When I was 11 years old, I was on a football team. If I remember right, my mother had signed me up for the team without asking me if I was interested.
I do not recall enjoying being on that team, nor do I remember getting a ton of pleasure out of the practices. But I am pretty sure that I never complained to the coach. Because I knew that I wasn’t there for enjoyment. The culture that he set for the practices made it clear to me that I was not supposed to say things like, “It’s hot out here” or “Oooh, I’m getting all sweaty inside this helmet.” Of course not. Getting sweaty was part of the reason I was there. The purpose of football practice is to get better at football (which brings about a feeling of happiness later on); the purpose is not to be comfortable and pleased in every moment.
This is an important concept. Oftentimes, if we think the purpose of any given thing is to make us feel comfortable and pleased, we will complain when it does not fulfill its purpose. However, if we perceive that the purpose of a particular thing is not to make us feel comfortable and pleased, then we will be far less likely to complain when it does not bring us comfort and pleasure.
This week I was reading Lead (a book by Paul David Tripp that the staff at Good News is currently discussing) and came across this section:
“I am convinced that the life and ministry of a leader who is marked by low-grade grumbling feelings of dissatisfaction, or conscious complaint indicate a foundational misunderstanding of the nature of the church and ministry calling. Church life was not designed to be comfortable. What is the church? It’s a chosen gathering of unfinished people, still grappling with the selfishness of sin and the seduction of temptation, living in a fallen world, where there is deception and dysfunction all around. There is nothing comfortable or easy about this plan.”
And that made me think about the kinds of things that we can handle versus the kinds of things we complain about. To use another couple of examples from my life:
- I recently was working in my backyard. Trimming trees and hauling wood (by hand) to the burn pile. The nature of the work caused there to be splinters in my hands. But I didn’t even think to complain about them. They were simply what one would expect considering the kind of work being done.
- Also recently, while trying to sleep, I was tossing and turning in my bed, frustrated that these sharp little pieces kept rubbing up against my skin. Someone had eaten crackers in my bed earlier in the day, and I was rolling around in the crumbs. And each time my back rolled across a piece of cracker, I was frustrated.
So, here’s the thing. It’s not that the crackers were more uncomfortable than the splinters – they weren’t. It’s that they occurred in an environment that I thought existed for my comfort.
Ok, so back to church. Whether you are talking about the Sunday morning services, the Youth Bible Study on Wednesday nights, or the Community Groups that meet throughout the week – if you think the purpose of being there is so that you can be happy or comfortable, then you are more likely to get frustrated. However, if you think that church ministry is more like a kind of “work” that you do, that involves the occasional splinter, you’ll be less likely to be upset when things don’t go exactly as you hoped. Or, to jump back to the first illustration, if you think of church services as “practices” that you participate in to get better at the sport of following Jesus, then you won’t mind (as much) things being uncomfortable from time to time.
This reminds me of a meme I saw once where a church person says, “I didn’t like the worship at church today” and Francis Chan replies, “That’s OK, we weren’t worshipping you.”
If we remember that we actually gather as a congregation to get equipped for a mission and/or to do a job (ministering to the Lord and one another), and that we are all sinners in a fallen world, we may be a lot less likely to complain when an aspect of church life isn’t the way we wanted it to be.