From a letter I received in 1998 from a church member in a congregation where I was providing consultation and mediation:
Our pastor doesn’t understand us. We are a good people, and we don’t want to change. We’ve gotten along fine for years and everyone was happy until he came and started changing things. He is making us change our worship. We sing songs that nobody knows. He makes us say prayers other than the Apostle’s Creed. He doesn’t do the offering right. And he doesn’t do communion right. He lets little kids stay in the sanctuary, ruining worship for everybody. He doesn’t care what we want. All he wants to do is make us try new things and he disrespects all the old things. There is a easy solution to our current problem. He needs to leave us be, and we need a pastor who knows how to run a church.
I wish this was an isolated opinion. But I came across another letter (I am clearing out old files), this time from 2003:
This was a good church, a faithful church, where we believe in Jesus and good Christian behavior. Our church is being destroyed by loose and sinful behavior. Our pastor has welcomed into our church people who don’t know what it means to be Christian. We have a woman here who has three children out of wedlock, and another woman who works at a bar downtown. We have written our district superintendent about the problem, but she is a liberal. When you come, you need to know what is really going on here. People are ignoring the gospel and letting sin have free rein.
And lest it seem that I am just including unenlightened laity:
This church is being destroyed by a liberal theology. I came here in June and found that the church was fine with all the trash on television, movies and rock music. I am having a hard time with people wanting to use the Andy Griffith show and the Harry Potter movies as discussion starters. The youth group listens to U2 and REM and discusses the themes in their music. When I told them this was unacceptable, they acted like I was being unreasonable. You need to know that this is a congregation of people who have been tainted by the popular culture and have no idea what it means to be Christian.
Without weighing in on one side or the other, I want to pose a question: Are these the most important things that Christians in the 21st century should be focusing on? People are starving. People are dying. People are being subjected to indefensible violence. People are being abused and hurt and robbed of a basic minimum standard of existence. Is personal comfort and a personal bias toward who is acceptable and who isn’t really the point?
Our world is broken and in deep need of healing and help. Most of the issues that divide and sometimes destroy our local congregations are truly insignificant — worship styles, leadership styles, preaching styles, and other selfish demands. Oh, certainly these are symptomatic of deeper issues, but we never get to the deeper issues. We often can’t get to the important stuff, because we are bogged down by the selfish, narrow-minded, and insignificant issues of the nominally Christian. Cranky Christians rule the roost. We can’t deal with truly important issues because we are divided over such earth shattering disagreements such as music styles, copier contracts, and the way the pastor chooses to dress.
How the worship bulletin is designed, where the baptismal font is placed, who gets to choose the hymns — these are only important issues to those who have no real understanding of the gospel. Those who reduce our faith to such insignificant issues are those who have no real desire to be the body of Christ — laity or clergy. How to make a difference in the world, how to save a person’s self respect and dignity, making sure a person has a safe place to sleep or a warm meal — these are the things our faith tells us God is interested in.
I wonder how all of our cranky Christians will answer to God when their small-minded and hurtful actions and attitudes are held up for scrutiny? There is so much good we can do, but there are also so many piddling ways we can find to avoid doing them,
The reason this came to mind is a short email I received last week that asked me the question, “Why are you so dedicated to helping people who don’t live good lives, when there are so many good Christians that need comfort and care?” I don’t know how to answer these questions. Those who are Christian have got it all. The people who need us are the whole reason we exist! I can’t waste time dealing with coddled malcontents. My ministry is to the lost, the damaged, the sick, and the oppressed. I thought that was what it was all about…
Cranky Christians? I’m trying to love. The world? I wish I loved it better. My goal? To make those who know Jesus care more about those who don’t.