202. Church Grumps

I am a grouchy churchgoer.

Every Sunday morning, I find myself griping about something or other: the music, the sermon or some other aspect of church culture.

For example, it bothers me that churches in America spend tens of thousands of dollars on unnecessary, self-indulgent stuff when Christians in poorer countries can hardly afford to rent tiny buildings for church services. (My favorite church in the world met in a disused soccer stadium: pretty much the only building it could afford.)

Instead of building a church gymnasium which will be used twice a week for potlucks and basketball, why not build five new churches in Vietnam or support ten pastors for a year in Colombia or feed thousands of children in India? Come on, fancy churches! There’s a world out there, you know, and it needs food and Bibles a heck of a lot more than you need new carpets or stained glass windows!

See what I mean? There I go: ranting like a madman, shaking my fists and being a church grump.

I miss the old hymns. (Many of the newer songs are, um, strange.) The lack of emphasis on international problems like poverty and religious persecution frustrates me deeply, and I’m appalled at the haphazard way the Bible is taught. Don’t even get me started on short-term missions trips.

I’m not usually irritable, and I’m not sure why church makes me grouchy. During college, I grumbled about mandatory chapel services and tried to avoid mainstream church culture. For months I’ve found something to bother me every Sunday morning.

Then, a number of weeks ago, as I mumbled my way through yet another contemporary song that seemed very emotional and completely meaningless, I remembered something.

The Lord Jesus once told a pleasant little story about two men, one of whom showed definite signs of being a church grump.

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

All churches have problems. However, as I stand in self-righteous (and grumpy) judgment of these churches, I generally forget one all-important fact.

I have problems. I have a lot of problems.

As the Apostle Paul pointed out, “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.”

I have no right to be a church grump. Some of my complaints are legitimate, sure, but I don’t have much authority to make them. A man with a plank in each eye is hardly the chap to go pointing out specks in the eyes of others.

More to the point, being a church grump won’t help anybody.

Acknowledging my faults and trying to be humble seem like good ways to start. Then, perhaps, without shouting or shaking my fists, I can suggest how churches can be better.

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