Church Isn't A Pain Reliever

One of the more exciting transformations I've seen while serving in churches over the past twenty-five years is how the way people view church membership has changed. 

When I started serving in churches "back in the day," people didn't tend to do what is commonly known as "church shopping" all that much.  If you had a visitor come to your church, it was most likely because they were new to the area and wanted to find a new place of worship. 

But over the years, all that has changed.  People "shop" for churches regularly now; most of the time, you will never know they are doing it.  

A case in point is a family that recently joined the church where I serve as lead pastor. They found us online when they were living overseas during the pandemic.  

They knew they were moving to Austin and started looking for a church online.  As a result, they were ready to call our church home when they showed up in person.  

I think that's awesome, by the way. 

I have noticed, however, that there is a lot more movement from church to church, and that goes on now, much more than when I started working in ministry.  

Some of that movement is a by-product of our divided culture, to be sure.  And some of it can be attributed to the after-effects of the pandemic, which took a toll on church attendance and engagement. 

The church I serve suffered losses both during and after the pandemic.  Politics and worldview played a role in some of those losses, along with people moving, becoming disconnected, and the like. 

But we also have benefited from the church movement as new folks moved into our area, and many others began attending our church because they no longer felt at home on their own.  

Through all of this, however, I have had more than a few moments of reflection on how most of us view church and why our views might need to change.  

Recently, I read an excellent quote from author and sociologist Brene Brown, who reflected on her own church experience: 

I went to church thinking it would be an epidural, that it would take the pain away... But church isn't like an epidural; it's like a midwife... I thought faith would say, "I'll take away the pain and discomfort," but what it ended up saying was "I'll sit with you in it." 

This encapsulates what I think needs to change regarding how we view our church experience.  

Far too many of us have developed a consumer mentality regarding church.  We want what we want, and if we don't get what we want, we start looking elsewhere to get what we want. 

And what do we want?  

We want to feel good.  We want the church to act as an epidural and take away our pain.  But in reality, our church should be acting like a midwife---helping us learn to embrace our pain and work through it so that something new can be born. 

I'm not saying that we should stay within a community that is opposed to our theology and worldview, far from it. 

Sometimes, you outgrow a place. Your theology expands.  You find you can't abide by expressions of Christianity that exclude, marginalize, or deny the humanity of those they disagree with.  

But you're missing the point if you are merely looking for comfort and to hear exactly what you believe 100% of the time. 

Trying to find a church where you constantly hear exactly what you want to hear is no different than only watching one particular cable news channel or shaping your social media to become an echo chamber of your own ideas. 

I know. That sounds so foreign, right? Who would do that? [sarcasm alert]

The Church ought to be a midwife---helping you give birth to new expressions of faith and expanded interpretations of theology, Christian practices, and Scripture.  It's not an epidural.  

Likewise, Faith isn't a pain reliever. It doesn't take away our hurts and wounds but sit with us while we heal.  It gives us the strength to move forward, find new ground to stand and live more fully. 

May we all seek to find faith communities where we can be encouraged to grow and learn.  May we find comfort in the discomfort we might feel from time to time as we begin to understand that discomfort keeps us from becoming stagnant. 

And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us now and always. Amen.  

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