10 reasons why your church sucks
by: John O'Keefe
About a month ago I was sitting at my favorite Starbucks with a friend who just recently came back to the church after a long absence. He is not the most disciplined believer, but his heart is set for Christ and his ideas on church are well grounded. He left the church because of “church abuse.” You know, when Pastors and members think they are better then you and strive to beat you – spiritually and emotionally – to think like them; church abuse. Anyway, we were talking about the then upcoming possibility of the Tyson fight that would be coming to Las Vegas if the commission approved his application (which did not happen). As we were “talking,” (my friend gets heated when he talks Tyson and fighting), an “older” gentleman came over and joined us at our table. He started a conversation with my friend, (ignoring me totally), about nothing really. Soon the conversation turned to his reason for coming over (and not smoothly I might add), and that reason? Church.
Apparently this man was a local church leader (I never figured out if he was the Pastor or not, and my friend was not talking). He was wondering why he had not seen my friend in church for a while. My friend smiled and politely told the person that he fell away from the church for a sometime, but was now attending another church in town. He thanked the man for asking, then tried to move back to our conversation. The gentlemen asked why he had not returned to “his” church. My friend, again trying to be very polite, tried to tap dance around the question and not give this man both barrels of his emotional sawed-off shotgun. I could tell it was disturbing him, and I could see he was getting a bit uncomfortable. I tried to say something, but the gentleman would cut me off. I tried to move the conversation along when the man looked at me and said, “Would you please stay out of this? This is between “Jack” (not his real name) and I.” I guess the man pushed too far with that one and my friend snapped, “Alright. Do you really want to tell you why?” my friend snapped. “Yes.” The gentlemen said demandingly. My friend looked at him and tried to explain, but every time he got one word out the man countered with some obscure reason that had nothing to do with what he was saying. He was trying to invalidate my friend’s point of view, and doing a poor job of it along the way. Finally, as the frustration level for my friend seemed to get hotter then the steam used to make the foam on our café mocha’s, he looked the man straight in the face, and as loud as he could said, “Here are the top ten reasons why I think your church sucks.” As he started his list he looked at me and he could tell my shock – I had never heard him speak that way before. He reached over and touched my arm as to assure me he was all right and he had been thinking of this for a while and it was not time to get it off his chest.
“First” he said, “Your church is totally irrelevant to the community. You all talk a good game, but you do not see the dynamic of the community changing around you. Second, your church is filled with poor leaders and over bearing bullies who believe the best way to get anything done is to frighten people. All you have are people who will tell you what to do, and not lead us in doing it. Third, your church has no vision. You guys are just dead in the water. Fourth, your church is old. Your church is filled with old people who have no reason to move ahead. They have more life behind them then they do ahead of them. Fifth, your church is inbred. The people my age in your church are all related to the older people so change is impossible. People who are part of the outside don’t feel welcomed into the inside and voice an opinion; it’s filled with mama’s boys. Sixth, your church is more concerned about image them reality. You all seem to be more concerned with the condition with building then with building the condition of your people. The carpet looks great, because no food is allowed near it. The stain glass is wonderful; because you spend more money on cleaning and maintaining it then you do on mission work. Seventh, your church sees no need for change. You are all happy in your fortress and are not interested in opening your doors to the outside. Evangelism is a dead concept, and community is only those inside the building. Eighth, your church doesn’t share a relevant message for a relevant time. You’re so concerned with doctrine, you are not allowing me to explore the faith and question the unquestionable. Ninth, your church doesn’t care about me as a person, only as a checkbook. Over the time I was with the church I heard more sermons on how much I should be giving and not one on how much you were willing to give up. The only time I had anyone from your church visit me was when “pledge time” came around and you needed me to increase my giving. It got to the point were I felt no matter what I gave it would never be enough. Tenth, your church is all politics and infighting. Things only get done if you can muster enough political support form others to get your point to be heard, press your issues and lobby for approval. You have to wheel and deal to get anything done.”
Wow. Needless to say I was impressed, and a bit confused. (Granted, this is not a word for word, but when I read it to my friend he agreed that it was pretty much what he said.) The man looked at my friend and said, “Well, we understand Satan has gotten a hold of you and these are not your words, but his. We will be praying for you and keeping in touch to help you return to ‘God’s church.” My friend just looked at him confused – he had just sent a half hour giving a point-by-point reasoning as to why he left “his” church and the man did not hear a word. In fact, he did what most people in his position do, he put it back on my friend – as if to say, ‘we’re not wrong, you are. And one day you will see that.’ The attitude is, if you question us it is because you don’t understand God and you are not mature in Christ and you need others to pray for you.
Chaos and The Big Ten
In chaos theory there is this very cool thing called “turbulence.” Now, turbulence is pure destruction. It can best be defined as “destruction inside destruction.” If you were to take a snapshot of turbulence and magnify it over and over again what you would find would be an infinite number or little turbulences inside. Turbulence is turbulence inside turbulence inside turbulence – to an infinite depth. As Gleick writes in Chaos, Making a New Science, “It is a mess of disorder at all scales, small eddies within large ones. It is unstable. It is highly dissipative, meaning that turbulences drains energy and creates drag.” When you are dealing with turbulence is as if all known rules simply breakdown and have no meaning. Turbulence will destroy, and will damage, and will disturbed. The question is just how much?
When air, water or any object, reached certain velocity turbulence will occur – guaranteed. Interestingly, the velocity has nothing to do with increased speed; turbulence can be caused on a decrease of speed. It has to do with “critical velocity.” Ever notice a person who smokes? Take a look at the cigarette that is lit and in the ashtray. Notice the smooth line of smoke climbing from the cigarette? Watch it for a few seconds and notice that all of a sudden the smooth line of smoke starts to go a little wacky at the top? That is turbulence, a host of eddies forming and causing a mess.
If we look at the church, and not just the one mentioned earlier but all churches, we could get a picture of the turbulence that can cause a church to feed upon itself and die. Here are the top ten reason given by my friend in his “conversation” with the older gentlemen:
1. It does not understand the community at large
2. It has poor leadership
3. It has no solid vision
4. It is graying, quickly
5. It’s inbred
6. It’s concerned with look and not action
7. It’s comfortable in its misery, and is looking for company
8. It’s out of touch with the 21st century
9. It’s all about money
10. It’s all politics
These are the turbulences of the church, the eddies that form the destruction of the church on earth. Like so much of turbulence in chaos theory, these eddies are small and seldom noticed. Another interesting thing that comes from turbulence is the reality that turbulence is always present. When things are running smooth, the eddies that form are small and quickly breakdown. But if the eddies are ignored they multiply and become dangerous.
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