Recently my husband and I made a difficult decision to leave the church we had been attending. We chose this church when we moved to our community two years ago because it had excellent youth ministries, was close to our home, and it seemed to be growing. My husband and I took steps to get involved. Our kids were learning and forming relationships with adults who seemed to genuinely care for them. Of course, no church is perfect, but overall--we were comfortable in our church.
But...comfort was ultimately the problem.
Church services were carefully crafted with cool sets and timed with snappy videos. There was a light show and artificial smoke as a backdrop to pop-worship music. The church was recently renovated with a mixture of wood and steel giving the building a cool, industrial vibe. The pastor had catchy sermon titles with three predictable and mainstream points. There was a coffee shop outside the sanctuary.
|Rock concert or evangelical worship set?|
It was all a very tidy, aesthetically pleasing, and comforting experience. There is nothing inherently wrong with aesthetics, and many people thrive in church settings like this one. However, for me, church began to reaffirm my white middle class existence and felt too much like American culture.
A quick read of the New Testament shows us that Jesus didn't live a comfortable existence and neither did his followers. He was constantly pursuing the outcasts, challenging legalistic religious leaders, and meeting people's immediate needs. Jesus leaned into the messy places; he didn't run from them. His mission was antithetical to culture, and ours (as the church) should be, too. The more I studied the New Testament this year, the more uncomfortable I became at my comfortable church.
Before bringing out the proverbial pitchforks, please know that my husband and I took steps to make ourselves uncomfortable in this church. We started a small group (which is a huge step for my introverted-self), we began volunteering in our community with our small group and tried to promote this to other small group leaders. All of our efforts, though, didn't change the fact that our church was still comfortable, and our hearts were hardening more and more each day. So...we left.
My cynicism isn't directed specifically towards the church we left; it actually expands to the trend in the American Evangelical church to create a church experience that feels strangely like American culture despite Jesus' clear teachings that our lives as believers should be markedly different from culture.
In her book, Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovered Faith, D.L. Mayfield writes,
“As we see again and again in scripture, righteousness is not simply a clean heart or hands scrubbed of blood. It is a people acting out justice in their everyday lives; they are tied together, everywhere in scripture. The oppressed are written in every book, nearly on every page of the prophets and psalms. How could I have missed it for so many years?” (187)
If the church fools itself into thinking they are doing right by simply not doing obvious wrongs, then we’ve missed a major mark of Christianity: justice.
I am guilty of residing in comfort and mistaking it for righteousness. Now, I don't want coffee shops and comfort because these won't bring me closer to Jesus. I want to be challenged to see beyond myself. I want to be encouraged to regularly help others inside AND outside the church. I want to be challenged to give radically and not just of my money. I don't want a perfect church. I want a church where it's okay to come in broken and messy because Jesus is enough. I want a stripped-down church that loves Jesus without the trappings of American culture. I want a church that’s unafraid to be political (but not partisan); one that values listening more than intervening and trying to save. Now, I long to be among a body of believers who pursue justice because if we’re not, then we become oppressors--and that’s simply not who Jesus was.