Treasuring the Uncomfortable Church

One of my reading goals for 2018 is to tackle Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. For a myriad of reasons, I need to absorb his hard won wisdom, but most of all I want to lean into his observations about Christian community in the crucible of “life together” in a secret seminary under the looming threat of Nazi persecution. Somehow, in the most challenging of historical contexts, Bonhoeffer was able to address the disconnect between the “dream of a Christian community” and “the Christian community itself.”

Waking up from his own dream church, Bret McCracken confesses that there are a good many facets of his own fellowship — and even about the Christian faith — that rub him the wrong way. In Uncomfortable: The Awkward and Essential Challenge of Christian Community  he analyzes, laments, and offers perspective on the struggle, for as the old saw goes, even if you are fortunate enough to find the perfect church, you will surely ruin it when you join. (Did you know this came originally from Spurgeon?)

Of course, all this insight doesn’t stop us from fantasizing about the ideal facility, the perfect constellation of ministries, a doctrinal statement and liturgical bent that fit like a glove, and the “perfect” Sunday morning music . . . alongside a good cup of strong coffee.  We are immersed in a culture that encourages us to inflate our wants until they take on the dimensions of a need. However, part of the amphibious nature of the Christian experience is that “what we think we want from a church is almost never what we need.” (Loc 302).

“Commitment even amidst discomfort, faithfulness even amidst disappointment: this is what being the people of God has always been about.”

Why the Church Seems So Uncomfortable

Devoting one chapter to each topic, McCracken explores the difficult aspects of following Jesus:

  • The uncomfortable cross that requires an embrace of suffering and sacrifice;
  • The uncomfortable call to be a set-apart people, pursing holiness and a set of values that set us at odds with the world around us;
  • A collection of counter-cultural truths around creation, hell, and sexual ethics that wreck our cool-factor and make for awkward conversational pauses;
  • The call to love outside our comfort zone and to worship beside people who annoy or puzzle us;
  • The controversial differences in worship that arise from different perspectives on God the Holy Spirit, the role of liturgy, music, prayer, and every other imaginable preference;
  • The multiple challenges around authority, unity, diversity, commitment, and even our understanding of what it means to be “comfortable” on a fallen planet.

The End of All Our Petty Preferences

One source of all this discomfort with the church and her people is a discomfort with God Himself. Author Adam McHugh describes the God we long for who “always agrees with us, . . . who always favors our nation or political agenda, [and] feeds us candy and never vegetables.” The God who sent prophets walking naked and barefoot through the streets of Jerusalem in order to make a point will not hesitate to require a modern day saint to walk a path of growth that puts comfort aside for the sake of something greater.

The call of God is a summons to embrace the discomfort of the cross and a counter-cultural call to holiness in spite of the cost to our dreams. The startling truth is that a comfortable Christianity without an instrument of torture at its center and without a message that sits us across the table eye-to-eye with an enemy and requires a loving response is not really Christianity at all.

Christ’s call to spiritual neediness, mourning, and meekness found in The Beatitudes captures the difference between comfortable Christianity and “a kingdom where worldly comforts are nothing compared to the power of the Comforter in us; where all manner of uncomfortable things are endured for righteousness’s sake.” As we look outside ourselves and assign greater value to Truth than to comfort, we find that worship is about God and not about us. We begin to value each other’s differences as we look toward the future assembly of people and nations and tongues and tribes that will one day surround us as we worship God — and as we look back on our petty preferences and wonder what all the fuss was about.

This book was provided by Crossway in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

UncomfortableI have begun to experiment with including an Amazon affiliate link here in my book reviews. If you should decide to purchase Uncomfortable: The Awkward and Essential Challenge of Christian Community, click on the title here, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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61 thoughts on “Treasuring the Uncomfortable Church”

  1. Oh, Michele! You always seem to find books I really need to read! Since I can’t seem to keep track of the ever growing list, I decided to make it a Pinterest Board! 🙂 Blessings!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That sounds really good! So often I see those controversies in church and have to guard against entering into them, even if I may have a personal preference in worship or a differing belief about something Christ calls us to love one another!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Love the quote by Spurgeon! Yes, we will wonder what all the fuss was about some day. These petty arguments about small things that we have turned into big things and started multipole churches over.


    1. Nothing more “satisfying” than having a custom made church, right? Leave all your problems behind and create a church in one’s own image. The only problem is . . . we take ourselves with us!


  4. Thank you for digging the nuggets in books I’ve mostly not read. I”ll share for sure. I”m guilty of wanting comfort more in my “old age” but love our community like family and families can be annoying! (:


  5. As a reforming introvert, the community aspect of church can be especially unsettling at times. I would much rather have relationships on my own terms and timetable, but God has a way of stretching and even demolishing our plans and comfort zones, doesn’t He!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ll be interested to hear what you think. I was so encouraged by Bret’s thinking on this. You will enjoy his sense of humor, I think. Very subtle. We really do have a consumer mentality when it comes to worship and community–so much so that we’ve lost sight of calling and ministry at times.
      Good to hear from you, Barbara.


  6. Michele, I definitely want to read this book. Yes, we have a consumer mentality and we all want what we want in a church, and if we don’t get it, then we will go down the road to the next church.


  7. “We are immersed in a culture that encourages us to inflate our wants until they take on the dimensions of a need.” Definitely the truth about today’s church!

    So interesting that you brought this topic up this week. I’m deep into preparing a teaching on John 15 where Christ tells us there is no greater love than laying down one’s life for another. I want to discuss practical ways we lay down our life for our brothers and sisters. The living out of this idea is tough!

    “The call to love outside our comfort zone and to worship beside people who annoy or puzzle us” really spoke to me. I find this happens to me a lot. (A lot of people puzzle me.)

    Love the Pinterest idea for saving TBR books!


    1. I’m intrigued by the connection between John 15 and this topic. Bonhoeffer’s Life Together is somewhere between here and the Barnes and Noble warehouse, and I’m hoping to give some more time and thought to this call to love in community and outside my comfort zone.
      And yes, now I have a new motivation for figuring out Pinterest.


  8. This really sounds like an interesting book, Michele. The message is much needed today. Too often we stay in our comfort zones and miss the greater picture God is painting. Love that quote by Spurgeon. I had no idea he is the one who first said it. 🙂 Blessings to you!


    1. That source was new to me, too, Gayl! I thought it was just one of those things that church people had started saying because it’s kind of funny, kind of self-deprecating. Hearing it from Spurgeon’s pen (oddly) gives it more of a sonorous tone for me. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. “As we look outside ourselves and assign greater value to Truth than to comfort, we find that worship is about God and not about us.” How true, and what an intriguing book! My husband has worked in ministry for the last fifteen years, and it is sometimes discouraging to know why many people leave churches–much to do with their own preferences than about sitting under sound biblical teaching. Thanks for sharing!


    1. It can be very discouraging to be “left behind” by the continual seekers for the perfect church. While we wish them well, it’s hard not to feel judged and found wanting. Blessings to you and your husband as you persevere in loving your flock.


  10. It sounds like a fascinating read that would make us look at our own boundaries and our own discomfort. I know when I started going to our Church I felt very anxious, but it has truly been such an enriching part of my life. Thank you for being part of #ablogginggoodtime


  11. Michele, this really looks like a book we need to read if we’re going to stay committed to the Body of Christ! In an imperfect world, it’s tempting to long for the “perfect church” as some sort of oasis, but it’s encouraging to read these wise words and reframe our perspectives! Thanks for your review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Eugene Peterson (so wisely) said, “Sooner or later if we are serious about growing up in Christ, we have to deal with church. I say sooner. ”
      I’m with him. I say sooner, too.
      Unfortunately, too many believers opt out of church because of all the discomfort and adjustment that community requires.
      So glad we can think and talk about this process, Stacey!


    1. And truly, the Body of Christ is such a gift to us, showing us all our rough edges and then giving us the opportunity to have them knocked off in the process of living life with people who stretch us and force us to live outside our comfort zone.


  12. I’ve seen this book on to-review lists but haven’t picked it up yet. You’ve made me want to though. There are many things that are uncomfortable to me about church, but they are things I need to overcome. Thanks, Michele.


  13. Michele, that sounds like a book with so much to give and I am sure a lot to think about as we may see ourselves in it. My husband has just read Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas, he thoroughly enjoyed it and learned a lot from it.
    Blogger’s Pit Stop


    1. Yes, Bonnie, the title is sort of alarming, isn’t it? But it’s good to acknowledge — to bring out into the open — all the things about the Christian faith that make us “uncomfortable,” and then to affirm the truth that in most cases, the problem is . . . with us!


  14. Thanks for sharing this! It looks like this book points out some truths that aren’t always acknowledged by churches today. God doesn’t let us stay in our comfort zone!


    1. That’s what I loved about it. We really have to admit our unhelpful prejudices if we hope to be trusted to speak into the lives of those who are currently outside the influence of the local church.


  15. Unity is one of those characteristics that the church needs more of. I seriously believe that the Body doesn’t understand just how potent unity is–if only we could put aside our differences and come together on what we have in common.


    1. Yes, and I think everyone’s afraid of losing their voice and their individuality. I just don’t see this as a risk, though, when we’re uniting with others who truly love and see us as part of the group and important to its function and personality.
      Thanks for sharing this great thought.


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