A while back I wrote a post about what it’s like to be a Christian, ENTJ female and it got a lot of conversation going on the topic. One of the most common comments that I got from other ENTJs in particular was “church doesn’t help me. It does nothing, and I don’t feel accepted or like I’m growing. So I stopped going to church.” And it broke my heart.
I’ve written extensively in the past about why you need to go to church as a student, why students leave the church, and about how the church can help with various issues we face. But those don’t really address the issue of what to do when your church doesn’t help you.
Generally, we go to church because God commands us to as well as for three reasons that benefit us directly. Obviously individuals will have extra reasons apart from these, but I think these are pretty global so these are the ones I’m going to mainly address. They are (1) to receive good teaching that helps us grow, (2) to become part of a community, and (3) to feel like we’re actually making some sort of a difference. Often when we get disillusioned about church it’s about one of these three things. The preaching isn’t great, I feel isolated, or I feel like I’m not able to do anything with my faith at the church that I’m at. At least, those were the comments that I got on my post.
Let me start by saying I have very much been there. I’m a very opinionated and outgoing woman in a church. Of course I came up against issues. In fact, it wasn’t until I found the church that I am at now that I finally felt “YES, this is home!” when it came to a Sunday morning service. I’m just lucky to have found it so soon. But there are a lot of things that we all go through even when we’re in great churches.
So I’ve decided to address the main problem I’ve been asked about concerning each of these reasons we go to church in 3 blog posts. The first one we’re talking about today is what to do when your church has just plain bad preaching.
Problem 1: The Church Has Boring or Bad Preaching.
This one I hear all the time, especially from very intellectual people. I find it very interesting to go to church with my husband, because he has only been a Christian for a few years. As a result, a lot of the things that are taught that I listen to and say “Ok, I guess we’re talking about this again,” he’s never seen in that light before. So it’s as if I get to experience it all over again with him.
But I find this problem quite often, too. I’ve intensely studied the Bible my entire life (literally memorized 11 books of the New Testament in high school), and I’ve been going to church since a few days after I was born. Plus, my mom works in ministry and my dad loves to talk theology. There really isn’t much that I haven’t discussed or heard before.
But I’ve found that just because I’ve heard something before doesn’t mean it has to seem boring. I think that often we can get into a mindset that if we know it, then we’ve really learned it. But I don’t think that’s always true. Sometimes, actually, I think we need to hear things again and again for us to get it through our skulls, and God knows that.
However, that does not mean you should just suck it up. Church is supposed to be a place of instruction where you can grow, that’s one of its purposes. If your pastor is really quite dull and it’s just horrible, maybe consider switching churches. But fist, I’d advise you to try one of these three solutions that have worked for me in the past:
Solution 1 to Bad Preaching: Be honest with yourself.
This might seem a bit harsh, but hear me out. I think that a lot of times we see things that are actually convicting us as boring. It’s a bit of a defence mechanism, in my mind. This especially applies to us “seasoned” Christians–we’ve memorized all the verses, so we don’t need someone preaching them at us. But is that really true? I think that often we find messages boring because we won’t let ourselves be vulnerable enough to accept the truths that are being taught.
The primary reason that is given in the New Testament for people not receiving a message is not bad teaching (even though we know Paul was not a great orator), but is the hardness of their hearts. Ouch, I know. But I think that rings true today, too. My church has an amazing pastor. I especially love how he preaches. But I’ve gone through patches where I come home all grumbly after church because “I’m not getting anything out of this.” And often I’ll find that it’s because I’m stressed and I’m not letting God in, or because I’m holding a grudge against Connor for not doing the dishes or something. It doesn’t have to be huge–but any hardness of heart can make it harder for you to be receptive to God’s message.
Solution 2 to Bad Preaching: Don’t only rely on church for teaching.
Yes, church is a great way to get teaching. It is important. But all the responsibility for your spiritual development is not on the church. I’m sorry, but you can’t complain about getting nothing from the sermon if you’re not reading your Bible and praying at home. Let’s use soil for a metaphor for our hearts, OK? If ground hasn’t gotten watered enough, it becomes dry and cracked. Then, when rain comes, it simply runs off of the dry soil because it’s too dry to absorb it. It’s similar with the messages we hear at church. You’ve got to be consistently “watering” your soul so that it is ready to receive what God wants to say through the church service.
If you’re in a congregation where it honestly is a problem of just not having good preaching (also been there, it’s a real thing), try looking for creative ways to find teaching. Watch sermons online, or read good books. Then, treat church like your mission–what can you offer the church? How can you help mentor someone? If it’s honestly never going to be able to feed you, stop looking for it. Find it somewhere else, and look at how you can feed others.
Solution 3 to Bad Preaching: Join a small group.
Sometimes even if there is really bad preaching the church can still be a huge encouragement if you’re part of a great community. Let’s be real, the pastor isn’t the only person who you can learn from in that church. Get to know people of all different ages, backgrounds, walks of life–join a small group where you can really talk about what you’re going through and the things you’re struggling with. Odds are, if the preaching is really that bad, you’ll find at least one other person in that congregation who is feeling the same frustrations as you are. Church is so much more than the sermon–it’s a community of believers who come together to celebrate who Jesus is. So step out of your comfort zone a bit and look for a small group to join.
Solution 4 to Bad Preaching: Leave.
There is also the very real possibility that your church is just kind of, well, dead. Unfortunately, there are many churches in North America that are less than inspired. If the preaching is honestly terrible, if there’s the same application message every Sunday, and if you’ve tried all of these and it’s still not working, I would seriously consider switching churches if you can. Yes, it’s important to not only ask “what am I getting from this church?” but also “What can I give to this church?”, but there does come a point where you need to go to where God is working, and if that means switching churches, do it. Especially if many of the issues in your church are doctrinally related or if there are poisonous relationships among church leadership.
However, leaving your church should not mean that you leave the church. It’s really important to always be connected to a church family, even if it’s not perfect (news flash: it’s never going to be). Just having a hard time finding a church with good preaching is not an excuse to leave the church entirely. Instead, leave a church that is damaging or preaching heresy, find one that isn’t dangerous, even if it’s not ideal, and throw yourself into making it a place that is accepting and encouraging to others, even if you’re not being fed ideally yourself. So yes, leave if you must. But don’t give up on God’s family.
It can be so frustrating to feel like you’re not getting anything from your church. I hope that this can help. Just hang on, and keep hope that God will provide a way for you to grow closer to Him! Let’s be real–that’s the one thing he wants for you. There IS a way for you to grow, you just need to find it.
What have you done in the past when preaching hasn’t been that stimulating? What helps you feel fed at church, even when there’s bad preaching?
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