On days when I’m sitting in my real church and feel frustrated by something, I sometimes daydream about my ideal church. I dream about a church I would always be proud and never embarrassed to call home; a church so amazing that any non-Christian who visited would never want to leave.
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.
Instead of celebrating the fact that Christianity has contributed good things to the world for two thousand years, the increasingly unpopular church feels the need to talk only about the bad things she has done. Rather than drawing from her rich heritage of time-tested tradition, today’s church chooses to adopt last week’s fashion so as to be relevant again.
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.
It was a Tuesday morning in July when I sat down in President Corey's office and told him the news that I had accepted a new job and would no longer be working at Biola University. With tears in my eyes I told him how hard it was for me to leave. I'd worked at Biola for nine years and met my wife Kira here. I loved my job working in the Office of the President. I was not looking to leave.
Do you remember the old food pyramid that shows how a healthy body depends on a balanced diet, with the right proportions of food groups and nutrition vs. junk foods? In our current epistemological crisis, where we are bombarded by a glut of content and information but have so little wisdom, we need guidance on healthier habits of knowledge intake. We need a wisdom pyramid.
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.
If we always approach church through the lens of wishing this or that were different, or longing for a church that “gets me” or “meets me where I’m at,” we’ll never commit anywhere (or, Protestants that we are, we’ll just start our own church). But church shouldn’t be about being perfectly understood and met in our comfort zone; it should be about understanding God more, and meeting him where he’s at.
I used to think people who raised their hands in worship were weird. I grew up in Baptist churches in the Midwest, where the two or three people who occasionally raised their hands while singing a hymn or worship song were looked upon with some suspicion.But a few years ago when I started to attend a Reformed Charismatic church in Southern California, things started to change.
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.