Further Thoughts On Church

I wanted to layout some further thoughts from my rambling post on Monday. First of all, thank you to everyone who commented, it really lent me some insight. So, undoubtedly, some of what I write below is in response to some of the thoughts shared. I’m also encouraged that so many people have found churches that break the traditional mold I tend to see everywhere I go.  So, my thoughts below aren’t about individual churches (if the shoe doesn’t fit…), but rather a question or thought about the “Christian” community as a whole.

The Bible

People, inside of the church and outside, have a lot of different views of this book. It’s authoritative History, good advice, fairy tale, or oppressive manifesto. It’s ancient for sure, but like many old text, there are some tidbits of advice that are universal. Christians claim the Bible as their authoritative text, but most don’t seem to have ever read it themselves. I think they should read it. But, then there’s also the crew that jumps on the Bible-in-a-Year bandwagon and attempts to cram through the whole book time and again. My main concern is that we are reading but not doing what it says.  And by doing what it says, I don’t mean condemning people who don’t believe it’s rules, but rather following the admonishes ourselves (Love your enemies, Feed the poor, put others before yourselves, do not judge, etc). I’d almost think we’d be fine just putting away our Bibles for the rest of our lives and spend our time actually trying to implement what we know we should and aren’t.


Most of my thought falls into the same category as the Bible. Isn’t there a point when the pastor, or the group, re-evaluates and says “this isn’t working.” There’s benefit to public speaking, informing, challenging, etc. But when a large group of people get together week after week to motivate themselves to follow Jesus and do what the Bible says, isn’t there a point when you raise a question as to whether it’s actually happening or not? I’m not an outsider by any means, but I think any logical person could spend a few weeks around a church and say there is a huge gaping difference between what they are preaching and what they are doing.
Part two of sermons is this idea that one person in an entire congregation (almost always a male) some how is gifted to be the only one who speaks to the entire group on a weekly basis. I’m sorry, but I see absolutely no basis for that in the Bible I read.


Some people love the music at church. I used to, but now I can’t stand it. My opinion of the singing is really summed up in this one passage, Amos 5:21-24. Part of which reads:

“Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.

But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!”

I can’t imagine we’ve come much farther then the Israelites in those days, in fact, I think we are probably in many ways far worse.

Communion and Sacraments

I feel similar about these as the Music above. I don’t want to diminish the value of rituals or sacred acts, I think they are a very important part of ours or any culture. And yet, they’re sacredness to me is so diminished by our inaction, that in many ways I struggle to see the value at all.
And I’ll be honest, especially for all you non-Christians out there, I just find communion bizarre. I dig that it was originally done at a passover meal, and it’s connection to the Hebrew prayers over the bread and wine at Passover and Shabbat. But, the whole drink my blood and eat my body stuff? I still don’t get it.


Most folks who gave their reason behind church mentioned community. I couldn’t agree more. I think church has been a great way for me to meet other people from my community (both geographically and common values). However, simply community, in and of itself, isn’t a very compelling reason to attend. Many people find deeper community with others through a whole host of other activities (sporting events, meals, video games, cooking, hobbies, outings, etc). Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge advocate of community, I just think pointing to church (particularly Sunday morning) as an example of deep Christian community is pretty disappointing.

[photo credit]

27 thoughts on “Further Thoughts On Church”

  1. Thank you for this post! It is so encouraging and helpful for me. I often feel like a lonely little odd duck out because I'm so frustrated with the American church right now. To know that someone else is questioning the system really helps. Thank you, most of all, for this: "I’d almost think we’d be fine just putting away our Bibles for the rest of our lives and spend our time actually trying to implement what we know we should and aren’t." So, so true.

    I wonder if more believers don't feel the same way and just aren't saying anything because they feel like the odd duck out – like NO ONE will understand. Maybe if more of us were honest about how we felt, we'd see some change.

    One thing I do love about church, though, is music. It's my favorite part of the service, and if I could find a church that just worshiped for a couple of hours instead of making me sit through a sermon, I'd be thrilled. I can completely lose myself in singing, and I find lately that I'm really thinking about each word, thinking, how am I living this? AM I living what I'm singing – IS Jesus truly my everything, or is something/someone else. I feel God's presence so close when I listen to/sing along with songs of praise. I think I can understand, however, why you feel the way you do.

    And yes, communion is odd. Considering that for the bulk of Christian history, the official, accepted dogma was that the bread and wine BECAME the body and blood of Jesus – well, I'm sorry that's kinda freaky. I'm all about symbols – I believe symbols are HUGELY important to our experience and understanding of spiritual truth – but I do not accept the doctrine of transubstantiation.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts too. Maybe we aren't the odd ones out. As to the singing, I'm glad you feel the way you do. My wife is the same way, really enjoying and involved in the singing. I feel like I used to be.
      I just had to mention though, that when we call the singing we do “worship” it tends to by implication exclude other forms of worship. Not that you intended that, but I think our language is important. So I just wanted to mention that.
      Maybe you could find a church that's got good music, but is big enough you could sneak out once the music is done. 😉

  2. There is something to me in this conversation that is about answering the question, "How do you experience God". I experience God by going to church and listening to sermons. I experience God by reading the Bible. I experience God by hanging out with friends over dinner. I experience God by sitting alone. I experience God through running. I experience God in service to others.

    I think in our culture sometimes we lose out on the mystical qualities of God. I grew up in a Hindu family and a very Eastern (mind you, Jesus was Eastern!) concept of spirituality. God definitely was not in a box. He was everywhere is what I was taught. I think in America, we've lost our imagination. We've lost our sense of the spiritual qualities of God that go far beyond a sort of physical reality.

    So to me some of the analysis of why read the bible or why go to church or why listen to music is sort of limiting. I think that more broadly there is a question we have to ask ourselves as to how we, personally, are entering all of these situations, and being open to the crazy ways God speaks in all areas of our lives, and in all settings.

    Here's an example that comes to mind:
    When I first became a Christian I had some of the most amazingly intimate experiences with God sitting alone in the bleachers surrounded by 500 Bethel University students at a Sunday night Vespers service. I didn't go to Bethel, but would go just because it was so powerful for me. If I went now, I'd be so judgmental of everyone there, I would not experience God the same way I did 10 years ago when I was new to my faith.

    When I first became a Christian I use to drive every sunday morning by myself to Woodland HIlls and sit by myself and listen to Greg Boyd teach/preach, then leave by myself. Back then, it was absolutely brilliant and I experienced God in amazing ways through his teachings. Today, that wouldn't work for me, to do church like that.

    Today, when I go to church I roam the halls following Ezra around, I talk to people in the hallways, I barely ever listen to the sermon, and almost never get to worship through music. But I love church more now than ever, because it puts me in a place of diversity with people I probably would never get to know in any other setting in my life.

    The reality is that for most of us we spend our time mostly with people just like us. So if we're playing sports, cooking and eating dinner, we're doing it with very like-minded, similar people. Maybe even similar wealth, similar experiences, similar beliefs, etc… Church then can be the exact same, filled with people "just like us".

    I like going to the church I currently attend, because the people there are different. I would argue that at the church I go to the opportunity (key word: opportunity) for a more diverse type of community exists. But I wouldn't say it is easy to develop those relationships. Some of that is due to the structure of the church, some of that is due to the reality that connecting across differences of ethnicity, class and geography is foreign to most of us and a very difficult practice.

    You say that you're disappointed that people look to church for community, and in my situation I would disagree. Because for me, it's one of the richest places to experience diversity and to work out being in reconciling relationships with other people not like me.

    The other place is this blog 🙂 Love the conversation Ariah. See I'm even experiencing God and community through the web. pretty amazing!

    1. First, Neeraj, I just want to say thank you. I've always has hesitancy about blogging about churches, as I didn't want to offend those at the church I was currently attending. So, thanks for being not only willing to listen, but to also engage in conversation.

      I agree with so much of what you shared. There is very much the looming question of “How we experience God” and I think being comfortable, like you said, about that being in many places besides a Sunday morning service is wonderful.

      When I started my faith journey, sometime in my sophomore year of high school, I think I had a similar euphoria about it as you mentioned. I swallowed sermon tapes whole, got involved in every aspect of my church and youth group I could and woke up early to read my Bible. I think my turning, to some of my recent positions, has come after really picking up the Bible and reading it on my own, and with fresh eyes. I started to feel deceived. All this time I was insisting I was following Christ and I was really just following others (church leaders), when Christ words were plainly there for me to read and respond to. I guess I'm just saying, I'm not sure it's about being judgmental as feeling mislead.

      Lastly, about our current church (the one we've both been attending). I love it for the same reasons you do. My hope is that I would get to know more people and grow in my relationship with those folks. Yet, I can't help but realize, I've been there a year and the many (not all) of the people I've gotten to know are extremely similar to me (you know, they are the folks that attend your community group). I love the people I've met, but they are the same diverse group you mentioned in your comment. It doesn't seem like that's been your experience, which is great.

      Just to clarify, I'm not disappointed that people look to the church for community. I do myself and I think & hope that churches are a place that people of all types find deep meaningful community. I've just found, in my experience, that churches are far short of the potential that the body of Christ has to be the beloved community. Wow. That got kind of long.

    2. Hmm… not sure I know what you mean by "experience God." Isn't the verb "experience" used for experiences — things you go through? Like, "experience a thunderstorm" or "experience a trauma?" If God is a person, then perhaps saying "relate to" would fit better, instead of using words that describe feelings. I'm not nitpicking (I think I'm not), as our language tells a lot about our mindset. Another one I've heard is "connect to" God or "hook up with" him as if he were some kind of appliance or network. Sheesh. Well, if he is some kind of cosmic wish-granting (-denying?) machine then by all means turn him on and off at your will, but if he is a person, then please get our language right.

  3. I gotta keep this simple as I’m on melunch break:

    Bible: I certainly haven’t even gotten close to reading the entire book(s) yet. I find it really hard though. I was brought up a catholic and i find it hard not to slip into the gea i was brought up on – i.e. fall asleep. It’s notall the time but I have to make sure i pay attention when I read. I have tried a Bible-in-a-year-plan and it doesn’t work form me. I appreciate tht in doing so, you’re gonna miss alot of good stuff but some people do these plans over and over and it starts to sink in. I wish I had a better knowledge of the bible and i also wish i had the patience to let The Big Man reveal himself ah HIS pace and not my own.

    Sermons: I think any church can get stle after a while. In fact it’s almost human to d so. Because of the brokeness of the world its almost inevitable. Sermons can be hit and miss but i would say every sermon is wrth its weight in Gold if it touches or challenges just one person in any way.
    I am lucky tobelong to a church where many ppeople preach, not just the Vicar. My wife is a preacher at our church and I couldn’t imagine what it would be like it it was all left down to one person.
    When it comes to “practicing what is preached” i’d say this: I’m sure there are many people in many congregations who hear the sermon for the duration then say”oh how nice” and then forget it. This is truly tragic. However when i find myself doing this i realise I’m looking at what othrers aren’t doing rather than what I could be doing for God.
    Also I think if you are in a church with a really tight community it works better. I’ve had people come to me with prphetoic words and versus after sermons which felt dead to me and it was those prophesies that made it come alive.

    Music: This i think is an easy issue. Each to their own! We are all lucky to be able to have so many diffrent styles of worship in our churches. If your church is stuck in its ways then get creative. Doing a study on worship is amazing as it really helps to think through these things.
    Not everyone is gonna enjoy a loud band with drums nd electric guitars, others wont enjoy or connect through latin organ hyms. Keeping an open mind and expressin worship in a way that helps you connect is essential. Dont forget though that God has the biggest sence of humour of all and he may just be challenging you on something as small as that lil kid who hits the tambourine out of time.

    Community: I already wrote on this which you saw but I’d like to add that you are so right on this. A church where relationship with eachother is themain focus is not right. Focus shoould be on Jesus but sharing that experience through community is where it works.
    Dont forget the support that community provides – from helping out during hrd times to challenging you in ways you need to be challenged.

    God bless you man and all who read this.

    1. Mark, thanks for your in depth comment. I appreciate you being balanced both in recognizing the benefits and the faults of each of the many dynamics to church. Maybe someday I'll lose some of my cynicism.

  4. This is a very thought provoking post. I have lots of thoughts that I'll have to post later, but here's my initial/big picture thing.

    I think hear you being dissatisfied with two things. The first is the fact that the church is broken. I can understand that, I was just talking to a friend last night about how particular aspects of that brokenness saddens and angers me. That being said, we (meaning humanity) are a broken people, and as a Christian community, we are a community of broken people seeking to follow Christ better. Thus I would expect brokenness to show up in the way the community acts as a community.

    The second thing I think I'm hearing is a dissatisfaction with the forms of the service. Which also makes sense, I would try to look for the intention beneath the forms for others, and for myself try to find/create forms that resonate with who I am, my culture and my way of being.

    Finally, on the community idea. I think that it's wrong to expect a gathering to be deep community, whether that gathering is a Friday night poker game, a weekly dinner, a football game, or a church service. A gathering is an event that reinforces the community that is present with that group of people. Deep community requires lives being intertwined, and it will not happen if all you have is an event.

  5. Short answer: I agree. I agree and I agree.

    The slightly longer answer: Have you read Culture Making by Andy Crouch? If you haven't you should add it to the list this year.

    In the terms of the book, the church service is a "cultural good" that has particular aims. Crouch talks about gestures that we make towards culture and particular cultural goods(eg, rejection, copying, critiquing, consuming, etc). He also makes the claim that the only way to change culture is to create more of it.

    I would suggest that instead of adopting a posture (which is different from a gesture because it is long term) of rejection towards church services, create new culture within your church community. Gather a group of people to help each other enact the justice that we so often fail at. Create a group that employs a different form (or different forms) of worship and learning. Start doing activities with people that serve to deepen community. Or support/join groups within the Twin Cities that do these things.

    I think that the broken world argument can be used as a cop out. In my opinion it should always be paired with a directional statement (from a Christian standpoint). We are a broken people striving towards Christ, not a broken people satisfied with our level of brokenness. The tricky thing is to balance understanding that we are not perfect and extending/accepting grace because of that with realizing that we are not perfect and striving to approach perfection.

  6. ariah, there are a lot more people at our church than those that attend neighborhood gathering! in fact I would pre-suppose (did i use that word right?) that the very reason you only gotten to know people similar to you is because that is what is easiest. now i'm not saying you don't tried hard. but even with effort, what ends up happening is the easiest thing which is we unite with people like us. we use to hang out with 4 couples of different ethnicities and it was hard. our cultures were different, our sense of timing, how we made plans, what we liked to do, our family situations, all different, all roadblocks to achieving real relationships. but we had to push through, through many ups and downs, and 3 years later (yes 3 years later) we're seeing those relationships blossom. i wish we made it easier at our church to successfully form those relationships (i.e. more fellowship meal groups), but for some reason we don't.. might be something you and i (and mindy and erin) decide to help them do?

  7. Richard, thanks for your thoughts. I think your right in hearing those two things. Humanity is broken, and thus so is the church. And I wouldn't expect the church to be any less broken then the rest of the world, just maybe, more willing to admit it. I don't think your intending it as this, but I just sort of feel the brokenness argument can be a cop out. I think it's fair to expect the churches we attend to look more like Christ then the other communities we attend. Or, I could just use this same reasoning as to why I don't attend church, but hang out with atheist anarchist instead.

    Second, your totally right about my hesitancy about the forms of service. I think my deeper frustration with it comes from the fact that across this country, nearly every church uses the same 'form of service' and seems unopen to changing, accommodating or bridging different forms (I have no idea what that would look like by the way, I'm just saying). It's similar to our school system using a drill and kill, lecture teaching method for every kid in every grade. Some kids just don't learn like that, and some church goers just don't worship like that. How do we bring them into the fold?

    And finally, on the community. Your probably right it's wrong to expect deep community from large gatherings. But, I think they could be the spring board to it. Your right though, gatherings should reinforce community that is already there. I think as an outsider the first time attending church, one probably has a good sense of the depth of community in that place. For many, I bet it's more community then they've ever experienced before. I think that's wonderful, and yet I still think it falls far short of the depth of potential of the church being the body of Christ.

  8. In our maturing as human beings, there comes a time when we turn away from the teachings of our parents and mentors. Though that turning away may short-lived as opposed to a full-out rebellion, we still have to make that break and begin questioning the accepted "dogma" (so to speak) of our elders. I think the same is true of spiritual maturity. When we are young in our faith, we follow the example of others. Eventually, though, we have to begin walking our walk as God's word and our conscience directs us, and sometimes our walk diverges from the well-worn path of those who've gone before us. It takes a lot of courage to say, "I'm not going to serve God this way just because 'that's how it's always been done.' I'm going to serve God in the way he asks me to serve him." Without that courage, though, we cannot move beyond a certain point in our growth as Christ-followers.

  9. Ariah, I can totally relate to how you felt as a young Christian, and the disillusionment you've felt as you've matured in your faith. I "got saved" just before my eighteenth birthday in 1997, and like you, I soaked up everything and anything Jesus-related like a huge, thirsty sponge. After working at a church for several years, and participating in multiple ecumenical and denominational events, I began to feel the "compassion fatigue" that Barbara Brown Taylor describes in her book Leaving Church. Add to that Jesus-burn-out the fact that my church exploded in 2003 after a highly-charged scandal, and you have one very bitter Christian! Although time has healed my wounds, I still find the politics of church exhausting and infuriating, but I still love God and his people.

    to be continued…

  10. There are a lot of things that I would like to say about this if I have time later. For now I'll say that I have been the victim of clergy abuse and vicious fundamentalism. My husband is a PK and has experienced all of the crap that goes with that. Before our current church, we had quit going to church altogether for awhile. When we came to our current church we were very wary. We met with the priest and something he said made us feel like it was worth giving a chance. He said, "Some of the people in this church are angels and some of them are sons of bitches." We have found this to be very true. (I'm not naming names!) Jesus said that he would separate the wheat from the chaff, but not here and not now. I think a lot of what makes church so difficult is that we are stuck taking the chaff with the wheat.

    I have much more that I'd like to say, especially about communion and sacraments because those are things that have changed my life and been central in my healing from the bad stuff I've experience within the church. Hopefully I'll have time to come back and share some more on that.

  11. Well, service in my church is a little less strict since my pastors (one of them is my father) really believe in letting God command the service. But sometimes the more "traditional" church attendees complain about that, proving you can never make everyone happy.

    But even having my father as one of the pastors, I also tend to ask myself the question "Why do I go to church?" Growing up as a pastor's child you get to see how really broken up is church, how politics play a big role, even in good churches and you tend to get disappointed. Right now I'm really thinking about quitting church altogether and start going to home reunions. They make a lot more sense to me. You get together with other Christians, worship at the pace that we like, read the bible together and share our (not just listen to somebody else's) thoughts. This way I can understand the whole "family in Christ" concept. Lost in a big church, I can't.

  12. Yes, I guess I always tend to use the word that is closer to portuguese, and sometimes it sounds odd to native speakers. Glad you liked the word tough.

  13. Nathan,

    Definitely a separation of Word and Deed. I think that sums it up. I don't think I'd have all that much of a problem or frustration with it if you could see the truth of our words in our actions.

  14. For sure. Didn't know you were in Brazil. I'm assuming the concept is similar to what I've heard about here. Though “reunion” is an interesting choice of word. I've heard “gathering”, “house church”, fellowship and others. I like reunion.


  15. Interesting and thought provoking post: I was wondering if you could develop your thoughts on music a little more–I think its part of praising him. Its easy to make it into a performance, to forget the purpose, or simply lose focus but I'm not sure that gives us a reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater. (note: I haven't read through the comments)

    Regarding the issue of communion: It seems part and parcel of the commandment of the Last Supper. Although maybe I'm reading you wrong that you are frustrated by the separation in word and deed. We've gotten caught up in the symbology and neglected the substance

  16. Well, I wouldn't call it a "movement" although here in Brazil is certainly becoming more common. The disappointment with the established model of church seems to be a global trend.

  17. I had to think about it for a while, but the reason I go to church is out of hope. Hope for the people there, hope for me, hope for all of us together, that somehow we are not just celebrating God but cultivating his presence in each other. As you point out, many church practices and traditions need to be re-examined for meaning, but I feel it is still a channel for growth.

  18. Wow, this is a great post, and comment stream. I agree with alot of the things that have been said. The church is broken. If we lived as a community of people who know Jesus, rather than one that knows about him, the church doors would be broken down with people streaming in. I think that much of the problems is that we too often think that the more that we know about God, the closer to him we must be. To an extent that is true, as you can't love someone untill you know a bit about them, but there is a difference between knowing the names of all the books of the Bible, and knowing how you need to live your life today, tomorrow, forever as Jesus lived his. We focus too much on a little bit of knowledge, followed by an intense emotional worship experience, rather than a daily living with God. I agree with Ariahs previous comment that people see the injustice. We all know that it is broken, and I feel like in many ways, the blame for this brokenness doesn't simply lie on the shoulders of the pastors, the elders, the Clergy, but on you and I. If there is going to be change within the Church, it isn't going to happen unless the people are truly seeking God. This isn't something that I have down in any extent, but I feel it is right, something to strive towards. I shouldn't look at a church and blame it for being unfriendly if I myself am not truly making an effort to change that. That is something that I really struggeled with at my old Church.

    I also think that much of the discontent with the church stems from the consumerism within our Culture. We go to Church all to often to get something. We get communion, we Get knowledge from a sermon, we feel something in worship. Often there are lights, and powerpoints to make sure that attention is never lost, and entertainment doesnt stop. It is focused on what can I get to Help me, as opposed to what can I do to build up the Body of Jesus Christ, and help proclaim his name to the nations, and my neighbors. We need to build up a culture of service more whithin the Church. I know in many of the Church that I have gone to, it is all about the creativity, of the sermon. If the people were kept entertained enough to get a tidbit of info, then it has been a success.

    I have really appreciated this post. It is good to get discussions going on what the Church should look like. I know that there have been many days that I have sat in Church simply criticizing everything around. This is not healthy. I would wonder (I know that I am a late comer to this discussion) what would be the one thing that you guys would Change about Church, how would you make it better, not simply critiscizing, but with a possible solution. Peace

  19. Josh,
    Definitely love your pro-active approach to what the church should be. I think you are right on that we need to be a part of the solution. I've found however that I often run up against a wall of some kind when it comes to actually being a part of that (whether starting something new, or participating in leadership of something that exist). It either involves membership classes, or in some of my other experience, simply being shunned or kept from opportunities by the pastor.

    I also agree with you though, it's a lot more about relationship then knowing a bunch of facts.

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