Cranky Christians

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.

16 replies

  1. Pardon my bluntness, but if you don’t like your church’s progressive theology, don’t whine and gripe — find a church that promotes the kind of theology you want to hear. But know this: most of the “old fashioned” theology that you’re MISsing is based on MIStranslation, MISinterpretation, and MISunderstanding. Maybe you’d like to take Jimmy Carter’s place at a Southern Baptist Church, where they believe a woman’s place is being subserviant to men.

  2. Hi Dan,

    I wonder if our focus in the church changed to the minutia when the church stopped being a starter/provider of basic care – education, health care, etc – weren’t Methodists and EUB church folk instrumental in founding ministries that have now been taken over by our government? (John Wesley and his book about home remedies comes to mind here…as well as his care of orphans and widows…, a myriad of schools, colleges and hospitals across the country have by and large lost their ties)

    If the government takes care of all God’s children better than we Christians can – what is left for the church but to focus inwardly? I fear we have lost (abdicated) our way and our call.

    Just a thought as we celebrate the 4th of July…

    • I think you’re right, Deborah. The church has given away much of its ministry, work and service, and it hasn’t replaced it with other useful activity. Idle hands are the devil’s playground — being distracted by minor things is the surest evidence that we’re not focused on important things. When you leave the important things to others, all you’re left with are minor things.

  3. Next thing you know the tax collectors and prostitutes will be sitting in the front row.

    Great post, but I suspect you are preaching to the choir here.

    I pray your new bishop stands behind you in all your efforts.

    • Thanks, John, my new Bishop (Linda Lee) is great! We have talked and she is very supportive that I continue to write the blog with the same openness and edginess I have tried to bring to it so far.

      And, yes, I am preaching to the choir — but as I continue to clean out files, I keep discovering things that simply bug me, so I use the blog for therapy — blowing off steam and lamenting some of the weird little ways we undermine our best efforts.

      Let’s keep the dialogue going, friend!

  4. I don’t want to seem snarky, but this just occurred to me. You don’t know me, but the style of worship or the order of the service aren’t important to me – but a question just hit me about the first part of this post. If people dying and people being poor etc. are the main things that are important and a pastor is changing up worship amidst protests, doesn’t that show that the pastor is cranky as well, wanting his/her own way in the style of worship just like the people? Why do the people get all the blame when the pastor in the example is also acting like these things are most important?

    • I’m right there with you, Jenniefer — that’s why my third illustration was a pastor. We are all part of the problem, and therefore, we’re all potentially part of the solution. In all cases, I believe the root of the crankiness is the selfish entitlement mentality that says “my way is the only way, and everyone who disagrees is wrong.” When the whole community of faith is put first, and the needs of the many precede the needs of the few or the one, there is much greater health – much less crankiness – than when everyone fights to get their own way. You’re right – in many cases the crankiness permeates the whole environment, and it isn’t a case of one side being cranky and the other side being right.

  5. “My goal? To make those who know Jesus care more about those who don’t…”

    I absolutely believe this is the goal of most of us who are in church leadership – and what I have come to realize is that we actually have to push deeper INTO the culture in order for our “happy Christian” goggles to come off and to really see, hear, touch, taste, and smell the broken people and situations of the world. In the music that comes from the streets and in the smelly man who sleeps under the bridge, and the taste of day old soup at the community meals program, and in the grafitti on the side of the wall, we get to know both what people need, but also what they already have. And in my experience – people out there in the world – in the culture – already have a whole lot of Jesus… they’ve just never been asked to step foot inside our pristine church before.

    • AND there are a lot of people out there who know Jesus very well, thank you, and they have no interest in being invited to a church all hung up on trivia and minutiae. Crankiness isn’t just a nuisance — it is a way of life and it establishes a reputation. It has done a lot to damage the credibility of the church to people on both the inside and the outside. If we subscribe to a theology that says we are created in the image of God, then it applies to all – and all means all! Our ongoing activities to decide who is acceptable and who isn’t must be one of the most egregious sins we have every committed as the “people of God.” I really wish helping “those who care about Jesus care more about those who don’t” was the focus of most in church leadership, but I wonder often if it’s true.

  6. I know this is wide of the point of your post, but if you can’t see the, at tiimes rather deep, theological undertones rooted in the gospel of The Andy Griffith Show and U2, you’re not looking very hard.

    • I get hammered all the time for promoting “non-Christian/unChristian” artists and authors — as if truth can’t come from a wide variety of sources. I received two vicious letters for recommending the “21st Century Breakdown” album by Green Day on this website — one saying that I am doing the work of Satan! I am a firm believer that we have a responsibility to think theologically, and to bring that best thinking to all we do. When we learn to do that, we find as many spiritual and theological messages in an episode of The Simpsons or a Batman movie or a Matchbox 20 album or the latest John Grisham novel. When we believe that God can communicate across the whole spectrum of media and that truth, meaning, and beauty are still being revealed today, it isn’t hard to see God in almost everything.

      • If we hold prevenient grace to be true (or, common gace for those of a Calvinist view) then we should only be surprised not to find the truth of our Lord in “outside” sources.

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