The “dream church” picture I painted in the introduction looks very little like the church, Southlands, where I am now a member.
Southlands is nondenominational, meets in a renovated prosthetics factory, and has only the slightest liturgical bent. It’s Reformed-ish but Holy Spirit focused, with impromptu “words” from the congregation and quiet prayer in tongues a common occurance. The music is relentlessly loud. To be honest, the worship services often make me quite uncomfortable.
And I’m OK with that. I love my church.
Talking about one’s personal “dream church” is an exercise in not only futility but flat-out gospel denial. The church does not exist to meet our “comfort zone” preferences but rather to destabilize them, to jostle us awake from the dead-eye stupor of a culture of comfort-worship that impedes our growth.
Attending my current church has been difficult and full of personal discomfort, but also probably the most spiritually enriching churchgoing season of my life. Nothing matures you quite like faithfulness amid discomfort.
For too long the consumer logic of Christian culture has been: Find a church that meets your needs! Find a church where the worship music moves you, the pastor’s preaching compels you, and the homogenous community welcomes you! You, you, you!
But this model doesn’t work. Not only is it coldly transactional (what have you done for me lately?) and devoid of covenantal commitment (consumerist church attendance is basically a celebrity marriage without a prenup), it’s also anti-gospel. A true gospel community is not about convenience and comfort and chai lattes in the vestibule. It’s about pushing each other forward in holiness and striving together for the kingdom, joining along in the ongoing work of the Spirit in this world. Those interested only in their comfort and happiness need not apply. Being the church is difficult.
The thing is, many young people today resonate with this. They’re sick of being sold spiritual comfort food. They want to be part of something that has forward momentum and doesn’t slow down so that a few fickle, FOMO (“fear of missing out”) Millennials can decide whether or not they want to get on board. They want a community that is so compelled by the gospel and so confident in Christ that they pay little heed to target demographics and CNN articles about what twentysomethings are saying today about their “dream church.” As one popular book written by Christian Millennials suggests, there is “a growing movement of Christian young people who are rebelling against the low expectations of their culture by choosing to ‘do hard things’ for the glory of God.”1
College students I know are not interested in a church with a nice, shiny college ministry. They want a church that is alive, bearing fruit, and making disciples. The young professionals in our life group do not meet week after week because hanging out with a diverse array of awkward personalities after a long day’s work makes their lives easier. No. They come because there is growth when believers in community help each other look outside of themselves and to Jesus.
Looking outside of ourselves. Putting aside personal comfort and coming often to the cross. This is what being the church means.
It means worshiping all together without segregating by age or interest (e.g., “contemporary” or “traditional”). It means preaching the whole counsel of God, even the unpopular bits. It means fighting against homogeneity and cultivating diversity as much as possible, even if this makes people uncomfortable. It means prioritizing the values of church membership and tithing, even if it turns people off. It means pushing back against the privatization of relationships by insisting that the health of marriages is the business of the church family. It means sticking around even when the church goes through hard times. It means building a tight-knit community, but not an insular one, that engages the surrounding community and sends out members when mission calls them away. It means bearing with one another in love on matters of debate and yet not shying away from discipline. It means preaching truth and love in tension, even when the culture calls it bigotry.
None of this is easy, and none of it is comfortable. But by the grace of God and with the Holy Spirit’s help, uncomfortable church can become something we treasure.
1. “Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion against Low Expectations,” The Rebelution website, accessed January 20, 2017, http://therebelution.com/books/do-hard-things/.
Taken from Uncomfortable by Brett McCracken, © 2017, pp. 38-40. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.