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The Flabby Body of Christ/Why is church so dull? · The Free Believers Network
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Nov 29, 2009

The Flabby Body of Christ/Why is church so dull?


by Stephen W. Simpson Nov 12, 2009

 

CHURCH IS boring. I don’t ever recall hopping out of bed on Sunday morning jazzed about the sermon, even when the preacher was good. I’ve never driven to church in anticipation of hearing the choir or the worship band, even when they included remarkable musicians. When I went, it was to see my friends. I wanted to talk. Sunday school and Bible study were okay, but breezeway and parking lot conversations were the most invigorating. My utmost communion with the Body of Christ didn’t even happen on the church premises. That happened in some loud restaurant that offered free refills of Diet Coke that helped me power on past noon and large portions that would render me unconscious fifteen minutes after I got home. 

Now that I have kids, I don’t really get to have church anymore. Our four year-old quadruplets (all natural, so step-off, octo-haters!) keep us scurrying during the breaks. I go to church for them now. Statistics on church attendance, especially for men my age, suggest that I’m not alone. Maybe the problem isn’t me, after all. Maybe something is wrong with church. 

As much as postmodern evangelicals bandy about the word “community,” our gatherings have changed very little. Stylistic alterations might add some hipster flair, but the focal point of the liturgical week remains theater. A dozen or so people perform for a few hundred that sit, stand, kneel, pray, and sing on command. We squeeze real community into the gaps, between events with a hierarchical structure. Not only is this a long way from Biblical models of the early Christian church, it’s a breeding ground for messy group dynamics. And, again, it’s boring. 

Church today, whether a cathedral, a mega-aluminum warehouse, or a little wooden building in the country, has little in common with the New Testament church. In the first century there was still teaching, prayer, and worship, but the early church was about community. Paul’s letters paint a picture of people living together and collectively figuring out what it meant to follow Christ. The authority of the leaders and teachers wasn’t a forgone conclusion. They were in dialogue with their congregations. Paul himself often had to defend his position of authority and many of his letters are part of an ongoing doctrinal debate. You get the sense, however, that even theological issues were somewhat secondary. The focus was a meal, not a class or a worship service. Some early Christians enjoyed the community meal so much that Paul had to tell them to tone it down because they were partying a little too hard. 

Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine most Christians getting too carried away having a good time together. Church is an adjunct to professional and familial communities. We get up on Sunday, drive, park, sit, listen, sing, pray, chat, and go home. Even if we’re involved in a small group, the relationships are usually secondary. The early Christians learned and grew through relationship. It’s plastered all over the New Testament. Yet, we still structure our religion around one guy, and it’s not Jesus. 

Churches often grow for the wrong reason. If you don’t find church boring, it’s probably because of a talented preacher. He’s smart, but moreover, entertaining. Big, active churches are cults of personality, not communities. Try to imagine Mars Hill in Seattle without Mark Driscoll. Try to imagine the other one without Rob Bell (though at least he had the wisdom to abdicate his throne). Try to imagine Lakewood Church without Joel Osteen. You can’t. When the focus turns to Christ, it’s because a showman gets our attention first. We don’t find God in each other. The Body of Christ has an enormous head atop a weak, flabby body. 

Though pastors give “servant leadership” lip-service at leadership conferences, few enter the ministry out of a desire to submit and suffer for others. How could they? How can we expect our leaders to be authentic when theater is the center of our religious week? How can someone consent to shepherd the flock as a Man of God without being narcissistic? Any leader in the modern church needs at least a little bit of narcissism to survive. No one is drawn to such a job unless they enjoy power and attention. 

A little narcissism isn’t really the problem. We need to like ourselves and have a healthy sense of entitlement. But when these traits reach a clinical level in the form of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), it’s poison to the body of Christ. In my fifteen years as a psychotherapist, I have encountered few human systems so consistently dysfunctional as church staffs. I’ve heard of pastors doing things that would make the most ambitious CEO’s blush. Though most of us only hear about this when a high-profile church leader’s grandiosity leads to recklessness, most of the time acrimony and dysfunction continue behind the scenes for years. When we rely on the talents and titillating vision of one man instead of the slow, silent life of community, it’s easy for people to get hurt. 

After spending a thousand words twitting the Sunday service, I should probably come up with an alternative. But I don’t think that’s a good idea. I’m too narcissistic as it is, and I don’t want to be the one to tell you how it’s supposed to be. We need to decide. We need to figure out, once again, what it means to follow Christ together. This is a plea, not a prescription. I want church to be fun again. By fun, I don’t mean entertaining or topical or cool. I can get that at concerts and movies, and they do a much better job than the church ever will. No, I want to talk. I want to listen, but to a friend instead of a sermon. I want to be taught, but only if I can ask questions and participate in dialogue. Mostly, I just want to eat, drink, laugh, and enjoy other people. That’s where I find God.


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Comments

  1. Gravatar
    Barbara

    Well then you haven't been to my church. I LOVE getting up on Sunday and going to church. I look forward to it all week. And I look forward to my Bible group every Wednesday night. I LOVE learning about Jesus and my Pastor is a good teacher. I love my Wed night group because we ge to talk and share with each other. I see nothing wrong with the way I'm doing life and the Holy Spirit living in me appproves. If God was "in" you then you wouldn't have to be eating, drinking, laughing, etc. to find God.

  2. Gravatar
    David C

    I must say Barbara, that is probably the most pathetic comment i've seen on this site. Especially your last comment. How can anyone be so blind as to miss something so clear and easy to understand?

  3. Gravatar
    Ian

    What I like about Stephen's account above is that it is HIS story. I can look at it Barb and say that there are points in it that are not MY story. If you share life with a group of believers and love going then fantastic. Enjoy. But the sad fact is that is not the experience of many people - good people, people in love with God, people who also care. I can remember sharing struggles with my Mum many years ago and she would say something similar "If you really new ... if you honestly tried". The fact is that because of that attitude I know longer have any contact because that sort of response is pure poison. Barb, how about letting Stephen express his frustration and let him work through things with God. Life's a journey eh? And the road is rocky at times.

  4. Gravatar
    Ian

    Oh, and I meant to say that wasn't Jesus accused of enjoying his food and drink? (Math 1:19 & Luke 7:34) Imagine that, God sitting down with friends and enjoying life over a meal, a drink or two and you can bet there were plenty of laughs along with some real heart connections. My guess is that Stephen would have fit right in.

  5. Gravatar
    Carson

    I agree with much of this, but I don't see it in practice. I just listened to his sermon on love doesn't boast. He's the man, he is the center of every example, he purposely made himself smaller, other pastors "don't get it" even though he learned it long ago. It's a long sermon, part entertainment with funny stories, he's the central topic. It looks like any good speaker at any decent conference with a mix of funny stories, self-deprecating humor, a bit of "we get and others are still lost, looking for it." Go watch the sermons -- they are like anywhere else: the sage on the stage. Sorry -- different words, same organization.

  6. Gravatar
    Deb C

    WOW, I saw the sermon as well and I can't for the life of me figure out how you came away with THAT. The central focus of that sermon was God's heart and how centered He is on us, and how much he loves us. Carson you quite honestly sound like the most negative and cynical person I've come across in years. "Different words, same organization"????? Are you serious? Did you listen to the "different" words, or did you just cynically judge the speaker and miss the entire message?

  7. Gravatar
    Eric Coleman

    Carson the sermon you watched on love not boasting was preached by a man who explained the heart of God to a congregation who had been beaten down their entire lives with religiosity and fear. "The man" as you put it, ended up leading about 200 of those people out of the "box church" where they now all live as Free Believers and don't rely on a single sermon or teaching from him. I thought I'd give you the rest of the story since you assumed he was like all other preachers who wanted the stage and spot light.

  8. Gravatar
    Robin Sampson

    So what if it is not only boring there is no relationship-- only shalow superficial "How are you?" I'm right with God. " masks? I go for the children, I teach the children, but I feel like I'm wasting my time. I'd rather be home reading and growing spiritually.

  9. Gravatar
    wendy

    interesting article Stephen. I found the part about pastors having some sort of narcissism to stand up on stage....but isn't it interesting that if that same pastor preaches the "total depravity" or TULIP theology, he is telling all of the rest of the people out there that they are totally worthless...so sad.

  10. Gravatar
    Rose

    Loved the article and really understand the "please don't rock my boat" comments - I spend the best times sharing the life of Jesus with my non-believing friends. Just loving them. My "religious friends" are tough to be myself with, always watching for me to slip up. My believing friends are the ones that God has given me as a blessing - we connect in a very special way and can agree and disagree and laugh and share and enjoy who "I AM".

  11. Gravatar
    Michele

    This is my first encounter w/ this site and it won't be my last thanks to Rose... we've got to stop tearing each other apart or the world isn't going to see Jesus in us anyway. We're all on the Journey coming out of the wilderness and into the promised land. With millions of people wandering and heading out of the desert we are certainly all going to have a different perspective, not a bad opinion, just a different view! I enjoy going to my church which is changing drastically away from the "come sit and see" that we used to be but I find more and more that sharing life with "believers" or "non-believers" has become a very important part of my life. Sunday a.m.? yes... or no, doesn't matter for me like it once did!!! Ah, I think I'll like this place!

  12. Gravatar
    Bobby

    Wow, I love the article. The first post by Barbara was by someone I sent to this site. To her I am a complete heretic to think out of the box so much. She thinks every comment coming out of my mouth is an attack on her religion!I think we call this rigid fundamentalism.

  13. Gravatar
    j

    I hate singing. The sermon usually convinces me that I'll just never make it into God's wonderful plan for my life. I love communion for some reason; for a few minutes I do feel close to God then. I hate the "take a few minutes to greet those around you" thing because if you do make meaningful contact with someone the leader stops you midsentence and it's lost. I have stood around after the service for twenty minutes and not entered a conversation with a single soul. I know - "it is all my fault, wrong attitude, don't try hard enough, give off the wrong vibes". I always keep going back because I always believed it was the right thing to do. There has to be something better.

  14. Gravatar
    Shalom

    If someone does not agree and offers her own thoughtsfeelings, even if those thoughts are pointed, let's go ahead and lynch her. I didn't think the purpose of blogging and exchanging ideas is to railroad people who don't 100% agree. And if Barb's comments did rub you the wrong way, what is the underlying reason? Something to think about is how many of us pray and seek the Lord on what we should share before putting it out there for the whole world to see. I think if anything else, those who are free and have Christ living in them have a greater responsibility to extend grace. Isn't this kind of nay saying the type of thing that gives some a bad taste regarding church? Seems to me the only thing that changed is the venue. How can we make our churches better? Be missionary to your church!

  15. Gravatar
    Sergei

    The church is much more than just a system of doing it. We can move away from the system of traditional church, and still miss the heart of God. So first things should be first: when we connect with the heart of God, the rest follows. I sometimes meet brothers and sisters who are quite with happy with their traditional setting - no point to argue with them. We do not convert to the system - we share the heart of God.

  16. Gravatar
    Aida

    Shalom, I think that's a very good point. There are a variety of ways to relate to God and to connect with other members of the church. For some, it may be through a traditional expression of the church and that's okay. Although I strongly support Darin's ministry and have found it to be lifechanging, I still attend a local church on Sunday mornings. I'm not very actively involved but, for the most part, I've found the people to be a wonderful group who love the Lord and are committed to their church. Although I don't share their commitment, I respect their right to serve God however they choose.

  17. Gravatar
    Scott

    "Any leader in the modern church needs at least a little bit of narcissism to survive. No one is drawn to such a job unless they enjoy power and attention." wow... that's a broad judgmental statement. kind of ruined the rest of the message for me.

  18. Gravatar
    Mike W.

    The reason Church is boring is because it replaces Christ with a pastor and the Spirit with traditions and programs. Christ is my life and I will never be fooled by men and traditions again!

  19. Gravatar
    miss thang

    i love goin to church and hearing the sermon and the worship band...its a new sunday a new week a new sermon gets me through the week till wed then through sunday but then again we all have our own choices on what we like or notlike.. 2 or more people discussing the bible is "church" but then again what do i know

  20. Gravatar
    WB

    Miss thang, I have been there and dragged the family there as well, I enjoyed my time till it ran its course... I agree that we all have our own choices, and sometimes things change our choices..but you misquoted I think.. "where two or more are gathered In My Name, there I will be also"... enjoy the fellowship, however it may come to you...

  21. Gravatar
    DJ

    "I want to talk. I want to listen, but to a friend instead of a sermon. I want to be taught, but only if I can ask questions and participate in dialogue. Mostly, I just want to eat, drink, laugh, and enjoy other people. That’s where I find God." I must "confess" I do the same in our Church building and return feeling refreshed. All a sermon ever did for me was to point out what I am not doing right....

  22. Gravatar
    Marty

    I just found out about this site and I thank God for it. God asked me a question a while back after my husband and I started meeting in our own home. I was inquiring of Him asking if we were doing the right thing. His answer to me was so clear it was almost audible. He replied "If you can't maintain your devotion to Me without all those things i.e., worship band and sermon etc., what do you really have any way" I too used to get through to Wed. then get through till Sunday.Now I know I don't have to get through till the next meeting because He has taught me what is more important. The example of Mary and Martha is Gods heart. Mary sat at the Lord's feet and listened to him. He daily loads me with His benefits. He is kind and compassionate abounding in love, He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. Ps103 verse 8 and 10

  23. Gravatar
    Tim P

    J, I HEAR you. You spoke for me. "I hate singing. The sermon usually convinces me that I'll just never make it into God's wonderful plan for my life. I love communion for some reason; for a few minutes I do feel close to God then. I hate the "take a few minutes to greet those around you" thing because if you do make meaningful contact with someone the leader stops you midsentence and it's lost."

  24. Gravatar
    Doug in Denver

    Wow, it is like this message just popped out of my heart. I feel nearly exactly the same way. Church is supposed to be a community of believer but you get as much community as you would at a movie. @Barbara, it is nice that you go to a church you like and you founf connection. But, I am going to be blunt here, so ****WARNING***** Today's church is so feminine it isn't even funny. For a myriad of reasons I could list, but for sake of space I will move on. But, I am glad you enjoy it Barbara, I am sure it is a blessing to you.

  25. Gravatar
    Jon Dewey

    Its interesting that some of the comments here are also mirrored in other sites/ministries. There is a fascinating book called "Why Men Hate Going to Church" by David Morrow that basically outlines what has been said: boring/irrelevant sermons that don't make practical application, men don't like to sing(!), too female/children oriented and hypocritical. This book is an eye-opener, even though I disagree with some of his conclusions. Its also interesting though that your comments reinforce what I have already been thinking. I have been thinking about starting a church where there is more learning and participation, instead of sitting and being entertained. I have long thought that part of the problem was that our services are in reality TV variety shows in format, not real worship. (It would take a full article to explain that idea!)

  26. Gravatar
    joemf

    part of the reason we listen to a sermon IS to find out what we're doing wrong! DUH!...."reprove, and all that..remember?". Discussion back and forth is helpful for sure. But let's remember in ANY community, there are some aspects that aren't up to our wants and wishes. Go out in your community and run and red light then tell your local policeman your idea of community is just "talk about it" without any restrictions and find out what happens!

  27. Gravatar
    Tonya

    LOVE•LIVE•SERVE Loving Jesus=Living a sold out life for Him=Service-How ever that looks or titled. Once we grab hold of the fullness of what was done for us, we don't care where we share the truth, whether church or a bar. Reaching people and sharing the greatest news to man-Jesus Christ. Our gift. Salvation.

  28. Gravatar
    raymond

    Church is a word not found in the Greek word in the greek it states the Called out ones or the way people who followed the way or were the called out ones every one new who they were not what we see today im sorry to say.If you name your Church you have to pay for it. Jesus already paid it for us on the cross. Jesus did not come to say The the kingdom of the Babtists, The Pentacastols, the Catholics,the Mormans, or what ever the name or should say the Kingdom in which people want to call themselves. There is only one Kingdom and its at hand if a person wants to follow.And thats Jesus he will show us the way there is no other way we cant call it some thing or building we or a person goes to live with your family and your neigbors around you and God will show us how to really live and it wont be Boring it may be some times painfull in order to grow in the lord.Read Mathew Chapter 5,6,and 7 Sermon on the Mount and this was his longest Sermon. Like i said before every thing in the Red.

  29. Gravatar
    Bob Romanelli

    Churches seem to go through "seasons." At times they seem very close to the New Testament model. Other times they seem so far away from any notion of "the Body of Christ" that it is frightening to imagine what they just might actually be. A hideous counterfeit. Most times I have found church as boring as the writer describes, but other times I have been very excited about what happened in church a particular morning. True, church is too often quite boring--and even dark. But God is not limited by human beings. He can break through anytime He wants to and we may often be "surprised by Hope." Thank you.

  30. Gravatar
    Tim Freed

    I don't think we have to go by any church model whether New Testament or not. I think the Church transcends all that. I believe the Church is simply the family of God and as such should function like a family. Families have interaction with one another and every family is different. I don't think we need to follow any model accept what comes naturally to us. The Church, like a family is not a static thing, but a living and growing organism.

  31. Gravatar
    Jonathan Neufeld

    My biggest concern right now is the suppression of individualism at the expense of personal excellence. This suppression isn't strictly a Christian phenomenon, it's broadly a cultural phenomenon that exists in every corner of life whether it be the bar, the bank, the board room or the bed room. After several years of contemplation, I've found an unsettling and unresolvable conflict between living "a righteous, Christ-centred life," as defined by some, and honing one's natural skills, talents and abilities oft for one's own enjoyment. Christians are mediocre, Francis Schaeffer thinks so, and I the reason I so very often hear is that "you're not supposed to indulge in your selfish gifts, you're supposed to sacrifice your time for others." But the only fruit I see coming out of this are hollow identities and fragile personalities as people fail to make a habit of personal excellence. I thought as I aged I would understand, but I have only grown more frustrated with the passing years.

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