How I Go to Church Without Getting Mad

I have never read Blue Like Jazz. But I understand from my friend Dave that there is a chapter in the book entitled, “Church: How I Go Without Getting Mad.” That short thought got me thinking. So called holy wars are rife within the historical path of mankind. We’ve been getting mad at church since church was invented; just check the Scriptures if you don’t believe me. The office of deacon was created because the Greek Christians were mad that their widows were being overlooked in the distribution of food. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth to reprimand them because they were so mad they were filing lawsuits against one another. Before their was a Christian church, there were “religious” people. Jesus’ disciples fought over who was the greatest among them. Cain killed Abel because he was mad that God preferred Abel’s sacrifice. As long as there have been people, those people have been mad.

But the idea of being mad at church struck me, because church seems to be a pretty common place for otherwise calm Christians to lose their cool. People who would never say a cross thing to their boss at work seem to feel it appropriate to scream at their brothers and sisters in Christ during Wednesday night business meetings. People’s feelings get hurt because their house is not chosen for the next Sunday School class party. Women leave small groups if someone doesn’t check on them when they miss one Sunday and men move their families elsewhere if they are overlooked for a position on a committee. Seeing that I was raised in a pastor’s home, I have been eyewitness to enough selfish and unjust activity in the church that there was a time I wrote the church off completely. Falling into the postmodern idea that my religion was a matter between me and God and no one else, I left the church for a while to find my own way. 

That didn’t work, though, because we were not designed to operate alone. God established the family and the church because we were created to be in fellowship—with both Him and with our fellow believers. So if the church is full of fighting sinners, but I have to be a part of the church, I asked myself this morning, “How do I go to church without getting mad?” And this is my answer… 

I go to church without getting mad because I remember that some of the most respected evangelists and theologians on the planet conservatively estimate that 50%-75% of current members of evangelical churches are not, in fact, regenerate members of the body of Christ. When you work in the mindset that all of your church members are born again believers, it’s easy to get mad when you go to church. When you approach church with the assumption that the majority of people around you are actually lost, your attitude shifts from anger to pity.

The people sitting around you have placed their faith in the prayer they said at the alter, in the fact that they cried, that they were baptized, that everyone said “Amen!” when the pastor voted on their membership, that their mom and dad and grandparents were members of the same church. They have never experienced the godly sorrow that leads to repentance without regret, leading to salvation that Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 7:10. Instead, they have experienced “the sorrow of the world” that “produces death” (2 Cor. 7:10b). The ideas of counting the cost of their salvation, of dying to self, of becoming less so Christ can become more, of submitting to the Lordship of Christ in their life, they’ve never considered their sin and been completely shattered by it. They’ve relied on themselves for their salvation and they are so deceived.

When you look at the church in such a harshly realistic light, the in-fighting and anger make much more sense. The church is full of people who are still bound without choice to the destruction of their sins! They have no choice but to behave in a way that it is un-Christian. Like my mom always says, “You can’t expect lost people to act like they are saved.” This can be frustrating for the 25-50% of people in the church who are truly regenerate members of the body of Christ. But the next time you get frustrated with the people in church who make decisions and show themselves to only be interested in themselves, remember that Jesus once said, “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit(Mt. 12:33). If that person is not showing godly sorrow for sins committed against God, chances are that person really doesn’t care, and a lack of sorrow is indication for lack of relationship.

So how do keep from getting mad at church? I prepare myself in much prayer by asking the Lord to humble me—sometimes I’m mad because I’m wanting to get my own way, which makes me just as wrong as everyone else. I ask Him to search my heart, to show me my shortcomings and transgressions against Him. I ask Him to give me His eyes so that I can see the people around me as Christ sees them—as people made in the image of God, people that He loved so much He died for them. And I keep in mind the deep words for a rap CD. That’s right, rap. On Grits album Grammatical Revolution, there is a track entitled “A Reading from Count Bass D.” He offers some wise words for our walk towards maturity in Christ.

A servant of God must stand so much alone that he does not realize he is alone. In the early stages of Christian life, disappointments will come. People who used to be lights will flicker out, and those who used to stand with us turn away. We have to get so used to it that we will not even realize that we are standing alone. Paul said, “No one is still with me, for all forsook me. But the Lord is with me and strengthens me.” We must build our hope not on the fading light, but on the Light that never fades. When it is important, people go away. We are sad until we see that they are meant to go so that there is only one thing left to do, and that is to look in the face of God for ourselves.

If I consider myself more mature spiritually than the people around me causing the trouble, then it is my moral and biblical responsibility not to get mad at them, but instead to humbly come alongside them and show them the more excellent way. I try not to brood, to mope, to get down on those people. That would only make me just like them, and then we would all just stay right where we are—mad at church.

Singleness Wears Steel-Toed Boots

When I arrived in Raleigh Sunday night, it was after 20 hours of travel over 4,000 miles, an ocean, and two continents. Those who know me well understand that when I am tired I tend to revert to my toddler self: weepy temper tantrums are not rare when I am fatigued. So I was not surprised when I arrived in baggage claim and was suddenly overwhelmed with the desire to plop down on the floor, throw my backpack, and cry.

What did surprise me, however, was my physical, emotional, and spiritual response to seeing that the baggage claim was full of the wives, children, mothers and fathers of some of my team members. There was an instantaneous feeling like I had literally kicked in the stomach– the physical side effect of loneliness. My first, self-pitying thought was, “Singleness not only kicks you when you’re down, it wears steel-toed boots.” Aloneness is never more glaringly obvious than when you realize that you have no one to go home to.

When I lived in Chattanooga, homecomings from mission trips were a big deal. We would arrive from Honduras to a baggage claim full of friends and family. I’ve now come “home” to Wake Forest from two mission trips, and my immediate response has been the same both times– I’ve experienced the physical emptiness of being kicked by the army boot-wearing enemy, Alone. Being that I tend to be a people person to a fault, this never sits well with me. The last two years I have truly made peace with my singleness; I enjoy being able to serve the Lord however He sees fit to use me. But contentment does not always mean steady, unfailing joy in the situation. Paul may have been content in the Lord while in jail, but I’m certain that he still would have preferred his freedom.

But while I was standing at the baggage carousel waiting for my bags, I couldn’t shake the image of my singleness treading on me in steel-toed boots. I instantly shut down and isolated myself in my thoughts, desperately crying out to the Lord to perform a miracle and ensure that I not cry in front of all of these people. And in that moment of solitude amidst the chaos, the Lord gently expanded my understanding of those work boots I felt were walking all over me.

I thought about Emily, who spent a couple of days in tears because it was the first time she had been away from her son for more than a night. I remembered how much Jason missed his son while we were in Amsterdam. I thought of Rob and Nick and Mitch and Bill and Dr. James, who had all made comments about wanting to get back to their wives and families. And then I thought about how I hadn’t really missed anyone the 15 days we were out of the country. Living in Wake Forest is a discipline in missing my family; I didn’t miss them in Amsterdam any more or less than I would any other day.  And then I thought of the words of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 when he addressed singleness and ministry: “But I say to the unmarried and the widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I…. Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk….But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of this world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of this world, how she may please her husband. This I say not for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord” (1 Cor. 7: 8,17,32-35).

We are encouraged to serve the Lord in whatever circumstance we are in when He calls us into His service. For me, I was and, at the moment remain, single. That is how I am to serve Him, and when I am focused on Him, His kingdom, His glory, and not myself, I find no greater joy than giving Him my undivided attention. Even in my weary state, I recognized the still small voice of the Holy Spirit convicting me to a closer relationship with Himself, calling me away from me and back to Him and His all-sufficient grace and mercy.

I still think my singleness wears steel-toed boots. But now I think of them as the footwear essential for wearing the full armor of God at this time in my life. And the only time I am going to get kicked by them is when I get in the way of the work the Lord is doing in and through me.