There are probably many reasons that we find church dissatisfying. Often the real-world experience fails to meet expectations. This may be due to a genuinely poor experience where the Christian community fails to meet the moral or ethical standards outlined in Scripture. But on other occasions it is possible we have set our expectations too high.
Some of us will have, once, been part of a particular Christian community which we really enjoyed. We then try to recreate that experience in the places to which we move. In the internet age, there is also more opportunity to compare and develop unrealistic expectations. We listen to incredibly talented speakers and musicians, seldom paralleled in our local experience.
The solution to these sources of disappointment is probably found in the maturing of our faith and perspective; learning to think realistically and focussing on what is important. We also need to learn that some experiences were meant to be simply for a season.
But there is another deeper disappointment which is probably more vital and more damaging.
From time to time, I meet Christians that struggle with church altogether. They have a deep seated disappointment with the whole activity. Their attendance at church services may be patchy and more committed members will often question their faith and commitment.
Again, there are many reason for this situation but there is one specific theological problem which I believe may play a factor in this disappointment; we have forgotten what church is.
Before church is an event or gathering, church is a category of existence.
To be part of the church is to be part of the body of Christ: the physical, Spirit filled, global community that embodies Jesus in the world. All joy, purpose, meaning and salvation flow from knowing the living source of the Church; God, Father, Son and Spirit.
Some of our disappointment comes from looking for satisfaction in the wrong place. We attend church services expecting to find our heart’s desire, but church services cannot provide it. Because services are simply an expression of satisfaction only found in God himself. Of course, the first time we met God may have been in a church service and, in that sense, church may have appeared as the source of life transforming power, but the real source was always God.
However this is not just a problem of personal expectations, it’s also a community problem. The Christian community often displays a hugely reductionist view of church; limited to a weekly event and the occasional coffee or house group. We fail to help people to see the the true, all encompassing, nature of church. This leaves us with a strange duality where we encourage too high a view of the weekly worship service and too low a view of the Christian community itself.
If we want to rediscover the power of the Christian community and the many blessings of participation, we all must stop expecting a few songs, prayers and a sermon to deliver. We need to redirect the focus of the community away from the Sunday service and to everyday lived in the presence of Jesus. Then we may find the cosmic, transcendent, Spirit empowered, hope-filled, world changing, resurrected delight of the new humanity in Christ!