Church can be uncomfortable. Whether it’s the awkward meet-and-greet time, the guy with bad breath and sweaty hands who prays for you, or any number of other awkward things that happen in Sunday gatherings, all of us can relate to feeling uncomfortable in a church.
But for some of us the awkwardness is nearly constant. Our churches are certifiably uncomfortable, all the time. This has been my story, and it may be yours.
What should you do? The consumerism of our culture would tell you to flee, to run the other way. There are at least 10 other churches in your city that will probably be more comfortable for you. But is that really the best option?
No. Discomfort in church can actually be good for you.
Certainly there is some discomfort that is toxic and should prompt us to leave a church. But often we leave a church too soon, because we have little tolerance for the kind of discomfort that is good for us.
One rarely grows by staying in one’s comfort zone, after all. It’s more often through discomfort than comfort that we’re stretched, challenged, and grown.
One rarely grows by staying in one’s comfort zone.
But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. How do we stick with our uncomfortable church long enough to see this growth happen? How can we endure—no, learn to love—our uncomfortable church in spite of its frustrating imperfections?
Here are four suggestions:
1. Change Your Posture
Our default posture with church (as with anything) is me-centered and consumeristic. We think in terms of what we “got out of” the sermon or the worship. How did it “meet me where I’m at”? But this posture makes dealing with discomfort unbearable.
A key to thriving amid discomfort is shifting our posture away from ourselves.
A key to thriving amid discomfort is shifting our posture away from ourselves. When church becomes less about me and more about God, and more about the (often frustrating but love-deserving) brothers and sisters around me, discomfort becomes more tolerable and even appreciated.
2. Be Teachable
Many of our frustrations with uncomfortable church stem from pride. We assume “our way” is the best or only way to do church. Whether it be worship styles or church budgets or anything in between, we mistake our preferences as the gold standard. This leads to grief and dissatisfaction when church gets uncomfortable.
But being teachable and movable, open to processing things in community and truly listening to other perspectives, can help us see discomfort as an opportunity to grow in the virtue of humility.
3. Cling to Jesus
One of the great opportunities of discomfort in church (as in life) is that it tends to facilitate a deeper intimacy with Jesus. It leads us to cry out to him in our struggles, to lean on him rather than on ourselves. His grace is sufficient, and his power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).
When church is hard, as it often is, don’t leave. Seek Jesus. Lean into his embracing, everlasting arms, where we can both share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings and, through him, share abundantly in comfort too (2 Cor. 1:5).
4. See the Eternal Picture
When your church seems like more trouble than it’s worth, remind yourself that these are passing things, awkward growing pains in the “now” that nevertheless point us—if we have eyes to see—toward the faint horizon of the “not yet.” The church will one day be the holy, spotless, blemish-free bride of Christ (Eph. 5:27).
That’s where we’re headed. That’s our destiny. But that’s not how the church is yet.
Nevertheless, Christ isn’t giving up on her, however awkward and uncomfortable she is.
And nor should we.
Editors’ note: This is an adapted excerpt from Brett McCracken’s new book, Uncomfortable: The Awkward and Essential Challenge of Christian Community (Crossway, 2017).
- 8 Signs Your Christianity Is Too Comfortable (Brett McCracken)