Where’d you get them scars? How blue is your heart? Is it sad enough to break? She said, “It’s sad enough to break.” – Brian Fallon
The two pastors of the church we have been attending, took me to lunch this past week. We talked about a lot of things – fantasy baseball, Presbytery meetings gone awry, bacon, and what was I thinking about the church.
I’ve known one of these pastors for 16 years. This was not an awkward conversation. I felt like I could be gut level with both of them. So, I told them what I was thinking.
We’ve been visiting since the beginning of summer. And to be honest, we’ve missed almost as many Sundays as we’ve made. It’s our first summer since Seminary where we have not “had” to be there. So, if someone in our family was feeling poorly or the Zoo beckoned, we might have skipped. And we went on vacation once.
Summer is also a time when other church members are not around and guest preachers show up. So I told them we were going to stay in visiting mode for a couple more months before pulling the trigger on anything like membership.
And then I told those two pastors some more.
On the way back from the beach a couple of weeks back, Bethany and I reckoned we had three choices in regards to church. We could stay where we are and join the church we have been visiting. We could go back to the church where we thought we would be forever and ever, amen. Or we could start visiting elsewhere.
We were not excited about any of those choices. And I told them this. Yes, those two pastors. Don’t worry, I explained. And they were nothing but understanding and gracious, modeling what they preach.
I cannot think of any scenario in which we would be excited about a church. This is no slight to any ecclesiastical body and I guess a shot across the bow of them all.
After all we’ve been through in the past few years of ministry, being excited about church is impossible. It’s not even on our radar. “Excitement” about joining, getting involved in a small group, giving money, and being expected to serve others in the context of a church might as well be a lottery for which we refuse to even buy a ticket.
And we are OK with that.
Even if we were not, we would not be able to muster the wherewithal to correct the course we are on.
I find myself not only weary but weary of the excitement people have for church. Or their church. Or THE church. (For the record, there are no advertisements for churches with congregants weeping, they all look excited. And pretty.)
So much of that excitement has the feel of those parents who project the image of a perfect family onto everyone else’s facebook page. I’m real glad your 4 year old just found out he is an Eagle Scout while y’all are on your way to your daughter’s Cheerleading (“She made head cheerleader!”) practice, after which you will take a family stroll along a bubbling brook. Our kids are fighting like drunken Nazis and we have homework up to the eaves that neither my wife or I know how to do while the kiddos watch Phineus and Ferb, OK?
That’s probably not fair. You may have very good reasons for being excited about your church. Thought I cannot imagine any longer what they could be.
But I find myself among those who are not excited about church. Number me among those. Number me among those who go because we are hoping for a just a crumb from the table. Number me among those who would feel all that they need from God and his people would be cheapened if we worked up excitement over it.
We know we need it. On another level we want church. But excitement escapes us totally. Everybody wants to sing Chris Tomlin. I just wanna sing the Blues.
I assume we are not alone. I can only assume there are many out there who have not felt anything like excitement for weeks. Or years. You keep going. You keep at it. You taste the bread, the wine, and hope against all hope it will wash away the dregs swimming around in the bottom of your soul.
The problem is excitement is now the gold standard of authentic faith. For all our generation’s longing for authenticity, we have missed like lightning in the night, our obvious neglect of the real thing. Sunday mornings and retreats and camps are now fraught with designs upon our hearts to work up excitement. It’s not real. It disappears quicker than the toys my kids cry for at the dollar store.
There is good news for all of us, though. For all the calls in the New Testament to praise God and worship him, there are no calls for excitement.
Pastors and the other excited people are always saying they are excited about what God is going to do among their people. Well, what if he pulls an Ananias and Saphira on your congregation? Would you be excited if he made your congregation like the one in Corinth? Heck, would you be “excited” if he started taking you through unreal suffering for the faith like they went through in the book of Hebrews?
Right now, there are Christians in Middle East being crucified for their faith. No really, they are literally being hung on crosses. Are their pastors excited about what God is doing among them?
I am not excited. I am terrified and worried and restless and broke. Emotionally and financially. I don’t even tell my wife the horrors stories of the church anymore because I’m afraid of pushing her over the brink.
I am not excited. I am frustrated and exhausted and just wanna lie down with Sam Adams and Billie Holiday.
I am not excited. Sometimes I want to openly weep for myself and everyone else’s dreams that have crashed like my mason jar on our driveway yesterday, into a million pieces. I’ll be finding those dashed dreams….those pieces of glass for a while now.
I am not excited.
But there is a slight hum of hope in the background. Though the din of this life rings loud and clear – and in stereo – the hope is constantly humming behind it all. I’m not excited about the church but one of those two pastors said this past Sunday, “there is a hope that is deeper than what we are seeing and feeling.”
I heard, “there is hope in Someone and that hope is far too profound for excitement.”
Pass the Sam Adams and turn up the B.B. King.
Thanks for this, Matt. I have been through a season of not being excited about church. I have come to find peace in the fact that being excited about church isn’t what it is supposed be about anyway. Took me a long time to come to that realization. Freedom was found in resigning the search for “excitement” about a church and just finding a place where you don’t have to put on a mask and can be who you are where you are, and even then, no place does this perfectly. There is still the tendency for any church to want to be the cheerleading section instead of the hospital.
As a lay worship leader, sometimes I forget that there are others who have also lost that excitement and need the “slight hum of hope ” that you speak of. Your post is a much needed reminder that. That even the songs of the church need not always be a Chris Tomlin tune. The need for lament is also there, the need for honesty is still there, the need to say “I am barely hanging on, but I am trying” need to be there in the songs of the church. There are times we need to sing, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it.”
Not sure where I am going with this comment, except to say, thanks for the reminder and also putting to words things I already feel but am not able to articulate or had not fully thought through.
You put this beautifully. In my circles, we keep sending the kids away to all these exciting events hoping to kick start their Christianity. They are pounded with works and driven by excitement and then they come home and crash back into same old same old.
I have been in mourning for years over the church in America’s insistence to be enamoured with the shadow rather than the Subtance. Thanks for putting the cry of my heart into words.
can you correct my spelling erro ? Make that Substance…. thanks
Matt, thanks for your transparency. We aren’t called to life of excitement, rather, a life of commitment and sacrifice. One of the things that I have enjoyed recently, however, is finally being around people who are willing to be raw, real and messy.
She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
Great is your faith.
Thanks for this, Matt. You seem very honest, and I identify strongly with the way you write. As a former evangelical turned Orthodox, I spent a long time thinking about this issue. Two of the most abused words in the church are ‘excited’ and ‘meaningful’.
I don’t need to be excited, I need to be present. I don’t need worship to be ‘meaningful’ in the sense that it is often used (evocative). Worship has meaning because words and actions have meaning. I need it to be the right meaning. I need to be there so I can be part of that meaning. Thanks for reminding me what it means to just be present.
Hope is enacted, not experienced. “We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” Hope is a practice.
Having said all that “feelings don’t matter” stuff, I do hope you feel better soon, and get the rest you need. I worked in ministry for a long time, and it took me a while to recover after I left. But as they say, “It gets better.”
I have found when this situation exists, it seems to occur when Christ is no longer the central focus in the church. He did not entice us to come through excitement or any means of entertainment. He bids us to come and follow one who has not even a place to lay his head. One who was taught discipline through suffering. He asks us to forsake all to come to Him. Blessings to those who have even left mother or father or family for Him. He offers us His life for ours, that in us our self will decrease that He might increase. He considers fondness or allegiance to the way of this world as enmity toward Him. As for excitement, I feel it most when I recall “how can it be that thou my God has died for me”. My prayer is that we His church would once again return to our first love, and that all who are His will be known by their love for one another.
When I first came across your blog, I attempted to do a little tracing to try and figure out what happened that took you away from the ministry. And the only inkling I have now is through pieces like this one. As I read, I think “what in the world?” You include your family in the pain you write about, so I want to believe that all this is legitimate.
But, “excitement”? I’m 68 years old and have been a Christian for just over half my life. I’ve been a churchman for 99 percent of that time. And I’m both of those because I have a strong sense that that relationship and that role were chosen for me by a God who loves me for some reason. I just can’t find myself undoing any of that.
There are countless days when I’m not excited. But I’m a member of the Body of Christ. And that translates to a local church where other members need me and I need them. To borrow from my friend, Scotty Smith, church is not some food court at the mall where we show up and choose something from the menu that appeals to us. And it’s not just a building we go to down the street; it’s part of how we define life!
Matt, I understand “Church Wounds.” In another Church we attended, we had a group on this subject and the group filled up quickly.I remember well, hearing stories of being manipulated, intimidated and illegal controled. Galatians 3 called this being “Bewitched” Seems like this is a battle that has been going on for centuries.
For tender consciences especially, condemnation, guilt, which comes from legalism, tears hearts apart. We are now attending the most pure Grace filled Church ever !!
My heart yearns for all believers to experience this great love and acceptance! It all flows from the truth from the Cross! Matt, we would love to have you and your family stay in our home and go to Church with us in Mobile,Al. It may be the most healing experience you will ever have. It has been for us! Plan a trip!!
Much Love, Libby Badon
Thanks for sharing, Matt. I’m right there with you. It’s been a rough couple of years, for far different reasons than yours, but it’s been rouch nonetheless.
Church is who we are, not where we go.
Your blog spoke to me very clearly.I can see I am not the only one who struggles with church.