I’ve hesitated to share this and gone back and forth about whether or not to. But it seemed odd to me that I wouldn’t have written about it, considering it has been such a big deal in my life. So here goes.
About two months ago, my family left our church. This church had been my home for almost 17 years. The only thing in my life I have done longer than attend that church is be a mom, and not by much. It has been one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make and not one I took lightly at all. In fact, my husband and I discussed it for probably a full year before we finally made the decision to leave. So please know, we aren’t “church hopping,” nor did we leave because we’re offended or mad. Sad maybe? But not mad. And we only told a few people at the time. We just kinda left quietly. There are many reasons, but the summation of it all was that we were worn out. Mentally. Spiritually. Emotionally. Just worn the heck out.
The reality is that the longer you are at a church and the more involved you get, the more you know about the interworkings of it all. It can be hard not to become disillusioned…especially in a large Western church. The planning of every single piece of the service down to the minute, the time clocks on the back wall telling me I had 30 seconds to end my prayer, the silliness incorporated in to get a laugh, and of course, the smoke machine. There’s this constant push to stay relevant, to stay up on the latest thing. And I was completely and utterly exhausted with the whole entire production. Sometimes I would walk in the door and look at the three or four video cameras we had sitting the sanctuary so the congregation could get multiple angles of the pastor as he spoke or a close up shot of the keyboard player’s hands while they played and would almost feel physically ill thinking how many families could have been fed for the cost of those cameras. We could have probably at least partially funded an adoption with just the roving camera, but instead we’re broadcasting close ups of the keyboard for the sake of artistic presentation. It was eating me alive on the inside. I felt like I was suffocating. And it had gotten to a point where it was affecting me in deeper ways than just being burnt out. The more disillusioned I got with the church, the more disconnected I felt to God.
I started to really question the whole thing. I just kept asking myself, is this really what church is all about? Is this really what it’s supposed to be like? Because honestly, what I needed…and still need…was a place to worship that looked and felt different from the world. My heart was aching for a place that felt set apart from everything I saw in the day to day, a place that felt holy. But what I was experiencing was smoke and lights and silly videos and announcements in the middle of the service that seemed to bring holy moments to a screeching halt. It just felt like there was so much effort put into this weekly service – so much time, so much money, so many resources – when I couldn’t help but feel like there was so much missing elsewhere.
And listen, I’m not meaning to pound on this one church. Because my church wasn’t really all that much different from most every other big Western church in this country. Smoke machines, light shows, big screens is pretty much the way of it now. Hours and hours of planning go into it all. What will draw people in, what will keep people’s interest, what will make church more appealing? Churches have their snappy catch phrases and overused cliches. People don’t bring their Bibles to church anymore because they don’t have to…it’s all on the big screen. They just sit and consume. Theology gets tossed out the window in exchange for songs that talk about Jesus like He’s my boyfriend instead of my Savior and Lord. People treat pastors and worship leaders like celebrities. Church campuses are chosen over stand alone church plants because it’s just easier (and cheaper) to pump in the video preacher each week…and well…it gives branding to the church (hence the celebrity pastor issue).
I know I sound judgmental. And while I can appreciate someone thinking that, it doesn’t negate what I saw, what I heard, what I felt in my spirit. And I want to be clear and say that my desire isn’t to hurt anyone’s feelings or imply that I’m spiritually above everyone who still attends the church I left or any other church that does these things. I’m not. In fact, it’s probably the complete opposite. Over the last year (and in large part in relation to this whole confusion and frustration with church), I felt myself sort of tumbling down the side of a mountain and I landed pretty hard in the valley of doubt and questions. And that’s where I’ve sat for a long time.
Until I left my church.
It’s like I’m out from under it all and I can finally think straight.
And I’m concerned really. Concerned about the state of the Church in America. Concerned because I can’t help but wonder if the true intention of the gathering of worshippers is getting lost underneath all the fluff and and fancy. Is the self-sacrifice aspect of the gospel coming through or are people being taught that bigger is better with our multi-million dollar building funds? Have the topical sermons been enough to establish strong sound Biblical foundations? And if we had to do without the screens and the cameras and the entertainment aspects of church would people still want to come or have we all been so conditioned to think that’s what worship is supposed to look like? If we were to face persecution here in America like they do in other places, would the Western church at large survive it?
I’m not asking you to agree with me. And I’m not saying that technology and church buildings and orders of service are inherently bad. They aren’t. But if they aren’t partnered with a strong teaching of the gospel and a true understanding of worship, then we’ve all missed the mark in a really bad way. Is the picture of worship being painted every week an accurate representation of what it’s like to follow Christ – including the hard parts – or just the parts we think will make people come back next week? If a congregation of people have been trained to think that worship has to be big and loud and entertaining, then that’s what they’ll be drawn to. But if you strip away all the big and loud and entertaining, what happens then? When the pastor with all his well planned out sermons and catchy one-liners isn’t there, will people know enough about the actual scriptures to dig further for themselves? Can we worship just as well with a pipe organ and a hymn book as we can a full stage band and vice versa? Are churches just as in tune with the move of the Spirit as they are with the time clock counting down on the back wall?
And again, I’m not judging you if you go to a church that does these things. I’m not saying that churches that use movie screens are bad or unspiritual. All I’m asking is that we stop to consider the way we worship. Stop and consider if all the stuff we spend money on is really necessary or just more for our own enjoyment and comfort. Stop and consider the amount of time put into planning out every little thing compared to the amount of time spent praying together as a congregation. Stop and consider how much time is spent on videos and announcements compared to the amount of actual scripture that gets read in a service. Just stop and consider is all I’m saying. And if you’ve stopped and considered and you’re at peace, then carry on. But if you’ve stopped and considered and you aren’t at peace, don’t be afraid to speak up. It’s the only way anything will change.