It may not sound exciting. It may seem too predictable and institutional and bourgeois. It’s certainly not going to be comfortable. But showing up at church week after week, and giving oneself to the building up of the body, is a revolutionary act of mission.
I wrote Uncomfortable to remind Christians of this: that in spite of the awkwardness, the challenges and the discomfort of local church life, it is worth it. The discomfort of it is how we grow, as we lean not on ourselves but on the Holy Spirit at work within us, supernaturally doing things in and through churches that by all fleshly accounts should not and could not happen.
One of the assumptions of my new book Uncomfortable is that church is hard.Discomfort, frustration and pain are inevitable. But another assumption of Uncomfortable is that these are not necessarily reasons we should leave a church. On the contrary, I argue in the book that discomfort in church community is actually a huge part of how we grow.
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.
The reality of God’s family is that people have different backgrounds and personalities and opinions. They will clash. It will be messy. It’s a huge challenge committing to a family like this, but it is not optional. We must lean into and embrace the awkward conglomeration of people who comprise the church.
In Uncomfortable I discuss a whole range of uncomfortable aspects of following Jesus and committing to a local church. As painful as it is to rehash the warts of the church and as much as it makes me cringe to think of it all, it also fills me with joy. For it is on account of the uncomfortable, the awkward, the difficult and the challenging that I have grown.
I've been thinking a lot about the Lord's Supper recently, and why I find it increasingly crucial and comforting amidst the manifold discomforts of 21st century life. It has struck me that the Lord's Supper is a bit like time-travel. The weekly eucharistic ritual, enacted by millions of Christians every Sunday, transports us simultaneously to the past, present and future. And each of these modes is beautiful and nourishing.
Taylor's observations suggest that by perpetuating the "seeker/consumer" paradigms of expressive individualism, today's churches are setting the stage for their own spiritual demise. When churchgoing becomes mostly about a person finding the church that best supports their own subjective "spiritual path," it will eventually become an impossible task, more frustrating and draining than it's worth.
I'm thrilled to announce that on September 30, 2017, I will release my third book: Uncomfortable: The Awkward and Essential Challenge of Christian Community. Crossway is publishing the book, and the wonderful Russell Moore (!) has kindly written a foreword. I'll be sharing a lot about Uncomfortable in coming months, but here's a bit about it to give you a sense for the general concept...
I woke up on the first day of 2017 in Rome, the "Eternal City," feeling the weight of a world where even the most enduring things are laughably far from "eternal." I was in Rome on a trip with Kira and six young adults from our church. It was a trip we designed around early church history. For six days we led our group to the many sacred Christian sites of Rome: the prison where Peter and Paul were held captive; the churches where Peter and Paul are buried; the early Christian catacombs; the Vatican; churches from the 4th century; churches on top of older churches on top pagan temples.
The following 21 challenges are in no particular order and are by no means exhaustive, and they are largely (but not exclusively) reflective of an American evangelical context. I also should note that each of them represents not only a challenge but also an opportunity. The church has historically thrived when she is tested rather than comfortable.
We need more journalistic reporting like "Spotlight," Tom McCarthy’s excellent film about the Boston Globe’s groundbreaking 2002 coverage of systemic clergy sex abuse and cover-ups within the Catholic Church. We need it because humans are very prone to doing bad things and really, really good at covering up those bad things. Someone needs to shine the spotlight on darkness, even if it means implicating ourselves too.
At this week’s “Future of the Church” discussion at Biola University (well worth watching online in its entirety here), the brilliant Fred Sanders ended his prepared remarks by suggesting that it may be up to the “children of evangelicalism” to make progress in the dialogue of unity/ecumenism. Such a project is perennially attempted but always met with the same pesky roadblocks (the “essentials versus non-essentials” conversation being unavoidably amorphous, given the decentralized DNA of Protestantism).
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.
There's no getting around the fact that we're all broken. Every last one of us. Hurting, insecure, awkward, prideful. Ruined by illness, ravaged by divorce, raging against the self and the system. It's true: we are fallen. We are screw-ups, messy and wayward. To know thyself--or to know anyone--is to see that this is true. No one is righteous; no not one.
Though Christianity looks at times to be more fractured than ever these days, with all sorts of big and small things causing great discord in the church, this is only half the story. There are also a good number of things bringing Christians together in the positive direction of unity. Below are 6 things that I see as potential unifiers in the current trajectory of the church.