A Welcome Visitor
I, personally, get absolutely nothing out of going to
church. I arrive with low expectations and most churches
somehow manage to snake below them. I leave emptier than I
arrived, with a profound sense of sadness that this
once-powerful and beloved institution has devolved into a
circus sideshow. I leave with no sense of mission, no
marching orders, no inspiration. I’ve been entertained, and
not very well.
So I took this pastor out for coffee— one of my endemic
tests of the pastorate: if you can’t ever get in to see your
own pastor, he’s not actually your pastor. He’s just a check
casher. I told this man that I could never join his church
because his worship wasn’t balanced enough. The atmosphere
was too white; it made me feel like a visitor. A welcome
visitor, to be sure, but a visitor nonetheless. Further, I
told him, the fact worship there didn’t speak to me was not
the problem. The problem was that the church, the pastor,
didn’t seem interested in speaking to me; there was no
discernable effort being put forward to speak to me.
And even that didn’t really bother me so much as the fact of
the church not being interested in or making any effort
whatsoever to speak to me didn’t bother him, this pastor.
“Your church is making no effort whatsoever to speak to me,
and you seem all right with that,” I told him across a pair
of café lattes. “That should keep you up at night, but it
doesn’t. That’s why I could never join your church.” So why
should I go there? Why give them my money? Why waste my
Meanwhile, our churches here in Ourtown are stuck in a time
warp. To most every Black church here in town, it is 1965.
These people love 1965. Can’t get enough of it. Every
church here is Old School if not Cro Magnon, and most of
these pastors seem okay with that so long as the check
clears. What they don’t prepare you for in seminary is being
let into the back room where the pastors gather for certain
community events. You know: those multi-church events where
these guys pass around the same $100 bill to “start off the
If you’ve never sat in on a pastoral bitch session, let me
tell you, it’s a real eye opener. It reminds me of what it
must be like to go backstage at Disney and actually see
Mickey Mouse remove his giant head and you realize it’s some
Chinese girl in there. The last time I was that disappointed
in a fat man was when my sister shocked me by revealing
Santa Claus wasn’t real. These old farts sit around and
complain, complain, complain, mostly about money. Their
topics of conversation range from complaints about their
salaries to the meager offerings collected to whining about
having to do something for some member who is behind on her
tithes. I was devastated to hear this shop talk and now no
longer gather with other pastors at these things but prefer
to go sit in a pew through the tiresome monumental waste of
time we traditionally call “devotion,” which shows no
devotion whatsoever but is just a platform for the deacons
to be seen. I want to see these leaders as pastors, as honorable
men, so I’d rather not get to know them.
As a result, I hardly go to church anymore. I mean, I go,
but I go for the wrong reasons. I go because it’s This
Special Day or That Special Day. I go to support my friends,
many of whom are preachers. I go to network with other
pastors. Sometimes I go because somebody needs a keyboardist
or, increasingly rarely, someone invites me to preach. But I
don’t really go for me anymore; I go for other reasons.
That, beloved, is damage. Damage inflicted upon me by men
who will be held to account, as will we all, by God.
What is the point of Christian ministry?
I’ve been driving around blasting Andraé Crouch in the
Mustang, his Live In London double platter being one
of the greatest (and first) urban Gospel live albums ever
recorded, and I can’t help but reflect on
how bad “Gospel”
music is today. This simplistic chants
we (barely) mouth in church today— Hez's Every Praise,
Break Every Chain by Tasha Cobbs— pales in
comparison to distinct expressions of God moving by His
Spirit through music: My Tribute (To God Be The Glory),
The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power, Bless His Holy Name,
Soon And Very Soon, I Don’t Know Why Jesus Loved Me, Through
It All— and the list goes on; songs most of us don’t
even realize Andraé wrote. Now, what are we singing?
Most music I hear
performed in churches today does not please God, does not bless God,
and is in fact, in
rebellion against God. Pick your favorite tune,
the hottest “Christian” hit: most is borderline blasphemy.
My God is awesome
He can move mountains
Keep me in the valley
Hide me from the rain
My God is awesome
Heals me when I'm broken
Gives strength where I've been weakened
Forever He will reign
“Awesome” —Pastor Charles Jenkins & Fellowship Chicago
This song does not bless God. It's not actually about God, it's
about us: MY God is Awesome. Keep ME
in the valley. Hide ME from the rain. Why are we hiding? God is
awesome because He helps us cower from adversity? Is this even
biblical? Heals ME when I'M broken... His grace is why I’M
“Awesome” follows the alarming trend of choruses
masquerading as songs. An actual song has some reasonable composition
and construction. A chorus is just something you kind of repeat over and
over until you’re dizzy, Break every chain... break every
chain... This is the magic of “Awesome;” you just sing
it until it hypnotizes you; a balm for the masses
who don’t understand
the actual purpose music
should be serving in Christian ministry.
“Awesome” is a “song” written by Church Folk for Church Folk. It in no
way blesses God or pleases God. It pleases us; it sends us
into an emotional frenzy as we chant it over and over. But it’s
all recycled clichés set over chord structures borrowed
from much better songs. Why
am I going to these places if I can have better worship in
Crouch’s This Is Another Day, embedded on this page,
epitomizes what I’m talking about. If we celebrate God’s
protection and sustenance, then we should offer something of
ourselves back to Him. Which is where people get all
squirrelly about money. I’m not talking about money; I’m
talking about you being a productive human being who
contributes something to the world in Jesus’ name instead of
just being all about yourself.
Look at this lady with the shopping cart, how much energy
and effort she’s putting into her party planning. Look at
all the time you invested preparing for Christmas. Long ago,
my mom used to open a bogus checking account under an
assumed name and write bad checks just so my ungrateful
sister and I could have Christmas. She could have been
thrown in jail for that. Today, I see the struggles young
mothers go through, turning themselves inside out, some even
giving up their bodies to sex up some lowlife in order to
get Santa money. Beloved: Christmas is about giving gifts
to Christ, not to each other. Read your bible: the
way to celebrate Christ’s birth is to bring a sacrificial
offering to Him.
The best offering we can give is ourselves [Romans 12:1-2].
How much time did you spend reading your bible in 2017
versus reading Facebook? How much time did you spend in
prayer versus watching TV or staring at your phone? Why are
we thanking God, dancing and hollering, rolling in the
aisles or heading out to the party, when we’ve accomplished
nothing, zero, nada, for Christ in 2017? In what psychotic
episode have we earned that pat on the back, that ata boy?
Why are we thanking God for mere survival? God doesn’t want
us to just survive; he wants us to thrive and to prosper.
I am come that they might have life,
and that they might have it more abundantly. He
wants us to stop going through the motions. He wants us to
earn that party.
Thank God We're Still Here Doing Nothing For Christ:
"Christians" In The Age of Trump
So, then, why preach? Why, after two years' absence, come
back here? Why invest time and treasure in a work that feels
so futile? Why reach out to knuckleheads? The answer is
simple: because God said go.
Jonah’s story is actually about obedience. God values our
obedience more than any other effort we do on His behalf [I
Sam 15:22-24]. All that sweat you invest down at the church
house is meaningless to God, scores no points with God, if
it is not what God actually told you to do. If you are
running this auxiliary or are chairperson of that committee
or whatever, if you think your farts don’t stink because
you’ve been running the Sunday School for two decades— well,
chances are you’re feeding your ego, your flesh, at the very
real expense of peoples’ lives.
Beloved, I honestly don’t care what you do with your life.
Just do something. Make me feel like I’m a part of
something, part of helping you to be creative, to do
something constructive. Don’t just struggle through life and
die. Jesus suffered torture for you. He didn't do that just
so you can sit there.
Happy New Year? Maybe. We'll see.
Christopher J. Priest
1 January 2018
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