Does your church make you feel uncomfortable? Of course, who wants that? There’s definitely a part of me that wants church to be comfortable, not uncomfortable. I want church to feel like home away from home. I want to feel safe in church. I want it to quench my thirst and validate my feelings and make me ready to face the week. But too often I treat church like a gas station. I pull up, park, and wait to get filled up.
Sam Allberry writes in his book Why Bother With Church?
There’s a sense in which church is meant to be hard work. It is not driven by self-interest…In fact, the very things that make church hard work are often the things that make it great. (Why Bother With Church? And Other Questions About Why You Need It and Why It Needs You [The Good Book Company, 2016], p. 72)
He goes on to say that church is hard work because we are called to look not to our own interests when we walk through those church doors but to look to the interests of others. Church isn’t there primarily to provide a service for us but to build up and serve others (Phil. 2:4).
Why Church Is Hard Work
Putting the interests of others first is hard work. It goes against the grain of our corrupted natures to be first and foremost self-serving. This means we are servants, not consumers. This makes church inherently an uncomfortable place.
Sam Allberry writes,
It takes effort to not be selfish, to value others’ needs above our own and to put the rest of the congregation before ourselves. It goes against every one of our default settings to be like this to others, and it also goes against everyone else’s to be like this to you. None of this comes naturally to any of us. (Why Bother With Church? p. 72-73)
As sinners, what tends to feel the most comfortable is our sin. It’s what we’re born with and what we’ve lived with for years and what whispers in our ear that selfishness is a kind of survival technique. It takes outside forces to show us the corrupted parts of ourselves. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes that being in Christ means the shedding of the old man, the renewing of spirit and mind, and the putting on of the new-creation (Eph. 4:22-24). These aspects of being in Christ are not commandments but facts, statements of truth, of what happens to believers as a result of their union with Christ.
Like it or not, we’ve all got multiple personality disorder. The old sinner in all of us is grumpy and selfish. He or she wants to sit in the easy chair with a favorite snack watching his or her favorite show without being bothered by anyone. Deceitful desires make war with the emerging new saint, the one that is formed from the renewal of spirit and mind worked in us by the Holy Spirit. Church is where we hear of the transformative gospel that changes us. This is why a church that faithfully preaches the gospel will make us feel uncomfortable sometimes.
An Uncomfortable Church Is a Church Becoming Beautiful
But the beauty is that church, in all the ways it is uncomfortable and difficult, is forming us into better image bearers of God. In our pursuit of others, we find (often to our surprise) great satisfaction and joy. As usual, God rights what has been turned upside down by sin. It is in loving God and loving others that we actually find joy and are served in return. This is exampled for us by Christ himself, who tells us that his joy is made complete in us (Jn. 15:11).
The stripping of the old self, like shedding an old skin, is a painful and difficult process. It also can’t be done alone. We need the Holy Spirit, who works through the preaching of the Word, and we need others. This isn’t what I would call comfortable. It isn’t easy, it doesn’t validate our deceitful desires nor give us the satisfaction of being allowed to do whatever we want. But it does and should change us to be image bearers of our great savior and better witnesses to the wonderful gospel that frees us to be truly who God made us to be. Although difficult, God’s commands are good for us. God’s love is so great that he has given us a church where this can happen.