such thing as sin…like, at all, and what did Jesus die for?!? I can’t tell you how many times I read, “The Bible clearly states…”

The fear is palpable.

And I wonder why. Why are we so afraid? Do we really think the world is going to go to hell in a hand-basket if we reason together? I don’t know.

In Glennon’s post, lots of people pointed out that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality, only Paul did in the New Testament. Those that brought up the Old Testament were rightly squashed as none of us follow Levitical law. It can very successfully be argued that Sodom and Gomorrah was more about gang rape and has no resemblance to our current conundrum of gay marriage.

Those that agreed with the post pointed out that we are all sinners…and were rebutted that most sins are events versus lifestyles. It’s easier to ask for forgiveness for lying when you’re not married to the lie.

So what did Jesus say about marriage?

But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Matthew 5:32

Divorce is very common. People divorce for lots of reasons beyond sexual immorality. Most people who consider divorce a sin believe it’s a one time event that God forgives. But what about that last part? According to that, remarriage is a sin, too. What’s up with that? That doesn’t sound like a one-time thing. That sounds like they are in an adulterous relationship. How come nobody ever talks about that?

So, if you’re divorced, are you supposed to remain single for, like, ever?!? What if it’s too late and you’re already in the adulterous relationship of a second marriage? Do you get another divorce? I Corinthians 6:18 tells us to Flee sexual immorality. Living in adultery seems pretty immoral, to me. But what if the new couple has children together? Obviously, they can be forgiven for entering the remarriage, but then do they need to have a celibate marriage to keep from being adulterous?

So many questions! Honestly, it’s difficult to fit these words of Jesus into our current culture, especially if you’re one who claims, “The Bible clearly states…”

Second marriages and blended families are the norm, even in the church. No one bats an eye. I know very godly people who have been married for almost fifty years the second time around. No one refused to bake a cake for them or photograph their wedding, even back then, by the way. How come?

I don’t know what to think about Jesus’s words regarding divorce, second marriages, and adultery. I chose to use them as an example, but I’ve never really studied them in depth or wrestled them through. I’m happily married to my first husband of twenty-two years. That passage doesn’t apply to my circumstance and I don’t feel the need to take a microscope to it to measure someone else’s life.

I’m sure there have been studies and someone will tell me what Jesus really meant in that passage. If we look hard enough, we may discover cultural context or Greek words with different meanings than the current translations. Wait, that sounds familiar. All things those same people are denying others regarding passages on homosexuality, because, you know, “the Bible clearly states…”

Here’s the thing. I worship with people who are in second marriages. Half the time, I have no idea. But even if I do, I don’t care or even ever think about it. I serve with them at church. I go out to dinner with them, watch their kids, pray for them, let them pray for me…do life with them, just like anyone else.

If it ever crossed my mind, I would assume they have wrestled that passage with Jesus and I would trust them to walk in whatever He showed them to do. Because I love them, I’ll let them work out their own faith with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12) and I will work out mine.

And you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to do the same with my gay brothers and sisters. The passages on homosexuality don’t apply to my circumstance. I’m not gay. So, I’m not taking a stand on gay marriage. I’m taking a knee. I will serve those around me. If they want me to bake a cake, I will bake for them two. (If they want me to photograph their wedding, they should reconsider, though. My sisters-in-law can tell you I’m not so good at that.)

So, I will gladly stand next to my gay brothers and sisters in worship or go out to dinner with them or watch their children. I will pray for them and let them pray for me…do life with them, just like anyone else. Because I love them, I’ll trust them to work out their own faith with fear and trembling and I will work out mine.

But I won’t take a stand on somebody else’s life. Because I believe there is grace for us all.

I Killed Nine People

AMEchurchA week ago, a stranger was welcomed into a church, sat among the people for an hour while they included him in their prayer and study, and then murdered them in cold blood because they were black.

In the aftermath, I’ve been filled with sorrow and grief and disbelief at the callousness with which this act of racial terror was carried out. As a mother, I react in horror at the thought of playing dead, listening to my son die next to me. I feel physically ill and overcome at the thought of waiting hours for word of my husband’s death only to be told that it likely resulted from the very first shots I heard that caused me to cover my child under me as I dialed 911. And then, to tell my children that their daddy is gone, but “We are going to stay strong and we are going to get through this.” I know I couldn’t.

And then these people, these amazing believers, offered forgiveness in the middle of their grief. I am undone.

How could this be that in the year 2015, someone could be so filled with hate at people he lives among that he would kill them? How is it that we don’t recognize that he’s a product of our culture?

I want to point fingers. I want to rail against the talking heads and bloggers and politicians who assure my well-meaning, conservative, white, Christian friends that racism is long dead, white privilege is a myth dreamed up by liberals, and they are fine, good people with nothing to worry about.

I almost did. (Blog post half-written.)

But then I prayed. I cried out to God in my frustration and my pain and my grief and He answered me. With a sudden clarity and white hot horror, I saw truth. I saw the one responsible. I saw myself.

I killed nine people.

No, I did not fire that weapon, but I paved the way. I set the stage. I was complicit in this crime.

You see, I’m a forty-five-year-old white woman and I’ve only been introspective about race and my relationship with it for about a year. I became a follower of Christ as a child at the age of four. So, for forty long years, I pretended institutional racism didn’t exist. I liked to say holy things like, “I don’t really notice color.” In turning a blind eye, I set the stage for atrocities against people of color in spite of my professed beliefs.

I thought racism died out in our family with my grandma. She called people “colored.” I, in my childish wisdom, used to tease her and ask, “What color were they, Grams?” As an adult, I never told inappropriate jokes or said racial slurs. I had black friends and co-workers on and off through the years. I always treated everyone fairly. Of course, I wasn’t racist. That’s ridiculous!

And yet, one by one the memories came.

I remember saying things like, “It’s Black Expo, again? There’s no way they’d ever have a White Expo! Get sued for sure! That’s discrimination.” I remember having real animosity for the NAACP, the origin of which I have no clue. It just irritated me. I remember nodding my head in agreement when others said things like, “If they could just stay out of jail and be fathers to their children.” Even just recently, when confronted with the fact that while black children make up just 18% of those enrolled in a preschool program, they constitute 48% of those suspended more than once, I paused. I knew there’s no way black three-year-olds behave astronomically worse than white three-year-olds, and yet, I briefly wondered. (They don’t, of course. Here’s the truth.) I finally saw that I valued individual people of color in my world, but collectively as an ethnic whole, I viewed them with disdain.

And on and on the truth laid bare my calloused heart. The shame mounted. I want to point the finger at other people. After all, I’m enlightened. I get it.

But I can’t. Because it was me. I created an environment of hate.

  • Every time I viewed myself, along with six out of ten other white people, as superior to blacks (even if I didn’t realize it.)
  • Every time I uttered the words “race baiting” in the presence of real emotion, instead of seeking to understand from where the emotion was coming.
  • Every time I became defensive and stopped listening when someone said “white privilege” because I worked hard to get where I am and I’m still broke, instead of learning that it’s not a moral indictment and “advantage” may be a better word anyway.
  • Every time I stupidly thought racism ended with the passing of the Civil Rights Act, instead of actually learning history.
  • Every time I didn’t think to ask questions about why so many black people live in the inner city, or why blacks are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites, or why they seem to assume the officer was picking on them.
  • Every time I denied a black person her experience by picking apart her story and helpfully providing the correct perspective, instead of following the God-given mandate to weep with those who weep.
  • Every time I chuckled at a racist joke so as not to make the teller uncomfortable, instead of calling them out and letting the chips fall where they may.
  • Every time I accepted the narrative fed to me without first checking the bias.

With a wink and a nod, I was complicit. I violated the humanity of people with my ignorance and the image of God in which they are created with my strict adherence to the status quo. There is blood on my hands. And I am full of sorrow. How I wish it wasn’t me.

I will never be the same. I won’t do it perfectly, but I will do all I can to change our world, to change my world. I promise you my children will know. They will understand that while all people are equal, our culture does not honor that reality. We will fight injustice and we will work for equality. And we will be a voice for truth.

I cannot begin to undo my part or go back in time. There is no rewriting of history, no matter how much we try. Humility is the only way forward, the only path toward healing, my only hope of forgiveness. I am so sorry and it’s not enough, but it’s all I have. And so I ask you, people of color, with heart on my sleeve, blood on my hands, will you forgive me? Is there a place at your table for the likes of me? Can we work together to prevent more wrongs?

Church Bullies

They say a church hurt is the worst hurt. I think its because our expectations are higher for our fellow believers. We expect them to treat us better than their worldly counterparts. When they don’t, we are wounded.

Sometimes, we are gutted.

The thing is, there are people in the church who are simply bullies. The church can be a breeding ground for them. Most people in churches have been conditioned to be kind and to keep peace. We avoid conflict. Bullies flourish in churches because they are rarely confronted and the stakes are low if, on the off chance, they are exposed.

A bully loves to be a big fish in a small pond. They excel at saying all the right words, at twisting Scripture to appear spiritual, and, when exposed, at sweeping things under the rug in the name of “reconciliation”. They are experts at gaslighting, as well.

Church bullies love legalism, although they have a ton of public grace for themselves. They believe that their circumstances are the exceptions to the rules they have for everyone else.

Dealing with them is disheartening, infuriating, sometimes crushing, and always preoccupying. The reality is that church bullies, because of the niceness in church culture, almost always win. Their victims either cower or, after a brief fight, walk away, misunderstood by others and painted in a bad light.

I’ve mentioned before my lack of pretense. I wear my heart on my sleeve, I say what I mean, and I don’t understand the first thing about playing games. Basically, I make an excellent target for the church bully. So I have been one too many times, as I was recently in a church-like setting.

I was the one walking away, misunderstood. I hate to be misunderstood. As I’ve said before, it’s my kryptonite.

Plus, I want to prove to everyone that I’m right. My pride wants everyone to see how I’ve been wronged, to understand the depths of the wrongness done to me, and to fully know the depravity of the one who did the wronging. I want to give those bullies a taste of their own medicine, I do.

Because in my mind, they are the enemy. They can do no right. They are 100% wrong, black-hat-bad, evil. Beyond redemption.

In Googling this topic, I found some good articles on how to handle the church bully. I Hate Church Bullies by Jeremy Myers explores what motivates them. What To Say To a Church Bully from Ministry Today is an excellent article on our responsibility to confront those commandeering the church.

In the past, I’ve allowed my own anger and hurt to so color my thinking, I’ve forgotten that Jesus loves those bullies just as much as He loves me. He treasures them. They are His beloved children. And He had specific instructions for how we deal with our perceived enemies:

But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. (Luke 6:27-28)

But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:35-36)

I will tell you that my pride loathes these Words. “C’mon, Jesus. Let’s bless them with a brick to the backside, instead,” I want to plead (and probably have.) Pray for them, do good, love them, are all I hear in response. And, because I’m no longer around them much, I do the one thing I can from a distance. I pray for them.

And it’s work. My flesh rises up and wants me to do anything but that. But I persist. And soon, more rapidly than if I’d nursed my grudge, my heart softens. Forgiveness reigns. I can see them as Jesus does.

Boundaries are necessary and still in place.

Not gonna lie to you. It’s a struggle at first. I don’t know how to pray for people about which I have nothing good to say. So I start there. I confess my sins in the whole mess (which are legion), and just tell God I don’t know where to start but I want to be obedient to His Word. He reminds me of a small circumstance I know about in one of their lives. I lift it up.

Soon, I can pray with all sincerity for peace and blessing to them. But more amazing to me is the peace it brings in my life.

And I now understand that whether I am the one who has brought the wrong or the one who has been wronged, there is grace for both.

A Polished Turd

I guess it’s because I’m old or maybe just because I haven’t landed anywhere in the church, but lately I’ve been taking stock, reviewing history, wondering how I got here.

And by here, I mean nowhere, sadly. I’m disconnected and adrift. I can’t seem to find my people.

I spent years in a church that was a bad fit. All the signs were there, in neon, yet I allowed myself to be convinced that I was the problem. I was too brash, too confrontational, divisive. Time and time again, I retreated and allowed myself to be silenced in efforts to be a “good girl” or a mature christian woman. The message was clear: Follow the status quo, don’t ask questions, don’t show so much weakness.

I could never strike the balance. I watched other people share just enough vulnerability to appear humble, but still maintain a veneer of control and success. I envied them. They were esteemed as mature. My mask never stayed in place. I was all in, real, raw. My heart was on my sleeve. I asked a lot of questions. I secretly thought of myself whenever I watched the classic The Sound of Music and heard the nuns sing Maria. I always felt like I was a problem to be solved.

I felt tolerated, but never understood.

Being misunderstood is my kryptonite. My feelings were obliterated a lot. Always, the situation was spun in such a way that I was convinced to apologize, in the name of “reconciliation.”

Looking back, I realize that I did a lot of things incorrectly, but sometimes, often even, I was standing up for justice. I was working to right a wrong. I wish now that I hadn’t backed down so often. Mostly, I wish I would’ve walked away long before I finally did.

It’s a strange twist in church when pretense is the norm. Much of my Christian life has been spent rueing the fact that I seem unable to project a false self. You can’t polish a turd, as the saying goes, but I get confused and at times even seem to think playing a better game of pretend is the goal.

It’s not.

Maybe because I’m forty-five and sleep-deprived and have a greatly diminished filter, but I’m over even pretending to pretend. I don’t have my shit together and I’m literally wearing the t-shirt to prove it. t-shirtAnd while my kids are scandalized that I wear this in public, I have the audacity to think it is a greater witness for the cause of Christ than all the sanctimonious memes I see spread around on Facebook. (Like this one:


While Christ absolutely died for you, I promise, no one is saying you take the Jesus thing too seriously. The fact that you think they are is highly arrogant and slightly narcissistic.)

What were we talking about? Oh, yeah. My t-shirt. People need to know they can come just as they are. They are accepted. No pretense here. You be you. I’ll be me. Lacking, off-kilter, loud, overwhelmed, forgetful, tired…me. And when we finally drop the masks, real relationship happens.

In His day, Jesus hung around with sinners and they clearly liked Him. He put them at ease. Church folks didn’t like that too much and complained. He responded, “I’ve come to call sinners, not those who think they are already good enough.” (Matthew 9:13 NLT)

I remember as a young mom admitting to an older, somewhat pious, woman at church that I didn’t care for Jesus much when I read His words in the Bible. I liked the rest of the Bible, but, Jesus made me uncomfortable. (See? No mask.) I don’t remember what she said, but her shocked look with veiled disdain spoke volumes. Clearly, this was not something to be spoken of out loud. (Shut up and drink the kool-aid, Tara.)

But, no wonder He made me uncomfortable. I was trying so hard to be already good enough. I thought that’s what I was supposed to be, already good enough.

None of us is.

The playing field is level. “No one is good — not even one.” (Romans 3:10b NLT) And when I realize that, when I can acknowledge that with a humble heart, Jesus doesn’t make me uncomfortable. He welcomes me.

None of us, no matter how long we’ve followed Jesus, has our shit together. If we pretend otherwise, we’re simply polished turds. We are righteous in Him, to be sure, but we’re not good.

I will forever be grateful that there is grace for that.

About Church Criticism

Someone linked this Open Letter to All the People Writing (And Sharing) Open Letters About What’s Wrong with The Church on Facebook and received a lot of positive feedback. I read it and it irritated me. Probably because, while not a Millennial, I am among those who “liked” the original letters to which the author refers and may have even shared them.

She makes some excellent points and her intent is to spur us on to stick it out and to share our frustration with the leadership in our local church and not spew it all over social media. I get that. And, I agree with her that some of the criticism is petty. But, much of it is born out of pain and confusion. A lot of it is spot on. The American church can’t just cop a “suck it up” attitude and tell people to deal. That mentality has left bleeding believers in her wake and scabbed over church members struggling to keep the phony smiles plastered on their faces while they go about business as usual.

Acting like we’ve got it going on when clearly we don’t is unhelpful.

To be clear, I think it needs to be pointed out the author appears confused about what The Church is. Jesus absolutely loves The Church, His Bride, the universal Body of Believers, His followers. I don’t believe, however, that He is as enamored with “the church”, little “c”, as in the American way we choose to worship Him on Sunday mornings, which is what is being criticized in these types of articles.

That church is failing. We are failing our members and we are failing the world. With a divorce rate nearly as high as those outside our doors, and college students leaving the faith in droves, we’re not doing a great job inside. When people feel the need to take their woes to social media because they are not being heard, when expressing any sort of doubt or unrest is frowned upon, and when they so desperately feel the need to connect beyond our walls, all is not well.

When twenty percent of Americans have a disability and yet, rarely is even one person with a disability an active part of any congregation, there is a problem. Let that sink in. If you attend a fairly large congregation, you may be able to think of a few people there who have disabilities, but do their numbers even begin to approach twenty percent?!? Where are those people? Not in church because they feel unwelcome there. It is often physically inaccessible as churches are exempt from the ADA requirements of other public buildings. Or, they are required to sit in a section not of their choosing, away from family and friends. Often, it is emotionally and spiritually crushing as they may hear things from the pulpit like, “It saddens me to see people with disabilities in our church, it is a reminder that we do not have enough faith.”

I cannot tell you how many times we’ve been told we should visit the local mega church with the awesome special needs program. We are blessed that there is one near us. I realize that. And, from all accounts, it is awesome. But it is also eleven miles away. According to Google Maps, there are at least thirty-one churches in a five-mile radius of our house. Given the church’s pro-life stance, we should be able to walk into any of them and be welcomed and comfortable with children who have special needs. I dream of the day that is reality. Today is not that day and kids like mine and their families are being ignored and worse, rejected.

When there is a church on every corner and still over 100,000 children available for adoption via foster care, something is clearly wrong. James 1:27 tells us that true religion is caring for orphans and yet, most states can’t even find enough foster parents and the system is over-run. While not my experience, many adoptive parents tell me that their biggest critics during their adoptions were fellow church members or even pastoral staff. Post-adoption support is little understood and mostly non-existent and families who struggle after an adoption feel isolated and lost.

These are just a few of the myriad of problems the American church is barely acknowledging. The author appears to not want anyone to have hurt feelings, herself included, over church criticism, but sometimes, truth hurts and it is through strong emotions that change is effected. She wants us to settle down and not post on social media, but often, reading someone else’s words can stir something in our own hearts and resonate in our own souls and spur us to action.

It is time that we rectify the wrongs in our church culture.

Injustice is occurring in and all around the American church. I don’t think Jesus, the one who drove the money changers from the temple, is upset with us for calling it out. I think He’s upset that someone had to in the first place.