When the Church Can’t Meet Your Needs
MAY 18, 2021
Let’s not talk about what a difficult year this has been.
Instead, let’s recall how difficult life and choices often were before we hit pandemics and political issues. Our trials and challenges serve to amplify our discomfort and can be an impetus for personal change, and in that way, both the pandemic and the politics have been useful.
What if the church no longer meets your needs? For many Christians in America, this is a valid and timely question. You and I both know the variables that lead to believing the church can’t be what it needs to be anymore, so, in order to shed light on a path forward, I’ve identified four points on which to reflect.
REFLECTIONS FOR WHEN THE CHURCH CAN’T MEET YOUR NEEDS
- Identify your needs. Are your perceived needs something that are truly needed for spiritual growth, health, clarity, or rest? It is an auspicious practice to identify and clarify what our actual needs may be. Keep in mind that what you may need in this season is potentially not a necessity for your spouse, children, or others with whom you are in a close relationship. If 30 years of marriage have taught me anything, it’s that my needs are rarely in sync with those in my close circle and that sometimes I extend myself for them and at other times, they have extended themselves for me.
- Ask yourself honest questions.Are my perceived needs really just preferences or desires? For example, a basic human need is readily accessible and healthy food, while a preference or desire is grilled chicken and a chocolate shake. Can these needs be met by the people in your life? The people in your church? Our deep inner needs aren’t met by people. God often uses people as a conduit to providing what we need, but people are not the ultimate provisioner. Are we expecting people to do what only God can? The truth is, Jesus Christ is the place to start. The gospel meets the felt need. God himself ultimately satisfies the longing. If we’re just missing what we have always had in our western churches (i.e., cultural church paradigms as opposed to worship however God provides it for us), then we’re really longing for grilled chicken and chocolate shakes, not readily accessible and healthy food.
- Provide yourself with honest answers. So, of course, it follows that if I’m looking to my church to meet my needs, I will not get the answers to my questions. If I’m expecting Jesus to meet my needs instead, I will find a path to deep, lasting change and fulfillment. That line of thinking leads to perhaps a more complex conundrum with which we must wrestle: Do I believe that “my God shall supply all my needs according to his riches in glory?” The Philippian church was encouraged to understand that their way of doing church wasn’t the answer, their church people weren’t the answer, their orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and theology weren’t the answer. Only God—God alone—would meet their needs. Certainly, Paul knew this personally as he wrote his letter to that church from a prison cell.
- Be pliable. What if God means to meet our needs in ways we never could have anticipated? If you’ve been a follower of Jesus Christ for any amount of significant time, you might assume I’m being ironic. Because it’s true, isn’t it? Just remove the question mark: God means to meet our needs in ways we never could have anticipated. And then go ask anyone who has ever had to “do church” in a way that doesn’t look like America. Pliability as it relates to church choices and life may mean you’re being led away from what you’ve always known to be church. And what if that change means you are about to find out what the fullness of following Jesus really looks like?
My story of church life and culture may be different from yours in setting, characters, arc, and plot. I did the math recently and realized that the church I’ve been a part of for the past decade is the 17th church I’ve been involved in over the course of my life. 17th! That exposure to many different church norms might be very different from your experience.
Still, there is some reason you have had to drop your expectations for church, and it can no longer meet your needs at this time. Christian, this is more than okay. It is acceptable and right and may be exactly what God has for you in this moment. Can you identify your real need and allow God to do his work?