Church Should be Uncomfortable

the holy book

I grew up attending Baptist churches in the Midwest–the kind where men’s quartets sing gospel songs as “special music” but no one dares raise their hands during a worship song. For most of my 20s I attended a Presbyterian church where things like Maundy Thursday and Advent candles were a big deal. These days I consider myself Reformed and read books about Thomas Cranmer for fun. My ideal church service would involve the Book of Common Prayer, an organ, eucharist and a sermon out of a Pauline epistle that referenced everyone from Augustine and Spurgeon to Marilynne Robinson and N.T. Wright. In my dream church the “peace” would be exchanged every Sunday, ashes imposed every Ash Wednesday, and G.K. Chesterton discussed in the high school youth group.

The picture I’ve just painted of my “dream church” looks nothing like the church where I am now a member. The local church where I now serve is non denominational, meets in a renovated warehouse and has no liturgical bent. The music is loud and contemporary. It’s Reformed-ish but Holy Spirit focused, with impromptu “words” from the congregation and quiet prayer in tongues a not-uncommon occasion. To be honest the worship services often make me a bit uncomfortable.

And I’m perfectly happy with that. I love my church.

Talking about one’s “dream church” is–increasingly, I’ve come to think–an exercise in not only futility but flat-out gospel denial. The church does not exist to meet our every need and satisfy our various checklists of tastes and “comfort zone” preferences. If anything it exists to destabilize such things. The church should draw us out of the dead-eye stupor of a culture of comfort-worship. It should jostle us awake to the reality that comfort is one of the greatest obstacles to growth.

The two years I’ve attended my current church have been difficult and full of discomfort, but also probably the most spiritually enriching two years of my life. There’s serious wisdom in the familiar adage to “get out of your comfort zone.” Nothing matures you quite like faithfulness amidst discomfort.

For too long the mantra in Christian culture has been seeker-sensitive and “have it your way.” The mentality has been consumer comfort. Find a church that meets your needs! Find a church that feels like home! Find a church where the worship music moves you, the pastor’s preaching compels you and the homogenous community welcomes you! If it gets difficult or uncomfortable, cut ties immediately; there are a dozen other options waiting to be discovered!

But this model doesn’t work. Not only is it coldly transactional (what have you done for me lately?) and devoid of covenantal commitment (seeker-sensitive church attendance is basically a Kim Kardashian marriage without a prenup), it’s also anti-gospel. A true gospel community is not about convenience and comfort and chai lattes in the vestibule. It’s about pushing each other forward in holiness and striving together for the kingdom, joining along in the ongoing work of the Spirit in this world. Those interested only in their comfort and happiness need not apply. Being the church is difficult.

In Love in Hard Places, D.A. Carson suggests that ideally the church is not comprised of natural “friends” but rather “natural enemies.”

What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politics, common nationality, common accents, common jobs, or anything of the sort. Christians come together, not because they form a natural collocation, but because they have been saved by Jesus Christ and owe him a common allegiance. In the light of this common allegiance, in light of the fact that they have all been loved by Jesus himself, they commit themselves to doing what he says – and he commands them to love one another. In this light, they are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake.

Taking up the challenge of committing to a local church is incredibly difficult but decidedly biblical. You don’t have to read much of the New Testament to see how messy things get when natural enemies commit to being the unified people of God (e.g. Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free, etc… Gal. 3:28). It’s inevitably uncomfortable but undeniably important.

The thing is, young people today resonate with this. They’re sick of being sold spiritual comfort food. They want to be part of something that isn’t afraid of a challenge, something that has forward momentum and doesn’t slow down so that the fickle, oh-so-important Millennials can decide whether or not they want to get on board. They want a community that is so compelled by the gospel and so confident in Christ that they pay little heed to target-demographics and CNN articles about what twentysomethings are saying today about their “dream church.”

College students I know are not interested in a church with a nice shiny college ministry. They want a church that is alive, bearing fruit and making disciples. The young professionals in our life group do not meet week after week because hanging out with a diverse array of awkward personalities after a long day’s work makes their lives easier. No. They come because there is power in living beyond the comfort of one’s own life. There is growth when believers help each other look outside of themselves and to Jesus.

Looking outside of oneself. Serving someone beyond the self. Putting aside personal comfort and coming often to the cross. This is what being the church means.

It means worshipping all together without segregating by age or interest (e.g. “contemporary” or “traditional”). It means preaching the whole counsel of God, even the unpopular bits. It means fighting against homogeneity and cultivating diversity as much as possible, even if this makes people uncomfortable. It means prioritizing the values of church membership and tithing, even if it turns people off. It means being OK with the music that is played even if it’s not your favorite style. It means sticking around even when the church goes through hard times. It means building a tight-knit community but not an insular one, engaging the community and sending out members when mission calls them away. It means bearing with one another in love on matters of debate and yet not shying away from discipline. It means preaching truth and love in tension, even when the culture calls it bigotry. It means focusing on long-term healing rather than symptom-fixing medication.

None of this is easy, and none of it is comfortable. But by the grace of God and with the Holy Spirit’s help, uncomfortable church can become something we treasure.

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17 responses to “Church Should be Uncomfortable

  1. I agree with about seventy percent of this, but I guess that’s kind of the point, isnt it?

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  3. The irony of the gospel is that we experience both comfort and discomfort. If the gospel is present in the worship of the church, whether it is brought with the scent of coffee mingled with the Holy Spirit, then the church is good. Seeker sensitive churches can and do accomplish that. So do liturgical heavy churches… because it is all about the gospel, providing a refuge for worship.

  4. I have read this over and over, about half a dozen times and shared it just as much. I love it!

  5. There’s a difference between going to churches that have a different worship style than you are comfortable with and going to a church where unbiblical practices are present.

  6. There’s a difference between worshiping in a church that has a different worship style than what you are comfortable with and attending a church that has unbiblical practices such as “speaking in tongues”. Big difference.

    • Wow, what an incredibly arrogant and uninformed comment. It’s one thing to have to certain theological convictions on a secondary issue, but to claim a practice millions of Jesus-living believers (including the apostle Paul) through the ages is unbiblical is certainly out of line.

  7. This writing is what we need to read and digest. Thom Rainer wrote a little book titled Autopsy of a Deceased Church…12 ways to keep yours alive and this gentleman had touched on a lot from that book. We need churches that are filled with the Holy Ghost and relevance today. I agreed that people are looking for a church that will give them hope and strength to get through life until Jesus calls us home. LIFE is where it is for today’s people. Thanks for sharing your journey and sharing what you discovered. PTL

  8. Right on. The people of today are seeking a church that is not ashamed of the Gospel and will proclaim it clearly so their hope can be filled with encouragement. The American church needs to come back to the simple message of salvation and hope for that is what the people are crying for.

  9. It is not about the style it is about the substance. It is about the authority of the scripture and the integrity of the gospel not the cultural trappings of the service.

  10. Such a good reminder and one that our culture needs to hear so badly. It’s so easy to get wanderlust. Maybe I would be closer to God if I went to this church, or maybe I would not struggle with X so much if I went to another church that offered this or that. As I’ve heard it said many times, “The perfect church ceases to be perfect once you join.”

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  13. WHAT CAN I DO TO NOT BE SAVED? BY STEVE FINNELL

    What can you do to not be saved? In order to not be saved, all you have to do is ignore the New Covenant terms for pardon.

    The following are some of the ways you cannot be saved under the New Covenant.

    1. You cannot be saved by a whirlwind.

    2 Kings 1-11 And it came about when the Lord was about to take up Elijah by a whirlwind to heaven…..11 As they were going along and talking, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire and horses of fire which separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven.

    You cannot be saved by a whirlwind under the New Covenant terms of pardon.

    2. You cannot be saved by works of love and faith.

    Luke 7:44-50 ……47 For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; ….50 And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

    The woman had her sins forgiven because she washed the feet of Jesus with her tears, kissed His feet, and anointed His feet with perfume. She loved much and had faith. Men today cannot be saved by works of love and faith. That is not the terms of forgiveness under the New Covenant.

    3. You cannot be saved by the publican parable.

    Luke 18:9-14 …..But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” 14 I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

    Men today cannot be justified like the publican. The publican did not confess that Jesus was resurrected from the grave. There is no evidence the publican even believed that Jesus was the Son of God. Simply saying a humble prayer to God does save anyone. The publicans were Jewish tax collectors. Saying the prayer of a Jewish tax collector is not the terms of forgiveness under the New Testament.

    4. You cannot be saved under the Judaizer’s salvation plan.

    Galatians 5:1-5…..3 And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. 4 You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.

    You cannot be saved by blending Christianity and the Laws of Moses. That is against the terms of pardon under the New Covenant.

    5. You cannot be saved like the thief on the cross.

    The thief believed that Jesus was the Christ.(Luke 23:39)
    The thief feared God.(Luke 23:40)
    The thief asked Jesus to remember him when He came into His kingdom. (Luke 23:42)
    Was thief saved? Yes.

    The thief did not believe in his heart that Jesus was raised from the dead by God the Father.(Romans 10:9)
    The thief was not baptized in water. (Acts 2:38, Mark 16:16, Peter 3:21)

    If you believe you can be saved like the thief, then you have to believe you can be saved without being baptized in water, and that you can be saved without believing in your heart that God resurrected Jesus from the grave

    The thief died under the old covenant and got a direct pardon from Jesus. Men, today, are living under the New Covenant. You cannot be nailed to the cross today and get a direct pardon from Jesus. Jesus is not on the cross He has been raised from the dead by God the Father.

    6. You cannot be saved like Enoch.

    Genesis 5:24 Enoch walked with God: and he was not, for God took him.

    Enoch did not believe Jesus was the Son of God. Was Enoch saved?Yes.
    Enoch did not confess that God raised Jesus from the dead. Was Enoch saved? Yes.
    Enoch did not believe that Jesus shed His blood on the cross so he could have his sins washed away.. Was Enoch saved? Yes.
    Enoch was not baptized in water. He was not immersed for the forgiveness of his sins. Was Enoch saved? Yes.
    Was Enoch born of the Spirit? No. The Holy Spirit of promise was not given until the Day of Pentecost. Was Enoch saved? Yes.

    Can men today be saved like Enoch? Absolutely not. Men, today, can only be saved by meeting the terms of pardon under the New Covenant, also know as the New Testament.

    7. You cannot be saved like the paralytic.

    Luke 5:18-20 And some men were carrying on a bed a man who paralyzed; and they were trying to bring him in and set him down in front of Him. 19 But not finding any way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down through the tiles with his stretcher, into the middle of the crowd, in front of Jesus. 20 Seeing their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”

    Jesus forgave the sins of the paralytic because of the faith of friends. Can men today be saved like the paralytic? No, they cannot.

    The paralytic was saved without personal faith.
    The paralytic was saved without repenting.
    The paralytic was saved without confessing Jesus as the Son of God.
    The paralytic was saved without being baptized.
    The paralytic was saved without believing that God raised Jesus from the dead.
    The paralytic was saved without confessing Jesus as Lord and Christ.
    The paralytic was saved before the New Covenant was available.

    TO BE SAVED TODAY MEN HAVE TO MEET THE TERMS OF PARDON UNDER THE NEW COVENANT.

    The New Covenant was not in effect until Jesus died. The birth of the church of Christ was the Day of Pentecost.

    Hebrews 9:15-17 For this reason He is the mediator of the new covenant, so that , since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of eternal inheritance. 16 For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. 17 For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who lives made it.

    The apostle Peter told all men how to be saved under the New Covenant. (Acts 2:22-41)

    NEW COVENANT TERMS FOR PARDON.

    FAITH: John 3:16
    REPENTANCE: Acts 2:38, Acts 3:19, Luke 24:47
    CONFESSION: Romans 10:9-10, Acts 8:37
    WATER BAPTISM: Acts 2:38, Mark 16:16, 1 Peter 3:20-21, Acts 22:16, Colossians 2:12-13, Titus 3:5, John 3:5, Galatians 3:27, Romans 6:3-7

    YOU ARE INVITED TO FOLLOW MY BLOG. http://steve-finnell.blogspot.com

  14. I’m not sure I agree with you on worship style. Why do we sing? Why not just do congregational readings? You know, those horribly grey-brown sounds of a tuneless recitation? Some churches do a little of that. I grew up in the Episcopal church, where we would recite the Apostles Creed or another. But we also sang.

    In my opinion, we sing because it has the power to engage us in expression and heart. Not always, of course. I’ve caught myself on auto-pilot actually sing wrong words (that flip the meaning of the phrase on its head). Very embarrassing (and convicting).

    And why is singing so powerful? I think its because it sounds good and we can join in that art. It’s as simple as that. If something doesn’t sound good (off-key, bad rhythm, bad timing) we are wrenched out of the singing dream and drama. Fail. Same goes for music that, although technically sound, is weak or off-putting. You know, those recent tunes that your worship director keeps singing that won’t be around in 2 years? You can trudge through singing to them, but you’re not liking it. You’re probably not worshipping.

    I recently led worship at my small church and we did an old hymn. The hymn is known by everyone with swing beat. At practice, our bassist starting playing it with a country beat. I loved it and so we changed it for Sunday morning. We played it well and I was really enjoying it until I looked out at the congregation. They tried to clap to it but couldn’t. They couldn’t reconcile the swing (in their memory) with the country beat. They weren’t singing. We were just performing. Fail.

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