The way we do church & suffering


My sixteen-month-old gave me a 3 a.m. opportunity to think last night. I had gone to bed early after a tiring day. Sunday afternoons are normally a relaxing time for me, but for some reason I had an itch to work yesterday that culminated in going for a run. I have no idea why I wanted to run. It’s been a while since I’ve ran, and you know what comes with unaccustomed exercise. Pain! I was so looking forward to sleep and decided to go to bed an hour earlier than normal. Rebekah, however, didn’t cooperate.  Out of her normal routine,  she was awake and rather noisy from 2 to 3 am. Eventually the house grew quiet, but my brain didn’t.

So I laid awake thinking about church, which is normally what I think about if I’m up at 3 am, and the pain in my body, still lingering from my late afternoon run. The two thoughts collided to form one question. ‘Does the way we do church teach people how to suffer well?’

There’s a reason I’m interested in suffering. It’s not because of what I’ve faced in the past; rather, my interest stems from what I believe I must endure in the future. Scripture is full of calls to endure. Take Matthew 24:12 – 13 for example:

And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

And see the mind blowing promise attached to endurance in Revelation 3:21

The one who conquers [literally overcomes obstacles] , I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.

Every Christian has good reason to want to endure. To endure simply means to maintain a belief or course of action in the face of opposition (BDAG, 1039). In other words, God calls us to maintain our faith and obedience to him in the midst of suffering.

Now back to my question. Does the way we do church teach people how to suffer well? Maybe we try to make everything too easy or overemphasize comfort. More than anything I’m concerned that we are raising up a generation of church goers that have come to expect church to be a smooth, polished ride where individual suffering is kept hidden. Here’s the danger. For many, if not most Christians, church lies at the center of their Christian experience. And if church doesn’t prepare them to suffer, I fear people will come to expect no part of the Christian experience to include suffering.

Forget about true suffering for a moment. There are many in our generation of church goers that have a shopping mentality when it comes to church. People aren’t willing to sit through a service that has a bad sound mix, seats that are too hard, temperatures that aren’t just right, music that isn’t up to their liking, or a pastor who preaches too long without enough charisma. My concern is what happens when real suffering is present. Do we stop living like a part of the church, somehow turn the ‘Christianity switch’ off, when conditions aren’t perfect?

I have some ideas on doing church in a way that can teach us how to suffer well. But before I share them, I want to hear from you. What do you think? Is church done in a way that teaches you how to suffer well? And do you have any ideas on how it could be done better? (take a moment and write your thoughts in the comment box below)