10 Churches, 10 Uncomfortable Challenges

In preparation for writing Uncomfortable I wanted to get a sense for what proves most uncomfortable about Christianity in real churches today. I emailed a number of pastors from around the world and asked them about what aspects of Christianity or church life proved to be especially uncomfortable, challenging or offensive in their particular congregations and contexts. Here are 10 of the responses I received:


Rev’d Blake Schwendimann (St. Matthew’s Church, Newport Beach, Calif.): “We preach on [tithing] a lot, and it’s a measurement for leadership at any level at St. Matt’s. We’re not checking people’s tax returns, but if someone isn’t a regular giver (and I’m not talking $10 a month club) they can’t lead. Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

The Bible Challenges Both Republicans and Democrats

Scott Sauls (Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tenn.): “The more conservative you are in your theology, that is, the more you base your definition and practice of truth on Scripture and the life and teaching of Jesus alone, the more liberal you will become in your loving. Elevating women to equal status as men, looking at the refugee and the foreigner as part of ‘us’ versus ‘them,’ giving special attention to the poor, wanting to learn from instead of dismiss other cultures and races, etc. This teaching is particularly uncomfortable for those who identify as conservative politically, because it forces them to wrestle with the fact that neither Jesus’ kingdom, nor his social values, line up with conservative politics. The same could be said of those who identify as liberal politically.”

Christianity’s Narrowness

Rick Martinez (Capital City Church, Sacramento, Calif): “When we preach the true gospel it offends people because it runs against the idol of American ‘inclusiveness’ and the idol of individual self-expression. Increasingly the churches in our community are ‘broadening’ their message…so as not to offend.”

Being Called Sinners

Vic Stander (City Gates Church, Toronto, Canada): “Canadians are nice, kind, generous, etc. and take a lot of pride in having this reputation. Being told that they are in fact sinful to the core is pretty repugnant.”

Christianity’s Sexual Ethics

Andrew Haslam (Grace London, London, UK): “The most offensive aspect of Christianity in London would most likely be the orthodox stance on sex and sexuality, and all the associated issues of gender, gay marriage, sexual orientation, and so on… If you hold to a traditional or orthodox stance and you let that slip, it is not unusual for very strong language to be used against you. And so, for many of us who want to speak winsomely but without compromise (whether from the pulpit or in one-to-one conversation) it is hard to communicate an undiluted gospel because there is always the temptation to whitewash the Biblical view of sin on these issues. Even to associate the word ‘sin’ with sexuality is to incur a lot of anger.”

Racial Tension and Cultural Difference

Ryan TerMorshuizen (Common Ground Church, Cape Town, South Africa): “Generally there is a desire in most Christians to break down the past walls of division and move forward in a more appropriate and inclusive way of relating. But then there are so many sensitivities and areas of unresolved pain from our past that lay just below the surface, that it often seems so uncomfortable that many disembark from the journey of trying.”

Loving and Serving the Poor

Tyler Braun (New Harvest Church, Salem, Ore.): “Our context in Salem is being right on the main highway I-5, where plenty of transient and homeless people pass by. Beyond that we are next to the poorest elementary school in the city. Our church has emphasized celebrating that, making loving the unlovable a main part of our focus. But it's not easy. Even us on staff struggle with navigating how to love and care for a homeless person who asks for money and food for the 3rd day in a row. And as it relates to church ministries, people worry about their safety and such when it comes to homeless people. As it relates to our poorer neighbors, how much do we meet their earthly need while still emphasizing the greater spiritual need they have. While we recognize the important biblical call to care for the overlooked and devalued in our society, our church as a whole I would say finds it difficult to navigate.”


Jason Bohm (Christ Community, Urbana, Illinois): “One simple, uncomfortable thing that our church struggles with is getting to church on time. I think this suggests we come to church, and in turn to God, on our terms, not his. Many things enjoy a higher punctuality rate than church: sporting events, concerts, dates, work, class, doctor’s appointments, flights. Employers, airlines, professors, can be such legalists when it comes to starting on time. Of course, we find their demands upon our time necessary. I wish the same were true for church.”

Prioritizing Discipleship of Children Ahead of Their Success

Steve Chang (Living Hope Community Church, Brea, Calif.): “People in our community love their children and want to maximize their children’s opportunities for success. If the church helps accomplish that, then great. But if we ask them to do things, or ask their kids to do things that may challenge their children’s opportunities for success in the world, that is uncomfortable. For example, we would send kids on mission trips to China in the summer, and I remember one parent saying that their high school junior shouldn’t be going to China; they should be studying for the SAT. I would like to say, ‘what if because they went to China they don’t get accepted to Stanford? What if that happens? Isn’t that what following Christ is? Because if it isn’t, then we are teaching our children a value system that places success ahead of the gospel.”


Ben Whittaker (Coastlands Church, Adelaide, Australia): “Our local church history is littered with the struggle, strain and divisions caused by an inability to accept the need for continuity of change and adjustment both personally and corporately in light of a never changing God.  Everyone loves to be the one that is embracing change well. No one likes to be told to change or that change is necessary. For us at Coastlands, after two decades of being what would be termed a ‘successful, vibrant, growing church’ we have experienced in the last five years the challenges that result from ‘success,’ becoming comfortable and unable to change or unable to continue to change in the way God intends. In the early years of a church change is at the forefront of culture and is part of the excitement and electricity as people pursue all God has. As the church becomes established it is easy for personalities, systems and even finances to no longer have the raw and complete reliance on God they once did in formative years.”