When Church is a Struggle

The service begins, as it always does, with the announcements.  I don't read the bulletin anymore because I know the service leader is going to spend the first ten minutes reading it to the congregation.  My mind wanders as I notice the worn carpet and dated drapes.  Next is a Scripture reading.  The microphone rings as Mr. Brown fumbles nervously through his Bible. Despite the monotone delivery, a few of the older church members offer a hearty, "Amen," as Mr. Brown returns to his seat.  Now it's time to sing.  I join in, but I'm distracted by the piano player who seems to be making more than her usual mistakes.  The song leader encourages us to sing out, but that only highlights how far off key the man singing behind me is.  The service leader indicates that it's time for prayer and invites one of the deacons to the stage.  His prayer sounds very formal and I wonder if he prays the same way at home as he does in church.  The offering plates clank together in the back of the sanctuary signaling the service leader to come up and offer a few words about tithing. The piano player is at it again as the ushers pass by each row. Finally, it's time for the sermon and I hope the pastor has prepared something relevant to my life. Unfortunately, the baby crying in the third row is so distracting that I'm having a hard time following the pastor.  A few moments later and my eyes feel heavy.  I hope nobody notices as my blinks grow longer and my head begins to bob.  After the service I make my way down a colorful hallway to pick up my children.  I'm greeted by a teacher who hands me a stack of papers as she tells me my children behaved a little better than they had been the week before.  As we make our way to the parking lot I begin to wonder why church has become such a struggle.

Have you ever been through a church service like this?  Hopefully your experience has not been this extreme, but I'll bet you can relate to the feeling of church being a struggle.  Maybe you find it difficult to sit still and focus on each element of the service.  Or, perhaps you have a hard time connecting with the people in your church.  There may be many reasons you can cite for the struggle you feel on Sunday morning.  Yet, God has called His people to meet together regularly to pray, read Scripture, sing, listen to a sermon, fellowship, and engage in special events like communion and baptism.  In others words, God has called each of us to participate in the life of the local church. If that seems difficult for you, let me offer you some words of encouragement from the Apostle Paul:

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,
13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
— Colossians 3:12-17

Consider these words as you reflect upon your participation in the body of Christ.  How might your Sunday morning experience be different if you approached it with a spirit of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience?  Might your heart be different if you committed to bear with your brothers and sisters in Christ?  Suddenly the monotone Scripture readings, ringing microphones, fussy children, or the unkind words of another lose their sting as your frustration is replaced with the spirit of love that binds us together in perfect harmony.

Friend, remember the privilege it is to be called a member of the church.  Only those redeemed by the blood of Christ are eligible to hold that office.  Allow the joy of your salvation to serve as the motivation to joyfully gather together with the body of Christ each week, even when church is a struggle!