Dear church, leaders, churchgoers and ministers,
I want to talk to all of you for a moment about church culture and the way the unchurched can view and navigate the world that is within. Before you start thinking I'm trying to bash the modern Western church, please hear me out. That is not my intention at all.
This is a plea for believers to wake up. I'm talking about the unspoken church code, though many refuse to discuss it. I am not trying to call anyone one church or person out. However, I am trying to let my observations be a way to bring people together.
Over the years, I have been in some really great fellowships. I have had the unique experience to build relationships where the people truly became my brothers and sisters in the Lord. How blessed it is that, no matter where I go on this earth, there are some folks I know from church that have stayed closer to me than family. I am truly honored to have them in my life, and for those brief glimmers of time, I saw what God truly meant for His church to act. We lived life together, rejoiced with each other and sought to inspire each other as we moved onward with God.
However, I have learned that what I experienced above was truly unique. For the most part, the rarity of those relationships that have formed in the past isn't the norm. What I've typically seen are a lot of surface relationships. They are relationships that start with an exciting greeting and then fade to a casual nod in the foyer.
These are the kinds of relationships that start to appear pretentious and weary. I'm not a person who changes churches often, but every time I have, I've come across the same thing. I get that it takes time for people to invite you into their circles. I also understand that there are many flakes within the kingdom, and many have been burned by them in the past.
I realize that it takes times to meld into the individual family. But sadly, the church tends to be the most cliquish place outside of high school. I've joined small groups, volunteered and ran departments in the hopes of things changing, but usually what ends up happening is close bonds are formed only to fade into the same surface relationships again. This hurts almost more than the cliques. The people you once thought you could look to as family now disappear into the masses. This is not an attempt to call anyone out, but merely an observation.
The Bible says, "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I have become as sounding brass or a clanging cymbal" (1 Cor. 13:1). I've seen a lot of people speak love, but their actions do not reflect it. It is self-seeking, with questionable motives or vague concern. What happened to genuine relationships?
I do not wish to sound jaded when it comes to the church. I'm not going to let a few issues here and there keep me out of the church. I am going to continue to move forward in the plans God has for me. However, something really upsets me about all of this.
If I feel this way yet refuse to leave a church over it, what do the immature believers do? How do the unchurched navigate the minefield that can be the internal pecking order of a ministry? These things might annoy me, but they could devastate someone who hasn't grown to expect it.
To take this one step further, how do they explain it to their children? I have to explain to mine that it will only take time or that they just need to find someone else to play with. But what do the immature believers do?
I'll tell you what they do. They leave offended, and all the while, the internal cliques will thumb their noses at them for giving up and being offended. While I agree they need to not get offended and leave, where is our responsibility in all of this? Where do we as individual members, leaders, ministers of the gospel accept responsibility for freezing out members of the body? It's so beyond sad that, as new members of the church, usually the ones that are the friendliest are those that are just trying to sell the newbie into their latest pyramid business.
Pastors, do not carry most of the fault here. You have enough on your plate with equipping the church for the work of God. This letter is addressed to the church members too.
That person you snub regularly may need a touch from God, and you ignoring them can do irreparable harm. That person beside you may just hold the connection that can help you with your own breakthrough.
I honestly think all of these churchisms are a reflection of the society in which we live. We've stopped valuing people. We run through our lives, thinking we're social because we have social media, and keep it all within. Jesus did not die on the cross so that we could stay perfectly content.
The church has done great with sharing the gospel, but we've done a poor job as a whole of the second half of the command. When Jesus said to "Go and make disciples of all nations," the Western church, for the most part, heard that. We like the going. We like to share the salvation, but we've forgotten the part where we "make disciples."
Making disciples requires a commitment. We've forgotten that once we catch the fish, and it comes into the four walls of a church building, that fish needs the body to take it in as one of their own. That fish needs unconditional love; that fish needs a church family. None of this happens without relationships with the pastors and the people. They need relationships with the family.
To the pastors of the churches, preach this from your pulpits. Refuse to allow your church be just one of the many who will shun the newbies. Remember to go out of your way to love your people. Those people are looking to you for guidance. They need you to speak into their lives and point the way to Jesus and their destinies. If you want your churches to grow, focus less on building a church and focus more on gathering the family of God.
I don't pretend to be so much better than others in this, or take on some "holier than thou" approach. I am merely an observer who is tired of the status quo. The body of Christ needs to stop staying so divided and needs to start acting like the family of God. Perhaps if we can learn to do that, then we will see our world changed.
Anna M. Aquino
Anna M. Aquino is a published author, guest minister and the online show host of "Real Solutions with Anna Aquino." Her books Cursing the Church or Helping It? and Confessions of a Ninja Mom are available wherever books are sold with An Ember in Time set to release this April. Check out her website at annamaquino.com.
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