The Evangelical Church: By Her Stripes We Are Killed

Invariably, upon meeting another veteran of twenty-five years or more in the evangelical church, I say empathetically, “Let’s pull up our shirts in back and compare stripes.” Sad but true.

I once heard the late great African-American pastor Dr. Fred G. Sampson say, “The church is the only organization that shoots her wounded.”

Several of us have jokingly (sort of) termed a local fast-growing Anglican church the “evangelical rehab center.” It’s no coincidence that the rector is also a licensed therapist. It also makes a lot of biblical sense that the centerpiece and climax of the liturgical service is Christ and his table—not a charismatic (and fallible) human being.

Before you jump to the defensive, hear me out.

Most (not all, but most) evangelical churches value:

* Measurement not Mystery

* Monologue not Dialogue

* Cloning not Originality

* Predictability not Spontaneity

* Heirarchy not Heterarchy

* Alpha Males not Gender Equality

* Control not Freedom

* Policies not Creativity

* Science not Art

* Groups not Individuals

* Instant Gratification not A Redemptive Hermeneutic

* Literalism not Symbolism

* Discourse not Communion

No wonder there are problems with burnout, disillusionment and judgment. Artists in particular tend to feel unwelcome in a church that values what is said at the expense of all else. A church that values monologue gives no opportunity for checks and balances. It creates a bully pulpit even for those pastors who are not bullies. There is no opportunity for dialogue.

For example, this quote by a popular young evangelical pastor from Texas, “Give Grace to the Grace Killers.” When I am handed this quote in a monologue, there is no opportunity to address the myriad red flags it raises in this fifty plus-year-old veteran of evangelicalism. I can only feel the scars on my back ache, listen to my heart pound in my ears, shake my head in disappointment and shuffle my feet as I exit anonymously amid the throngs of people.

If offered the opportunity for dialogue, I would like to say, although the quote sounds righteous and holy on the surface, when subjected to collaborative thought and context, it may not stand up as wisdom or even as truth.

Christ is the only one man enough to give grace to the grace killers. It’s called the incarnation.

A human man who gives grace to grace killers could well be called a coward. For example, if I am walking the streets of Nashville, and I see someone about to be murdered, I would be a coward if at that moment I extend grace to the killer. In this example, I’m talking only about a physical death.

Then why would I sit back and extend grace to a grace killer who is killing someone by spiritual death.

Which is more damaging? A physical murder or a spiritual murder.

The Reason For This Post

At the conclusion of my book Sex, Lies & Religion, I wrote this. (I have paraphrased it slightly for this post).

I hope this post will start conversations. We Americans generally stink at controversial discussions and the subject of the evangelical church is more than worthy of honest and open debate. Religion is at the heart of almost everything we do as human beings, and if it truly is the essence of existence, then it bears thoughtful and loving consideration among those of us who call ourselves spiritual.

Some people will undoubtedly find portions of this post shocking. Others will think it is tame. It is in no way intended to be a theological treatise. My wish is that it will cause all of us to examine closely our personal longings, our churches, our relationships and our sufferings. Perhaps it’s time to utilize the Bible as our church manual. And for those aspects where it is silent, we should then depend on an open dialogue with those we trust. My candid conversations with artists I mentor, my own suffering, and the inordinate amount of dysfunction in our churches provide me the incentive to write this post. I watch as throngs leave the evangelical church because of disillusionment, burnout and heartbreak.

Throughout my life, I have seen the church provide judgment instead of grace in almost every situation.

I can’t help but think that if the church really believed our misplaced religious longings were an indication of a desperate search for God and the original experiences of the Bible, many of us would find redemption instead of condemnation.

If you get nothing else from this post, know that it is about redemption. I suppose you could even say it is controversially redemptive. I have realized through the years that it takes shaking up the status quo to get anything accomplished. So be it.

Respectfully, from someone who bears the stripes of grace killers…and thankfully has lived to write about it.

What do you think?

51 Responses to “The Evangelical Church: By Her Stripes We Are Killed”

  1. Randy, could not agree more. Being 24 years old I definitely do not have a back full of scars, but I have some scars. What is even scarier is that my 16 year old sister is experiencing the same thing and leads her to write post like this:

    I was quickly reminded of a comment she got from her post that basically told her that it was not the churches fault that she felt betrayed and hurt. And the kicker to the comment was when the lady told her that our number 1 job is to love God unconditionally. Which makes no sense, seeing how God is perfect and loving unconditionally is reserved for sinners. Not to mention our inability to do this. But I digress.

    This post stirs up a lost of emotions for me. I am glad that you are starting this healthy dialogue with this post and previous things you have talked about. I think post like this can be a breathe of fresh air to the ones that have had their world flipped upside down in the name of working at a church.

    • @Kyle Reed, Just read your sister’s post. Agh! So sad. so sorry. I wish that I could apologize for that church—but I know it would not do any good.

      Thanks, Kyle, that you see I’m desiring a healthy dialogue.

  2. You hit one of my hot buttons. I worked at a successful evangelical mega church for 5 years. It ended because I didn’t dress like those they wanted to attract (ex. Drs, lawyers and business people….the ones with the money). My husband and my tithing was tracked and we were told what we would tithe. It will be a year at the end of September that I have resigned. It’s been a year of being angry at the way I, and my friends on staff were treated. Sadness that I lost my friends when I resigned because it was much of a members only club. But overall it’s been a good, free and healing year. I feel comfortable being me and am significantly happier (my husband says nicer too).

    Thanks for stirring up the conversation.

    • @Lynse Leanne, Agh! Again, I wish I could apologize for your church, but it wouldn’t do any good. I love your sentence: “I feel comfortable being me and am significantly happier (my husband says nicer too).”

      I can echo that!

  3. Friend, you have no idea how I needed to read this. Hard to come up with something intelligible right now.

  4. Randy, you continue to amaze me. i know that had to be a hard post to write. i can say that one of the most holy moments of my life was sharing Eucharist with Ian Cron and the rest of the recreate family. i’ve held close to my heart the quote that you shared with me 5 years ago from “A Boys Life” about having the magic combed, spanked and churched out of us. and the bullet list you just posted broke my heart.

    a quote by e.e. cummings comes to my mind, “nothing measurable matters”

    this is what i rail and fight against every day, yet in the mechanism i eventually resign. i don’t know how to make these things right. i love the church. i want to see people in the evangelical churches love and know a deep, deep sense of God. i also love to sing and shout anthemic songs at the top of my lungs. i love lighting and film and set design. i want people to worship Christ, not me or the music that we play.

    how do we do this? how can we change and still be relevant to what God has called us to be?

    thanks for writing.

    • @Chuck Harris, By having conversations like this. I truly believe that we have been duped into thinking that a disagreement is disloyalty to the church. I’m glad God is bigger than us.

      We must debate, dialogue and disagree agreeably. We must.

  5. Randy, your words are profound to me spoken to one who has been in ministry most of my life and who now is asking these questions, fully. Fear is what keeps our church leaders in the evangelical world from letting go and seeing God do His work in their midst–control rather than empowerment and celebrity rather than servanthood! As you know, I exited a church recently. My prayer is that as I find God’s next step for me I might be just one more who can speak gently, boldly and healthily into this conversation with you. It must happen. Bless you!

  6. I’m speechless. This resonates. Wow. (You need one of those Face Book “Like” buttons on here, cause I “Like”.)

  7. I find myself torn. I’ve attended so many different kinds of churches over my 32 years that I don’t know what category they all fit. I know there have been some that resonated with me in ways that others never could, that God used certain bodies of believers to speak to me where I was regardless of the sort of church I attended, while others never struck a chord in me, or left me cold, or wounded.

    For instance, my mother has attended churches associated with Rhema and the pentacostal movement and the doctrine of health and wealth. I’ve attended non-denominational/interdenominational churches that I don’t remember being so… shallow, tactless, or hurtful… but I’ve never attended any other sort of church that reached the levels of thick-headed stubbornness that were as painful as I did in those health-and-wealth churches. (For the record, even if they don’t preach the wealth side, the health side is hurtful and painful enough).

    On the other hand, growing up with Catholic family, I’ve been to Mass all my life, and to sit and follow the program of genuflecting and kneeling and reading and bowing and singing and praying all at prescribed times from a book that the Church can publish from Rome months in advance and you know any church is following the same program… that felt forced and false to me. I felt that it left no room for grace to be poured out to individual believers in a congregation when they needed it. It reminds me of a Methodist preacher I’ve encountered, who does the prescribed scripture reading, and then does the sermon over whatever he pleases, without any reference to scripture, or any attempt to tie it back to the carefully scripted program that was handed down from above… and doesn’t always get his information right (sanctification isn’t God’s provision for our needs. It’s God taking our imperfect, unholy self, and purifying, refining us, to make us fit for heaven. Granted, God is providing a need there, but that’s not the focus).

    But even in these churches where I feel that the Word of God is preached, where I feel I connect to the Living, Breathing, Lover of my Soul, I still encounter people in leadership positions who are bound by fear and tradition, and I find that I’d rather not be involved than to fight a battle that shouldn’t be an issue. I feel like if we can just outlast the old guard, and speak truth to those coming up behind them, then maybe we can trust that God will work despite their fears and failures. Yet, I feel like I’m cheating myself and others of my time and talents because I won’t put them to use within the constraints I have in the body I’m in… but I dislike many of my other options.

    So I guess I’m with you, Randy, in asking what we do about it? How do we as the Body of Christ strike the balance between the Unity that He so desperately wanted for us, and the boldness to act and be the Royal Priesthood we are called to be, going into all the world to love our brothers and sisters to Him?

    • @Heather, Wow! Thanks, Heather. It must start with conversations like this. And progress to true New Testament communities that love and care for each other, while holding the foundational truths high, but in all else giving grace. Maybe, that is a start.

      I firmly believe what I’m experiencing here in our neighborhood (our campus) is a good start.

      Your post so resonates with me in so many ways…thanks.

  8. I feel your pain form my own past experiences. I have found in must cases that Grace Killers are product of their environment, most Grace Killers have not experience the full grace that Christ can give. Non-creatives have also had some stripes laid on their backs. At times I have been a grace killer and if your true to yourself, you have been a grace killer also, we being human it will happen. We all should be Grace Builders and even God forbid show grace to the grace killers. This quote says it all “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”

    Peace Bro.

    • @Ted A, Yes, I have been. And probably will be again. But I hope, as in my past, there will always be heroes of the faith who will courageously stand up to me when I err. Not “religiously correct” people.

      • I am no hero and no means was I trying to correct you, I will if granted permission too.

        I rather have a few stripes the be a Martyrs for Creative Arts. There is topic for your next post.

  9. I loved this post. I am in the exact same boat. I attempted to find some people who felt bitterness toward the church or something like that but when I talked about it on my blog I was brutally criticized. Why is it that we get so caught up in the physical sometimes that we completely miss the people? I have open wounds from the church not really that many scars. These wounds are full of anger and hate. Trying to recover is a constant battle every day. I can’t help but wonder if I should distance myself from the church that hurt me? Will it help with my healing? Yey more questions that I have no idea what the answer is. I love those.
    Anyways thanks for being so bold. It really encouraged me that I am not alone even when people try to make me feel like I am.

    • @Kamrie, Yes, one of the benefits of getting older is that the open wounds turn to scars. There is something to be said about that old adage “time heals.”

      My two girls have also experienced open wounds from the church.

      i keep going back to the quote by Cyril of Jerusalem “The church is a whore, but she’s still my mother.”

      My problem, I don’t know about yours, comes when I equate the church with God.

      The church is made up of fallible humans like me and you.

      But God, on the other hand, is God. And he loves me unconditionally.

      For so long, I thought (and was taught) God and the Church were one and the same. But they are absolutely NOT.

      thanks for your courage, Kamrie.

      • @Randy, I loved the quote. It is funny because recently i just wrote something about this on my blog about the church being exactly like Gomar. Also you are exactly right. I have been taught that the church is really close to God as well. It would probably be wise to try not to compare them all of the time to God or the Bible for that matter!

  10. It was once said of Woody Guthrie – ‘Any damn fool can be complicated. It takes a genius to be simple’. Randy, these simple words are genius. Restores my faith to know there are ‘others’. Thank you.

  11. 1. I love this. I get it. trust me I get it — I could do this Jewish mother bit that would have you laughing but it doesn’t translate well on paper.

    On another note though, the whole body is hurting from the Evangelical or Charistmatic to the Liturgical – whether their liturgy be so called progressive or ancient in mass. I could tell you stories – but not here.

    So what do we as individuals do? I mean we can’t change them, but we can begin with ourselves right? and then maybe within our own tribes and expand out from there can’t we? I don’t have any real answers because I myself have backed down from fights where I should have stood and I’ve slashed throats when I should have offered grace.

    Interesting timing on this piece. Chuck Swindoll is doing a teaching on Romans and I just listened to him talk about chapter 14 — Shut up already;who are you? the Holy Ghost Jr? Let us not tear eachother down over molehills but rather build eachother up and keep your eyes on your own sidewalk as you are prone enough to fall w/o pointing fingers — that’s the Deana paraphrase. Oh to live that would be wonderful. And yet we don’t — we have needless burdens placed on us by various organizations, we burden others, and on and so forth.

    You aren’t alone — and you have a very very deeply empathic heart — seeing other people hurt makes you look like you are in physical pain — I know because I’ve seen that. So what do we as a body do? We’re all wounded healers so to speak — how can our wounds point someone else to Christ? Maybe it’s talking about it like you are doing now.

    I’m rambling — tend to do that when I don’t have clear cut answers == I really like this piece.

    • @Deana O’Hara, I love this quote, Deana, “So what do we as individuals do? I mean we can’t change them, but we can begin with ourselves right? and then maybe within our own tribes and expand out from there can’t we?”

      That is quite a mouthful.

      • @Randy Elrod, Oh good you found something out of that that made sense. smile — I logged on this am to unpack my thoughts a little bit. I had gotten into a rather heated arguement with an uzi carrying pharasee this past week and my mind is still stuck in this traffic kluge — it’s running much more quickly than I can communicate. I’ll personalize this w/o being too private — my scars run deep, that’s a given and while in the past I may have used them as an excuse to slay dragons I now know that I’m responsible for how I respond to my old wounds. Having said that – the church is badly fractured. We have in our own synod (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod) and strong faction of pastors who have been deeply wounded by the modern day evangelical church.They found refuge in LCMS, tasted liturgy and found peace. The problem is they surmized that if a little is so good than a lot must be better. They’ve formed an orthodox alliance and have taken it so far that they attack anything that hints of evangelical, have removed the altar guild and most of women’s roles. They formed a protest against our National Youth Gathering in New Orleans and started their own youth event which is pure Orthodox. They have even publically proclaimed that Evangelists, like Jeff and myself are to the Lutheran church as the Qur’an burner is to Christianity. Major Ouch. the fact that I did not slice this pastor’s throat is a testiment to God’s work in my life. I tend to be more bold than gentle when personal scars are struck.

        Our group is choosing to lead by quiet example. Personally, I continue to teach women Precepts (Kay Arthur) in my home, and I’m on an educational path that will culminate in my having a Masters in Theology. I’ll be 50ish before I finish, but so what. This is our tribe — we find our circle of influence and trust that what ever ripple we leave in this pond, God will expand that impact. I lead women – and will continue to take them to things like Women of Faith or Beth Moore events. I teach them how to discern the word for themselves and trust in the empowering work of the Holy Spirit.That’s all I can do.

        I’m learning to use the Word of God as a shield more than a sword when dealing with those who want to rob me of my peace of mind. At least for now. What I hope I never do Randy is twist it into a wall that divides. LCMS is not ecumenical, but I am and I pray I continue to be so even in the face of those who want to rob me of that joy. In Christ Alone –

        I hope that made more sense. ‘-D

  12. To answer your question, Randy, I would say the spiritual murder. Speaking as someone who’s been killed multiple times by multiple churches over the years, physical murder would have been a relief. At least the pain of betrayal, scorn and condemnation would be gone and I’d be with Christ. (As an example, like Lynse our family was run from a church because we didn’t fit their unspoken “demographic.” Three days after they saw our special needs child we were gently asked to leave the church.)

    Your list was more spot-on than many people are going to want to admit. I was saved in 1994 and since then I can’t think of a single church I’ve attended that really fed the artists in their midst outside of anything but a pre-packaged program designed to maintain and control them. There was no real celebration of the individual giftings of members (although it would always be preached about) because it was more important to make sure they had enough nursery workers than someone wanting to teach painting to underprivileged kids.

    And most of the time? The creatives would go out and make something happen they felt God calling them to do and then the church would come in and pressure or shame them into allowing the church to take over the ministry for “accountability.”

    I’d better stop now before I really start to rant and I’m sorry. The scars are starting to flare up a bit.

  13. Randy,
    There are so many things that are true in this post. Traveling with my family for almost 15 years full time in the ministry, I have seen it all…and I’m only 25. We were in church more than the pastors we sang for. Thurs-Sun we were performing all across the world. 264 concerts in 2007. We gave and gave and gave. We were hurt, betrayed, lied to, stolen from, you name it and the church did it to us. We were broken. In 2007 we became involved in The Bridge Ministry here in Nashville and it truly changed our life. At The Bridge Ministry they feed, clothe, speak and sing to 300-500 homeless every Tuesday night under the Jefferson Street Bridge. This became a huge tool that lead to our healing. We pulled our schedule WAY down and finally began to be feed spiritually. We now attend The Resting Place, which is in the warehouse that all the goods for the homeless ministry is held in and the pastors are the founders of the homeless ministry. Our family of believers is incredible. Be encouraged. While there are people who wound, there are also those who heal. The Resting Place has done that for our family. I hope everyone who has been hurt by the church can find their Resting Place.

  14. So true…great post!

  15. “Three days after they saw our special needs child we were gently asked to leave the church”

    aaaaaa! More than ANY other comment… THIS one makes me want to about nut up. Why? Because we have had hundreds of folks show up at our church after being asked the exact same thing by other churches.

    What ever happened to “the least of these”? What ever happened to God is the healer of the broken? Are WE so perfect that we cannot open our arms to hold those who cannot care for themselves?

    My pastor has a special needs child and she has been the entire inspiration behind a ministry at our church and now a Christian respite care center that will be the first of its kind in the states to care for special needs kids. I cannot walk through the halls of this place w/o tearing up and thinking how one day these special children will walk the halls with smiles on their faces in joy knowing that they are loved. I know God will be looking down with joy in His heart at this place… you can just feel the “sacredness” of it…How people can turn away special kids like this and their families is just beyond unnerving to me.

    It’s like the opposite of the gospel

  16. Randy,
    Like you, I have been in ministry for a long time. And yes, I have my scars — more than most. But your idea that this is only in evangelical churches misses the point. Every leader I know has paid an enormous price for their success — however it is measured and for whatever goal it was paid. Every church leader — even Anglicans — have their stories. Great political leaders have theirs. Great business leaders have their. Evey musician has paid an enormous toll. Suffering is the price of leadership.

    People forget what the church is…it’s not a perfect place…it’s an ER. Emergency rooms are loud, rude and frantic. There is no time or place or place for niceties. We open the door, don’t charge admission, and deal with whoever walks in and whatever they bring.

    We must never forget that Jesus is perfect…His church is not. People are messy…and if you stand too close…their mess gets on you…such is the brokenness of our world.

    Sure, the church does a lot of things wrong. I know the list…but like the clowns in the rodeo, when a rider falls, we are the only ones in the ring…

    Fellow fool for Christ…

    • @Mike, Thanks, Mike. Well said. I can only write from my experiences, and I hope i didn’t miss the point that I had established…and that is the “Reason For This Post.” It might help to re-read that portion.

  17. Wow, such a great discussion! This is a subject that I have wrestled with the last 6 years. I’ve tried to fit in like a good little Christian widget, but from the depths of my soul it chafes me. The experience of church is too limited!

    The challenge, as I see it (through all my filters of course) is that the church tries to systematize and organize what is truly supposed to be a relational and supernatural connection between people and the God who loves them. We try to wrap up in a neat little package an “experience” of God, and by definition, it will leave out someone. Where there is variety of people there is also exclusion if the little c church (organization/religion) is the focus of our relationship with God.

    We’ve been trained, at least in the western world, that the little c church is our pathway to God. We’ve reverted, as evangelicals/protestants, back to a form of Catholicism (my original faith journey started here), where we rely on the Pastor/Minister to be our Priest, telling us what to do, and where to go, etc. We’re repeating history it seems.

    I suspect that what we are searching for will really look like shades of gray, the birds nest of connections, where it appears chaotic from up close, but is a strong and safe place overall if we can focus on God and aggregate with those people that he puts in our paths. And that lack of control will freak out many (as it should, I think, since it’s going to really mean we have to test our faith and rely on mysterious God things).

    I want to wrap it up in a cool little answer, but I really don’t know what the answer is. It seems that if we focus on our God relationships as a lifestyle, and less of an event, then what happens at the events truly become supplementary.

    None of our analogies work, we’ve never known any different, and it’s a fearful thing to journey outside of what we know, searching for an answer from God.

    Thanks for poking, I’m thankful for your willingness to open the dialogue that many of us (from the posts so far) are experiencing.

    • @John Regan, Thanks so much, John, for your insightful articulation.

      I love this… “The challenge, as I see it (through all my filters of course) is that the church tries to systematize and organize what is truly supposed to be a relational and supernatural connection between people and the God who loves them. We try to wrap up in a neat little package an “experience” of God, and by definition, it will leave out someone. Where there is variety of people there is also exclusion if the little c church (organization/religion) is the focus of our relationship with God.”

  18. oh boy Randy, you have a gift for hitting the “hot buttons”!

    During my 30 years as a “professional christian” i’ve seen bully pastors, mean deacons and a lot of “bad apples”…..i was fortunate, for the most part, to work with Godly pastors who had a close relationship with God and really wanted to serve Him and His people.

    Is the evangelical church perfect? No, and nothing earthly is.

    Do we give up on Christ’s Bride because it’s not perfect? No.

    Have I been hurt by the church (aka, the people in the church”? yep

    Do we work and pray and strive to make it better under His leadership? Sure.

    I’ve seen bodies and spirits healed. I’ve been touched by God’s own spirit during God honoring worship. I’ve had prayers answered. I’ve learned how to be more Christ-like. I”ve been touched by the hand of God. All during gatherings of believers at less than perfect evangelical churches.

    Are there some “bad” churches? yep…
    Perfect ones? No.
    Really good ones? absolutely!
    May their tribe increase.

  19. Wow! You started something here!
    My question is : Is it only the Evangelical church? I mean isn’t it in all churches? Is the church not “us”?

    I have to say I have been in the US and went to two churches. One of them was nice, the other one made me shiver. The pastor there made a man feel guilty because he wanted to quit serving the church to being able with his family more. He was exhausted because of serving the church. I defended the man and told him he was courageous to take a decision like that and that God didn’t want him to be at the church all the time but first be a husband and father. For me I could say these things because I wouldn’t go back there again but I heard they are still there. It’s sad. It should be done out of love and out of guilt.

    I have been hurt but I found out it will always be here on earth. We are not perfect therefor the church is not perfect. I want to say that it also happens here. I think. We are not perfect here either. It’s just I never heard it happen here. I have nothing else to say but to love God, love yourself and others as yourself.

  20. one might think that reading this installment would cause us to want to give up the will to live in Chirsts church. surprisingly, it doesnt.

    I offer a poorly constructed ‘melange’ of musings offered by one of our favourite troubadours.

    “sometimes you can hear the spirit wispering to you
    but if God stays silent
    what else can you do
    listen to the silence
    if you ever did, you surely see
    that God won’t be reduced, to an ideology
    such as the gospel of bondage


    Today I dream of how it used to be
    Things were different before
    The picture shifts to how it’s going to be
    Balance restored
    When you know even for a moment
    That it’s your time
    Then you can walk with the power
    Of a thousand generations


    make me a bed of fond memories
    make me to lie down with a smile
    everything that rises afterward falls
    but all that dies has first to live.
    as longing becomes love
    as night turns to day
    everything changes
    joy will find a way

    because the love that fires the sun will keep me burning.

  21. I think I’ll jump on the bandwagon with the vast majority here and say I agree! One “value” that came to mind when I read your list was “Numbers vs Names.” An underlying pulse I feel in so many churches is the need to grow in number; congregation quantity as opposed to congregation quality seems to be the priority. The irony of it, at least to me, is that if you read the Gospels, Jesus isn’t necessarily the most inviting preacher. He invited only the most dedicated, not the most presentable, to follow Him. Take the rich young ruler, for example. Jesus did not candy-coat the offer for salvation– “give up EVERYTHING and follow me.” Hardly comfortable. And yet, so many evangelical churches insist on providing over-stuffed, comfortable love seats for their members, inviting them to stay in away from the crowds, instead of teaching them truth and equipiing them to go out into the world.
    But that’s just my opinion.

  22. I agree with the main premise of your post. I think it comes down to the church being Gospel focused or not. The “or not” is a huge bucket including your list above, individual wanna be rockstar pastors, not-invented-here deacons/elders, weak doctrine, serving too many, this list goes on.

    When I meet people and discuss this issue, I suggest they find a local church that preaches the Gospel. If they are not able to find one, I refer them to Driscol, Keller, Chan, Stanley, etc. Through exposure to Gospel preaching, they’ll understand what it looks like, sounds like and is and won’t fall victim to the motivational speaker with their empty words, weak theology, and focus on self-promotion. If every sermon feels good – you’re not hearing the Gospel weekly.

    Thanks for the post Randy. Sometimes…someone just has to say it.
    Cheers – Steve

  23. i’ve just been pondering this and the list over and over again. i often process things by poetry and found this beauty that kindof exemplifies the church and often leaders that i’ve dealt with.

    Epitaph on a Tyrant
    by W. H. Auden

    Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
    And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
    He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
    And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
    When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
    And when he cried the little children died in the streets.

  24. i’ve got stripes too. a lot of them. from the pastor who stole my mission trip fund money to the pastor who told me being a missionary was the worst thing i could do with my life to the pastor who recently cussed me out for how i’ve handled my husband’s decision for divorce… seems each new stripe reopens the old wounds, and the ache runs deeper than the one incident alone calls for.

    and just as Jesus is the only one who can extend grace to the grace killers, He’s also the only one who can extend healing grace to those of us who’ve been wounded…

  25. I look at our collective religious experience as a continuum of maturity. Catholics, Orthodox, Reformed (old and new), Evangelicals, Holiness and pseudo-Christian groups all point to holiness and the Holy. Capturing and communicating such a mystery is impossible. This is why a personal relationship with the Divine through the Spirit is the only way one truly grows toward holiness.

    As simple and shallow as his sermons might have been, our former pastor used to say, “if you find the ‘perfect church’ don’t join it because you’ll mess it up.” His isms were memorable. In this statement he reminds us that it is people who mess up churches.

    I appreciate your perspective and the mystery of the Eucharist. I also appreciate Chuck Smith breaking down Scripture verse-by-verse and helping laypeople digest it. Likewise, I appreciate Erwin McManus putting practical and colorful application to Scripture. The examples go on and on.

    Redemption and sanctification take on many forms and are being accomplished many ways. Any attempt by man will fall short, but the diverse organism we call the body of Christ is always moving and growing.

    I am reminded of Philippians 3

    7But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

    Pressing on Toward the Goal

    12Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
    15All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

    17Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. 18For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. 20But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

    – The Holy Bible, New International Version. Copied from

Created by Randy Elrod

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