If Your Church Is Not All You Want It to Be

Chances are your church gathering isn't all you want it to be. . . This or that should be different, so and so should talk less, he and she should be on time — and why can't we just get some better aesthetics in here?

Actually, though, this mode of critcism says more about our hearts than it does our local church. Perhaps we've forgotten what the church is. Perhaps we've mistaken it to be just another social club. Or maybe we've confused this gathering to be just another event on the calendar. Or, quite possibly, we've assumed the worship of the Triune God is supposed to meet our consumer wants rather than our greatest needs.

Let Dietrich Bonhoeffer have a word:

If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.

This applies in a special way to the complaints often heard from pastors and zealous members about their congregations. A pastor should never complain about his congregation, certainly never to other people, but also not to God. A congregation has not been entrusted to him in order that he should become its accuser before God and men.

. . . let [the pastor or zealous member] nevertheless guard against ever becoming an accuser of the congregation before God. Let him rather accuse himself for his unbelief. Let him pray God for an understanding of his own failure and his particular sin, and pray that he may not wrong his brethren. Let him, in the consciousness of his own guilt, make intercession for his brethren. Let him do what he is committed to do, and thank God.

Life Togethertrans. John W. Doberstein, (New York: HarperOne, 1954), 29, paragraphing mine.


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Jonathan Parnell (@jonathanparnell) is a writer and content strategist at Desiring God, and is the lead planter of Cities Church in Minneapolis–Saint Paul, where he lives with his wife, Melissa, and their four children. He is also the co-author of How to Stay Christian in Seminary.