Thursday, March 22, 2018

How to Be Miserable in Your Christian Life: Church Isn't About You (But It Probably Should Be!)

(Please note: the following is not entirely serious--it is written in the style of a satirical self-help book, somewhat in the tradition of C. S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters, that offers insight and encouragement in the life of Christian holiness by having my fictional narrator, who wants to adhere to the most popular form of Christian practice, advise the opposite.)

How to Be Miserable in Your Christian Life

Chapter Three: Avoid the Institutional Church
(Section Four: Church Isn't About You, But It Probably Should Be)

         Before we get to non-church options, we need to look at one more way that local churches undermine the values of Christian misery: by insisting that going to church isn’t just about you, your emotions, and your need to receive some affirmation and inspiration. Now, there are a few churches out there that are starting to shift toward making it all about you, and those churches would probably be the least dangerous ones to get involved with—you can simply sit back, enjoy some nice music, receive some inspiring teaching, and then go home happy. Ironically, the ephemeral feelings of happiness that come from that kind of service will go a lot further toward a lifestyle of misery than will the rather more difficult practices involved in going to a normal church.
In a normal institutional church, the point of the church service isn’t just to fill you up; rather, there’s this odd notion that the people of God are there for God. Instead of you and your concerns being the motivating center of the service, it is God who bizarrely takes center stage. The worshiping congregation is there to give Him glory as its primary function. And sometimes this even includes acts like confession of sin, listening to teaching that convicts the heart, and submission to God’s providence over our lives.
I know, I know: words like confession, conviction, and submission may sound like they would tend toward our misery, but we’ve seen this trick before. The truth is, it’s practices like these—the ones that stretch us beyond our comfort zones, that move the focus away from our own sovereignty over our lives—those, ironically, are the practices that prove most threatening to Christian misery. So it’s far safer to attend services that only focus on your good feelings, and avoid the ones that are intentionally God-centered.
Usually, the best rule of thumb is to ignore local churches that represent an established, institutional denomination. Some of them even retain the dangerous old idea that Christian services are “liturgy,” a word that literally means “the work of the people.” Such worship “services” actually imply that it is God being served, and not me! Well, I think you can clearly see where the danger lies. Best to avoid the institutional church.