I wouldn’t like to count up the hours of my life I’ve spent in church. I’ve got a dad who is a curate. I’ve worked at a church for a year. I’ve been going (almost) every Sunday morning since I was but a few days old, and a lot of Sunday evenings too. Add in home groups, prayer meetings, Bible studies, youth groups, carol services, camps and music practices, and that’s a lot of time spent with gatherings of Christians in the last 22 years. I’ve really put the hours in. So I hope you’ll indulge me if I let off some steam for a minute about why I don’t like church. And when I say church, I don’t mean the building – I don’t have much problem with pews or beanbags, most church buildings have their quirks, and I’m generally a fan. No, what annoys me about church is the people in it, particularly when they all get together. So really, here are 5 reasons I don’t like Christians.
1. Christians are far too enthusiastic.
The enthusiastic types are probably the first ones you think of when I say ‘annoying Christians’. They literally love every passage of the Bible, and don’t seem to get that some of it is confusing and difficult to swallow. Every service is great, every prayer meeting is exciting, and they’ve always got time to do the washing up afterwards. They drive me crazy because they don’t live in the real world, they don’t seem to get any of the complexities that normal people face. When I’ve had a tough week, they’re the last people I want to see.
2. Christians are really “spiritual”.
These are the people who can’t help but throw their hands in the air as soon as they hear the first chord of a song. As soon as they shut their eyes, and starting swaying or praying out-loud through the instrumentals, I can’t help but think it’s all a big attention seeking act. When we’re just chatting about life and they offer me a Bible verse or want to pray about my essay crisis, I want to scream “can’t you just interact like a normal person?!”
3. Christians do stuff badly.
The PowerPoint never shows the right song words at the right time. The person praying for other countries manages to get all their facts wrong. The preacher talks forever about nothing. Or some bright spark thought it would be a good idea to get the youth group to lead the service, and it’s all even worse than usual.
4. Christians are nosey about my life.
I don’t know whether it’s worse when they interrogate me outright about the bad things I might have got up to recently, or couch it in terms of prayer and pastoral concern. Either way, it annoys me that being part of the same church as someone, or just both being Christians, means they think they have a right to know about every detail of my life. Granted, I’m not a particularly private person (to the friends who just laughed, I know that’s an understatement!) but still, it’s polite to let me decide when I want to involve someone in the various dramas of my life, and I’ll do so when I don’t think they’re going to be judgemental.
5. Christians want to make me participate.
Potentially the worst part of going to a gathering of Christians. It’s not having to pray, it’s having to pray together. Having someone come over and lay their hand on my shoulder and ‘bless what the Lord is doing’ when I want to be left alone, is the most irritating thing. There’s forced participation in small group discussion, or even just having to make small talk with the person next to you before or after services. In more radical churches, they also make you do this in the middle of the service. What is with that?!
I know. I know. I sound cynical, grumpy, and arrogant. Perhaps you read that and gave me the benefit of the doubt, assumed I was wildly exaggerating to make a point. I wish that were true, but no, those are all genuinely things I think and feel about Christians on an occasional (read: regular) basis. You have permission to like me a lot less.
But the reason I sound cynical, grumpy and arrogant is in fact because I am. Or at least, I can be. Reading my list, you’ll notice that the reasons I don’t like church are actually not a lot to do with the people there. The reasons are in fact my own intolerance, my own impatience, and whatever other ugly character traits are currently rearing their heads.
I can’t escape the simple fact, though, that God loves the church. Sometimes I wonder if he’s been at the same services or in the same conversations as me when I hear that, but I know deep down it’s true. Christ absolutely loves the church as his house, his body, his bride. However much I might struggle to like other Christians sometimes, there have got to be good reasons why he thinks its a good idea for us all to get together and share our lives as family. It’s because of those reasons, when I see them clearly at work, that I can love the church too.
Those enthusiastic people, for instance, are not actually people who don’t live in the real world. More often than not, they’re people with their own heartbreak, dilemmas and pressures to face on a daily basis, yet who also know the God who gives them hope in those situations. Many of those people who can annoy me the most when I’m being grumpy, are the people I admire the most, because of their determination not to let their circumstances hamper their joy, or crush their determination to love and serve God.
Those super-spiritual types, well sure, they’re pretty different from me. But when I finally put my arrogance aside, I remember that that doesn’t make them worse than me! I know God made our different personalities deliberately, and that it’s a good thing that we express that in different styles of worship. I’m most reminded of this and humbled by it in those moments when the hand on my shoulder and the offer of prayer has been exactly what I’ve needed, and through those people God has melted away my cynicism and met with me, so much so that I don’t even cross my arms for the rest of a service. Miracles do happen.
It’s when Christians do stuff badly that I can sometimes see why God is such a fan of the church. It’s the way I’ve been treated when I’ve been pretty rubbish at something. The first time I tried to speak in a church service, I got half way through my talk and had a coughing fit. I couldn’t stop, and it only got worse. I’d splutter through another sentence or two and then gulp down another glass of water. I was amazed that the congregation were so patient with me. It should have been incredibly awkward, but everyone in that room was totally on my side. One lovely older lady comforted me afterwards , saying “the devil must have been really scared of what you had to say, that he was so determined to stop you.” Church is where we have permission to perform imperfectly, and be totally loved and supported anyway.
Much as I dislike feeling like I’m having my life and my space invaded and scrutinised, it’s the sharing of each other’s lives that God really uses to humble me too. Of course, we could all get better at being less judgemental. But in genuine friendships, often forged through that awkward small talk that comes first, I’ve had permission to be real with people at church, and had the privilege of sharing in the complexities of other people’s lives. At the risk of being incredibly cheesy, it’s those relationships that mean we can really call each other family.
So, I’ll admit it. I dislike church sometimes. I dislike Christians because of my pride, my propensity to think I’m better than everyone else, and my impatience with people are not like me. But I love the church because through it, God shows me I’m loved anyway. He humbles me and meets with me and changes me, and he teaches me, ever so slowly, to love his people too.
(If you’re the praying type, please pray he’d do it a little bit quicker.)