Do you ever get impatient with your church? Or with church in general? I do. I struggle with church. What I mean is, I don't like churches that have no depth or sense of purpose in them, beyond making their own members feel good. Nor do I like churches that have no idea what they are supposed to be doing. That includes a great many of the churches I have encountered. I have patience neither with self-centered churches nor self-centered people, especially when they profess to be Christians.
I especially struggled with a congregation where I used to attend. The greatest portion of the "members" -- they didn't have formal membership -- were about 30, give or take a little. And all of the leadership -- paid staff, elders, small group leaders -- were in that same age bracket. The music -- loud -- was focused on that group, and most of the activities were, too.
I am not 30. I am more than double that. Get the picture?
This bugs me, because I believe a church should reflect the rest of the kingdom. But where I get really impatient is with people of any age who hop from one church to another, never satisfied, always seeking a church that "meets my needs." For many Americans, the most important task of church is to meet their "needs."
But this idea is profoundly wrong. There are legitimate reasons to leave a church. However, we Americans pride ourselves on being "rugged individualists." It's almost like we are a nation of Lone Rangers. But God didn't create us to be some sort of independent unit, floating in aloneness through space. He created us needing each other. There are no Lone Rangers in the kingdom of God, and there are none among healthy, balanced people, either.
I recently saw a blurb in a magazine, about a 2004 study showing that one in four Americans had no close friends, nobody in whom they could confide on important matters.
I'm surprised. I am surprised that it's not far worse than one in four. We live in a fragmented society, one that encourages shallowness, not depth, and I would have thought many more of us would live lives of aloneness, of "quiet desperation."
I wonder if I should include myself in that number. I have only a few friends at any level, and even fewer really close ones. Certainly, I have to include myself among those whose "needs" are not met at my church, assuming I have any good idea what my needs are.
So, what should I do about that? What do I do about the twin problems of frustration and loneliness? Leave my church? Find a more "compatible" church? Clearly, I am not in a place that is in my best interest, right? Wrong.
One of the things I dislike about the way this world works is that "me" and "my needs" are not very important in any real scheme of things. I want to be important, to matter. But the world just doesn't care about me. Life is not about me. Even my life is, in the end, not about me.
That sounds cold, and it is. But it's the truth.
So what do I do? I remain in my church, staying put for one reason: I think it's where God wants me. It has nothing to do with anything like my "needs." I don't even know what my needs are. That sometimes makes others around me a little crazy, but that's the way it is. I am there in obedience to God's voice, as well as I can understand it.
I am not there for myself but to worship and serve God among his people, and to share with others whatever gifts God has given me.
So, does our church have problems? Sure does. And am I bothered by them? Don't even get me started on that! But am I there for my own happiness? Does it matter that I am bothered? No and yes.
Frustration can be a good thing, as long as we maintain perspective: I am not there for me. I am there because God put me there to be a channel of his grace and truth. I am there to "be Jesus" to some others, to know God and to teach others to know him, too.
And as I am obedient and faithful to the voice of God in whatever situation He puts me, my "needs" - my real needs - will certainly and abundantly be met. I will be blessed, I will grow in my relationship with him, and I will have a fruitful life.
But let's face it, I will still be frustrated. And that's good: People who are never frustrated are likely to be satisfied with the status quo, and never experience that inner burning for more of God working in and through us for our benefit and his glory.
And being satisfied with only a little of God is never a good thing.