My latest column at Christian Week:
A funny thing happened a few years ago. I always assumed that people who complain about church have a bad attitude. One day, I began to listen to complainers. To be sure, some do have bad attitudes. Others, though, are what I would call redemptively discontent.
The discontent part comes easily. Anyone who has been in church for any time knows that churches can be good, but they can also be terrible: bad sermons, cranky Christians, ungodly pastors, and personality conflicts. Until I listened to the complainers, this was my only category of discontent with the church.
I now realize there is a second category: those who are redemptively discontent. People in this category experience discontent at a deeper level. They have grown weary of Christian subculture, a McDonaldized approach to spirituality, easy answers, formulaic sermons, Christian celebrities, pragmatism, marketing, and programs that promise more than they deliver, to name a few.
It’s easy to dismiss this group. Some are reactionary and a little, well, edgy. But I sense something different in them. They are far from perfect, but they love the church. They speak and act not because they want to abandon the church, but because they want the church to be transformed.
I’m meeting these people everywhere. Some are pastors of established evangelical churches who have inherited a model of ministry that seems out of step with a post-Christendom Canada. Rather than abandoning these churches, or criticizing those who led the church before in a different cultural context, they are loving the church through some tough questions.
Others are church planters. Rather than transforming established systems, they feel called to start something new. The best of these planters can’t imagine staying within an established ministry, but they have learned to bless, not criticize, traditional churches.
Some are theologians. I have a friend, a theologically minded pastor, who resonates with some of the concerns, but not answers, of the emerging church. He complains that he was voicing some of these concerns twenty years ago, and nobody listened. He is far from emerging, yet he longs for the church to be more.
Others are parachurch leaders. I met with one recently who told me that he is frustrated with the church, but is not prepared to badmouth the church or to give up. He longs for the church to change but can’t imagine how it will happen.
Still others are adrift. I think of a couple who are wrestling with some deep issues, such as how to be a faithful church in a post-Christendom world. I have seen tears as they talk about their hopes and prayers for the church. They are still searching for a church that is on a similar quest.
Although this group is comprised of people off all ages, many in their twenties and thirties are struggling with the church they have inherited. It’s normal for those of this age to wrestle with what their parents have left them, but I sense something more is at work. Many are quietly dropping out of church, and those who stay have many questions and want the church to be more.
This group is everywhere. A couple of years ago, I called some key leaders in my church to read Reggie McNeal’s book, The Present Future. McNeal is redemptively discontent, and I wondered if it would be too much for my friends. I was surprised how much they embraced some of the questions and issues McNeal raises in this book.
The redemptively discontent are all around us, and I am starting to see them as God’s gift to the church. I pray for them, that they would stay redemptive and never become just complainers. I listen to them, because I think they have much to say.
I pray that God would even raise up more of them, because it just may be that what we need now is all types of people in all types of churches who are redemptively discontent, prodding and hoping and praying for the church to be more. I hope they their numbers will grow, that their voices will be heard, and that most of all their prayers for the church will be answered.