What happens if we lower our expectations for the church?
A few weeks ago I expressed a hunch that disillusionment is a problem for many of us who have been around the church for awhile. Since then a number of friends have taken the occasion to tell their own story. Some have struggled with disappointment and come out stronger. Some are still stuck in the pain. So what I thought I’d do is take a couple of days to reflect on some thoughts I’ve had along the way. Here are some notes I jotted down some time ago about why– on my better weekends– I don’t go to church.
1. I don’t go to church expecting to see a group of people consistently reflecting the attitudes and values of Christ. I’ve seen enough in church sanctuaries, business meetings, and boardrooms to know that we all are at varying degrees of spiritual growth or regression. Some of us are like noisy newborns. Others are showing signs of spiritual senility. Most are somewhere in between, acting like mere men and women rather than mature members of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:3).
Interestingly, the New Testament depicts the first-century church in the same condition of imperfection (Revelation 2-3).
2. I don’t go to church expecting to hear music that will lift everyone to the same level of worship. In theory, church music is a shared language of the soul that reflects our struggles down here– in anticipation of the theology and anthems of heaven (Colossians 3:16; Revelation 5:11-14; Isaiah 51:11). In reality, however, the songs of the church also express the sounds of ever-changing generations, united by Christ, but divided by preferences as varied as bluegrass, country, or Bach. Because music is an art that resonates differently in all of us, we can’t all feel the same way about our songs of worship.
3. I don’t go to church to feel morally superior to those who wouldn’t be caught dead in a house of worship. The apostle Paul thought of himself as “the chief of sinners” years after he “saw the light” on the road to Damascus.
The lack of Christ-like attitudes and self-righteousness of church people was a concern, but no surprise, to the authors of the Bible. They wrote with transparency not only about the failures of the church (1 Corinthians 11:17), but also about its tendency to be morally proud (Romans 14:10; 1 Corinthians 4:3-5).
4. I don’t go to church looking for a perfect sermon with no errors in content or delivery. I’ve walked with enough pastors along the way to know that no matter how thoroughly they prepare their messages, they often feel that they have not done justice to the timeless truth of the Bible, or to the varied needs and expectations of their congregation.
In summary, it seems to me that the shortcomings we see in one another help to explain why the New Testament does not call us together to worship one another.
But that brings me to the question I began with. What happens if we adjust down our standards for church experience? If we lower our expectations for the church, do we decrease the likelihood of disillusionment while weakening the church in the process?