Warning: Long. Ranty. Contains mentions of abuse.
Over the weekend, I read Hello, My Name Is Church, a blog post helpfully shared with me by one of my Twitter friends. It’s been ages since I almost injured myself from rolling my eyes so much, so I was grateful to be back in the game. I won’t say this is the worst thing I’ve read so far this year (that prize now goes to another article on girls and modesty, which I may blog about later this week). It is, however, the worst thing I read between New Year’s and Epiphany, so it’s still in contention for the Top Ten. Hooray!
It’s hard to tell exactly what Unappreciated Pastor is going for here. I can’t tell if he’s talking about people who walked away from Christian faith, from church attendance in general, or just from his specific congregation (wouldn’t be surprised, judging by the name he goes by). It sounds like he’s conflating all of those things. Let’s get to his “poem,” shall we?
He has some ideas about why people just avoid the whole scene:
Perhaps you have heard that I am…
A waste of time
You’ve heard that I am full of:
So, these people have merely heard that those things are found in church. Even in my days of poorly-orchestrated evangelism, I never once had anyone tell me they didn’t want to go to church because they’d caught rumors that it wasn’t all that great. I think a lot of people don’t go because (gasp) they already have beliefs. Shocking, I know.
Next, he has some words for people who showed up once and didn’t like it.
Maybe you have visited me before and discovered:
Apparently those people were just attending the wrong church, because one visit and they never wanted to go back again owing to the off-key praise band or the pastor’s uninteresting sermon. There are two wrong assumptions here. First, how does Unappreciated Pastor know whether these people didn’t just find a church they liked better? I mean, in my city, it’s not that hard. We have several within five minutes of our house. Second, he’s doing the same foolish thing entertainment-focused churches do in believing that superficial things are, in fact, what drive people away. The only difference is that he makes it the fault of the visitor rather than the church.
Now we’re getting into the meat of the thing. Here’s what he thinks of people who “needed” the church:
Maybe you needed me and I was:
Yes. Because no one should find it off-putting that we didn’t get help when we required it. I think it’s a very strange thing indeed that conservatives often claim the local church should help “the poor” (or at least, the “deserving” poor) rather than the government stepping in. Yet people should stick it out when they are in need, despite the fact that whatever church Unappreciated Pastor is referencing (hopefully not his own) isn’t coming through. Also, what the hell does he mean by “too ‘righteous'” in this context? Hm, maybe those two things are connected.
Up next, here’s what happens when you’re a disgruntled member:
Maybe you joined me and found I was:
Maybe you tried to serve in me but were caught off guard by:
We’re back on the dull thing again. It’s obviously a great filter, since we’ve already weeded out the people who only heard that it’s boring and the ones who showed up once and fell asleep during the sermon. I wonder if that would work to get jackasses out of the congregation–bore them away. You’d have to let the rest of the congregation in on the secret first, though, or you’ll lose them too. And God knows members don’t have any other reasons for leaving the church, of course. It’s all about how church isn’t entertaining. No one ever leaves because they simply don’t believe anymore or because they were sick of the constant shaming or because women are considered lesser beings or because the church is vile toward LGBT people or because a person in authority violated them. Nope.
So, what happens if you try to leave?
Maybe you left and were surprised that nobody:
Invited you back
He’s not serious, right? Leaving church can be a scary thing indeed. It would be a blessing for many to go without being hounded. Also, the way that’s framed makes it sound like people walk away in hopes that someone will give them reason to stay.
Perhaps your experience has driven you to:
Speak negatively of me
Swear to never come back to me
Proclaim that no one needs me
Believe you’re better off without me
I have serious doubts that Unappreciated Pastor has actually tried to find out the real reasons people leave church. I would venture a guess that he’s never sat down and listened to story after story of people who have been hurt. Maybe he doesn’t see the pain in the eyes of people who want so desperately to experience the kind of love than many churches promise but only deliver to those deemed worthy. If he had, he might have to acknowledge that some people have good reason to speak negatively of their experiences or step away and never look back.
If this is true, I have something to say to you:
I was wrong
I blew it
I made a huge mistake
This would be a great place to stop. Well, it might also help to recognize that boredom and committees are not what’s driving people away from the church. Still, it’s nice to have an apology.
But remember, I never said my name was:
We get it. Churches aren’t perfect. People aren’t perfect. And really, if the simplistic view of what’s wrong with the church as outlined above were true, then I could absolutely buy it that we need to be okay with imperfection. In light of what actually happens, though, I’m pretty uncomfortable with this.
My name is church. I welcome the:
I welcome the
And if this were the only thing we needed to be concerned about, I’d be cool with that definition of “flawed.”
I cannot shut my doors to the people who make you:
Oh, really? Because I see the church do this all the time. The trouble is, they’re usually so busy shutting the doors on those who make people angry or uncomfortable because of who the church perceives them to be that the church fails to shut the doors on abusers.
But I would remind you that we couldn’t always worship in the same room. In the Old Testament there was a division between the:
Your point being? I’m not sure what parallel he’s trying to draw.
In order for us to all worship in the same room Christ was:
Er…okay. Though Jesus broke a lot of barriers when he was alive, too. Also, Unappreciated Pastor has obviously not been to a modern-day synagogue. It’s been maybe twenty years since I attended services, but last time I was there, women and men were sitting right next to each other. Fancy that.
Which is far worse than being:
Oh! I get it now. Jesus died, so how dare you not like church services? Because you could not possibly have anything in your church experience that is as terrible as being dead. No one’s ever actually died because of something inflicted on them by the church, right? Oh. Wait.
So why not come back to church and let all of these messed up people:
Why not come back to church and let all these messed up people continue to harm you in exactly the same way they were doing before you left? Sounds like a date!
I can’t promise you that the people will be great. This is church. It’s not:
The Celestial city
Translation: “I can’t promise to protect you, and I might even try to excuse some of the things that are happening to you because I think it’s your fault.”
God wants you here.
The body needs you here.
The world needs your witness here.
You belong here.
Hello, my name is church.
I miss you.
I love you.
Can’t wait to see you.
“I’m sorry. It’ll never happen again. I need you. I can’t live without you.” Heck, why not throw in a “No one will ever love you the way I do” for good measure?
If you’ve left regular church attendance or church membership or the Church or Christianity as a whole, you have good reason. I’m sorry if I’ve ever dismissed you. I’m sorry that people like Unappreciated Pastor have written whole pseudo-poems discounting your reasons for leaving. You know what? I’m even sorry that people think it’s their job to discern what a “good” reason is. Who cares if you left because you were bored or people acted like ass-hats? I don’t want to spend social time with a bunch of jerks, either (boy, do I have thoughts on forced friendships).
Hey, Unappreciated Pastor? I’m sorry that people are leaving your church and you feel down about it. That actually must suck. Being a pastor isn’t easy. May I suggest, though, that instead of writing passive-aggressive and dismissive poetry, you check out my friend Naked Pastor? He’s been through it too, and maybe his wisdom and humor will help you get by. Or maybe you’re ready to leave the church yourself, and this is your plea for help. I’ll light a hope candle for you.