Why I Love My Disappointing Church

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What is the common denominator of all disappointing churches?

I am part of a disappointing church.

They weren’t a disappointing church at first. They were once welcoming, warm, loving, spiritual, worshipful and generally fun to be around.

That was then. This is now.

Now they are a disappointing church. I’ve had time for a good long look behind the scenes, and some of what’s there just isn’t very pretty.

The truth is, this is not the first time I’ve found myself in the middle of a disappointing church. It doesn’t happen every time. Just some of the time.

Some churches I’ve seen are caring and faithful and loving and I have nothing but good memories of them. Not detailed memories, since these were churches I visited on a Sunday or two and never went beyond that. I never got deeply involved. 

But, the worship service was certainly powerful. And based on my admittedly limited visits, everything from the happy greeters that met me at the doors to the joyful praise songs that lifted my soul, proved that these were wonderful churches. Unlike the church I’m at now.

After some careful analysis of the past 30 years, that is the common denominator true of all disappointing churches. My level of involvement.

The churches I found disappointing were the churches where I got really involved. Went to Bible studies. Went to meetings. Got in deep enough to actually get to know people over time.

So, the best way to avoid finding yourself in a disappointing church is to limit your involvement.

Only go to worship.

Don’t volunteer.

Be friendly, but don’t make friends. 

Sing, clap and give a little money.

Stay at the edges.

You have probably noticed, if you compare worship attendance with the totality of those showing up for anything else, that many Americans have already figured this out.

That’s the key. The truth is, I’ve never gotten really involved in a church — any church — that was not sometimes disappointing.

Of course, it’s likely, at some point, I may have been a little disappointing to them. OK, my unpaid editor-in-chief, Linda, assures me the words “it’s likely” and “a little” ought to be deleted from the previous sentence. Hmm. Sometimes our wives can be disappointing.

OK, I’m back. The good news is I think the bump on my head is already getting smaller. Now, where was I?

Tom Lawson Tom has taught in Christian higher education for 25 years, with a focus on the theology and history of Christian worship. Tom, along with his wife Linda, serves on the faculty of Ozark Christian College (Joplin, Missouri, US). Tom grew up among the Primitive Baptists of the Appalachian mountains. Through his adult life, he has served in churches and taught at schools associated with the Christian Churches (of the Stone-Campbell Movement).

More from Tom Lawson or visit Tom at http://www.adorate.org

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  • Brosen

    Great article! I’m going to turn this into a lesson for potential ministry leaders.

  • Forlorn Hope

    I truly enjoyed and completely agree with this article and the sentiment it bestows. I plan on sharing it with the church Sunday morning. God bless.

  • Kris

    Wow. Great word.

  • dkzody

    We’ve been in the same church for 38 years, and this piece hits life there precisely on the nailhead. We’ve seen people come and go and come back. They were seeking something better only to find that better is what one makes of it. Loving one’s church where it is, warts and all, is what we’ve been called to do,

    Over 20 years ago our daughter wanted to leave our church because we lost a youth pastor. No, we were staying where God had planted us, and we would find a new youth pastor, which we did. The daughter? She is now a youth pastor at a church in the bay area.

  • Richard

    Even though I understand the authors intent in this article. I can’t help but think that he has a wrong attitude of what a church really is. Unfortunately many have the same attitude. The church is a body of believers that are called to do the Lord’s work. Yes that work is not always easy but it is called to make disciples & build up one another. When as christians are we going to stop thinking about ourselves & get to do doing God’s work. Only then will we discover what Jesus meant when he said that in order to find our lives we must lose it. This is what the church needs . To be other-centered & think about others before we think about ourselves. To build up one another & not be so concerned are being disappointed.

    • Dalia

      Being a Christian is not for the weak, but by the strength of the Holy Spirit. So sad that a lot of Christians truly believe they are. What a surprise that awaits them. You are right when you say we must die to self. A lot will never ever realize this reality

  • Mikegun

    Perfect. Just what I needed this morning. Thank you.

  • Lauri Johnson

    Great statement “The church is a hospital. That’s true.

    But it’s a hospital with no doctors, only patients. The healing hands of the great physician are not always miraculously coming down from above. No, many times He uses the wounded to tend the wounded.”


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He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? —Romans 8:32