The Blog of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

February 09, 2014

Ten Things I Hate About Church—and Why I Go Anyway

Why I go to church
By: 
Lisa Liou

This fall, I was sitting in the passenger seat of our family minivan while my husband cruised down the freeway on the fifteen-minute Sunday commute to church. It was hot—Los-Angeles-in-early-September hot—and I was tired and cranky. I began to list off to him all the things that were putting me in a bad mood that day—things that seriously annoy me about our church and about going to church in general.

1. Parking is an ordeal. Only newcomers and senior citizens can park in the actual church lot, so we have to find parking off campus and walk in. This adds at least ten minutes on each side of the process, sometimes requires walking in heels, and often results in me sweating in the hot sun with kids in tow.

2. Church gives me low blood sugar. I tend toward hypoglycemia, and no matter what time the service is, it always seems to cut into a mealtime.

3. Please don’t make me stand and “greet one another.” Small talk is an introvert’s worst nightmare.

4. I may or may not like the song choices today.

5. I hate going alone, but since I’m a pastor’s wife, many of my Sunday mornings are spent solo—either bringing the kids by myself or driving with my husband and then parting ways once we arrive.

6. Our church picnic is always on the hottest day of the year. I hate heat. And you have to bring your own food, so we’re really just eating packed lunches next to one another in the park on a hot day. Thanks, but I would rather save the trouble and sit at my air-conditioned dining table for lunch today.

Those are just the immature reasons I dislike church. I also have a set of serious disappointments that have happened and can happen at church.

7. Leaders let me down.

8. Sermons do not always challenge or interest me.

9. Sometimes I bring up something that I’m passionate or concerned about, and nothing changes.

10. Quite often I feel overlooked and misunderstood.

Even on the Grumpiest of Days

Not surprisingly, my list certainly did not make my husband feel like I was supporting him in his role as a pastor or helping to lead our family toward living out our commitment to the local church.

But, on your grumpiest days, don’t you have your own list? On your most sobering days, don’t you have your own disappointments? I bet you do.

So why do I go anyway?

On the surface, I go because I should, because I said I would, and because I want to model church attendance to my kids. But, if I can step outside my negativity and sense of drudgery, I remember that I go because I’m part of a family.

Awkward Family Dinners and the Ties That Bind

Choosing not to be involved in my local church would be like choosing not to go to Thanksgiving dinner.

In college, not going home for Thanksgiving was actually a little tempting, as the occasion was sometimes an awkward reentry into family life. When I had to explain my liberal arts degree or my decision to work for InterVarsity after finishing school, I often felt my business-oriented family members staring at me as if I had three eyeballs. Sometimes I felt judged.

But I still knew I came from these people and we belonged together. I realized that it’s not our similarities that bind us together. It’s the food and traditions we share, the people we love together, and the practice of coming together that speaks of our belonging.

And though I may not like everything being served at the dinner, I may not know what to chat about with distant relatives, and I certainly may prefer to sit at home in my pajamas and sleep off my aches and pains from the early morning Turkey Trot, there’s something good about being together.

The Goodness of Going—and Growing

This is why I go to church. It is because I am a part of my brothers and sisters in Christ and they are a part of me.

And when the sermon does not blow my mind, I am not missing a chance to grow, because my irritation at the person sitting two rows in front of me is just the right invitation to facilitate my growth and character building.

When I don’t feel like our church community is living up to our potential, I am challenged to offer my own gifts and humbled by remembering my own limitations. I’m also more aware of my need for prayer and partnership with others.

When my leaders fail me, it hurts, but it helps me pray that God would give them grace and wisdom to lead with courage in situations that put pressure on them and in the midst of demands that I cannot fully imagine.

The act of simply going to church pulls me out of my autonomous, self-centered orientation and reminds me that whether or not Sunday morning is a happy family moment, it is where I belong. 

Lisa Liou

Lisa Liou has served with InterVarsity on campuses in Michigan, Illinois, and California since 2002. In her current role, she serves as co–team leader of the InterVarsity Graduate and Faculty Ministries team in Southern California. 

Comments

I Love God, But I HATE Going To Church!So my family is catholic, and i go to a catholic school and yeah. Everytime my parents say, we are going to church tomorrow, i get really angry and i always start crying (not while they are there of course). I do everything i can to avoid it, like sleeping in really late, taking forever to get ready to go etc. I have told my mom i dont like going to church, and she says, 'Kamryn, you are 14, you dont choose the rules. For as long as you live in this house, you are coming to church' I just thing that going to church doesnt make you any more holy than standing in a garage makes you a car.
I understand! I think that's what I was trying to say--that there are lots of things about church that can be hard for us, sometimes for good reasons and sometimes simply because we are annoyed. As a parent, I understand your mom's stance. My hope would be that when you (and my own kids) are out on your own, you come to the conclusion I wrote about here. I don't go because I have to or because it's the only way to draw close to God. I go because I think it's part of God's plan for us to grow with the community of faith and not just on our own. I understand that it can be hard when your family goes and you are not connecting with what is happening there. In fact, my friends at Fuller's Youth Institute (a research group) are researching how churches can help young people like you find a lasting faith through a sense of belonging in the church. They are finding that it's important for students to connect across the generations and experience relationships at church that go beyond your own family, especially mentors. This makes a lot of sense to me because parents and teens often have tricky relationships. Blessings, Lisa
I go to church to worship God in the company of his people. I go to be shaped by the practices of worship (liturgy, lectionary, eucharist, etc). I don't go primarily "for me" but to enter in God's presence to worship him in ways I just can't on my own. Btw, we never "invite Jesus" or the Spirit into our meeting; God invites us into worship. In the presence of worship (if we are able to "forget ourselves" for a bit) we are indeed changed. We need constantly to be reminded that it's not all about us. It's when we can stop thinking "it's all about me" (e.g. see the "10 things" list) that we are changed by the One whom we gather to worship. Do things at church bug me. Yes, sometimes. (Does my presence bug others? I'm sure Yes, sometimes.) But then those are just further reasons to be there--to let go of "me" in newer ways. Corporate worship changes us because of Whom we worship. I would just add my comments after the final sentence of Lisa's piece. Remembering we are part of a family helps in part to change our self-centered orientation, but more so is that we are in the presence of our King, the King. And there is a goodness in that.
Thanks for your comments. It is certainly true that there is goodness in the presence of the King.
Thanks for your response! I also began my InterVarsity experience in Michigan where there continues to be a strong participation in the local church. I am so very thankful for that. I do agree that as a missionary arm of the church we need to be clear with our students and faculty that we aren't the church, we love the church, and that we encourage life-long participation in the church. It discourages me when IV alumni have trouble finding churches after college because they compare everything to a campus ministry experience. We need to find more ways to help students be in church in college and beyond, making that transition well. You'll be happy to know that the IV blogging team has a stated value to "love the church well" on our blog. We recognize how this could be a weakness with a para-church ministry and we want to demonstrate our partnership and participation in the church.
Lisa, I appreciate the sentiment. Someone posted on our Link'd in IV ALum page about a weakness in IV on teaching about the church. I challenged him there saying at least in Michigan where I was on staff, students all were encouraged to participate in a local body, and we taught about the Eucharist, and baptism. We published books on the church. See Clowney's work. Reading your post took me back to his issue. Quite simply, in the words of John Alexander, "Disarming Secular Gods," 'We can't go to something we are.' I think this is at the heart of what you wanted to say, "We are something -- we are the body of Christ -- We gather with the body because it is the only way we can demonstrate his love for us and all his creation. We do need a stronger Ecclesiology in IV. Church isn't an add on. We are always a part of it, even like we are always a part of our own families. How we choose to relate to our Christian family is the question.
Thanks for this reply. I accidentally just posted a comment in response instead of a reply, so please check the comment section. Blessings! Lisa

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