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Love Jesus, Hate Church
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Love Jesus, Hate Church



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Steve McCranie









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  Love Jesus, Hate Church
How to Survive in Church or Die Trying!

Sample Chapter:
People Do What They Want To Do

“Have you found Jesus yet, Gump?”
“I didn’t know I was supposed to be looking for him, sir.”
From the movie, Forrest Gump, 1994

I want to share a couple of truths with you that I have learned from being in the ministry for what seems like a millennium and a half.  Maybe that’s a bit tongue and cheek.  Just my poetic license running amuck again.  Ugh.

Actually, it seems like I’ve been in the professional... uh, how would you say— the professional pastorate for most of my adult life.  But as far as my time in real, Spirit-empowered, non-wood, hay, and stubble ministry goes— I guess I’m still just a

zygote, an embryo, just a middle-aged family man trying to unlearn what the Church system has taught me and earnestly desiring to learn, first-hand, what following Jesus and living the “abundant life” He promised is all about.

I’m now beginning to see, for the first time in my life, what Jesus meant when He said, “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be his worshipers.”

What keeps you, or me, or the redeemed church made up of the likes of you and me from being the type of worshiper that the Father seeks?  What could it be?  What could be so all-fire important or so blissfully wonderful that we would let it stand in the way of becoming a member of the Worship Minutemen?  Oh, you’ve never heard of these guys?  They’re the ones who will drop everything at a moment’s notice and render to the Lord the worship He desires.  They are the faithful ones, the ones He knows He can count on to worship Him in “spirit and truth.”  Can you imagine?  Can you even grasp the indescribable joy of being one of the creations the Creator of All seeks in regards to spirit and truth, true worship?
Wow!  It really blows my mind.

The very idea that it’s possible for us to be the kind of people He seeks to bring Him unsurpassed glory and honor makes me want to once again ask the probing question, “What keeps His church from being filled with the ‘spirit and truth’ worshipers the Father seeks?”
Well, I think I may have found the answer. Or, at the very least, an answer.
And I want to share it with you in the hopes that we will see ourselves and change, or do whatever is necessary to become the “true worshipers of the Father” that Jesus spoke about.
After all, compared to this, everything else in life is pretty much like oatmeal— bland, boring, pale and not very satisfying.

The Two Truths

There are two nagging, undeniable, obvious like a stick-in-the-eye truths about church and ministry that I want to share with you in order to shine some light on the questions asked above. I guess you could call them the sum total of my years in the professional pastorate.  If I were to condense, boil down and dehydrate all the experiences I have had over the years with church people, both good and bad, and sift off the common, underlying elements that run through them all, I believe I could summarize church life in the following two broad-brush truths.

Are you ready?  Good.
So hang on or sit down, because the first truth is really profound.

Truth Number One:

“People do what they want to do.”
I know most of you are probably saying, “Duh?  Like tell me something I didn’t already know.”
Sorry ‘bout that.  But give me a minute and I think I will.

Now I don’t have a particular scripture verse or a single proof text to back up and support Truth Number One.  But what I do have is a wheelbarrow full of Biblical themes that run the gamut of Scripture, both Old and New Testament, and a boatload of experiences that will convince you that Truth Number One is, in fact, true.  Come to think of it, we’d better make that a big boatload of experiences.  Maybe even a barge.
Oh, so you want to hear about some of those experiences?  You want me to tell you about some of my experiences in church— you know, probably some of the same experiences that you’ve had in your church— experiences that clearly affirm the fact that people, no matter what their intentions, are basically going to do what they want to do.  Is that what you’re looking for?
Ok, try this one on for size.

LaGrange or LaGrunge?

I’ll never forget when I was presented the opportunity to pastor my first, full-time church— Emmanuel Baptist Church in LaGrange, Georgia— which is a little mill town located on I-85 between Alabama and Atlanta (that’s right on the buckle of the Bible Belt for those of you not familiar with the South).  I was so excited about the prospect of being a pastor, full-time, that I couldn’t think or talk about anything else.  God had finally answered my prayers and was going to use me to pastor one of His churches.  (Yeah, slap, slap, slap, high-fives all around).  I was awed by the blessing God had given me.
After all, this was my solo shot.  My maiden voyage.  It was my first time to lead a group of people to the promised land of spiritual intimacy and Christ pleasing ministry.  It was so thrilling to dream about uniting, arm in arm, in partnership with a committed, vibrant, fired-up congregation of Spirit-filled Believers that were just as passionate and focused about seeing LaGrange won to the Lord as I was.
Yeah, right.

For those of you who have never had the privilege of serving on a Pastor Search Committee, or Pulpit Search Committee as it is sometimes called, let me give you a quick tutorial.  Basically, the entire procedure plays out like a primitive mating dance between the pastor and the church, where the pastor dates the congregation and the congregation tries to woo the pastor.
More often than not, it goes something like this.

The Pulpit Committee is primarily made up of a group of leaders, family heads or spiritually-minded people (hopefully?) who have either been elected or appointed or shanghaied or drafted at gunpoint by the congregation at large to serve as their “search and acquire” agents.  They have a mandate from the congregation to fill the pastor spot and complete the church leadership roster— or to put a name in the empty slot on the sign outside that says:

Emmanuel Baptist Church
Pastor ___________________

Their primary job, or so it would seem, is to either tell you what they think you want to hear about the church’s direction and goals and vision and history or tell you what they think the church really wants in regards to a pastor.
It’s a sales job either way you look at it.  Smoke and mirrors.

Afterwards, when your first anniversary as the pastor of the church has come and gone, you sit back and scratch your head and wonder how a group of people duly elected to fulfill the desires of the congregation could have misread them that bad.
“I mean, how could they have been that far off?  We’re talking about miles off.  Light years!  It’s like the church they described to me and the church I now pastor come from different planets.  In different universes!”
Sometimes, it almost borders on criminal fraud.

Anyway, back to the mating dance.
You tell them about you and they tell you about them.  Everyone is all smiles and on their best behavior.
But for some reason, things at Emmanuel just didn’t seem quite right.  It wasn’t anything that I could put my finger on.  It was more like a feeling, an intuition.  I felt like the committee wasn’t always telling me the whole truth— like they were purposely leaving out some details.  And it seemed to me that I felt this way just about every time they opened their mouth!
“We’re looking for a pastor who will help us grow deeper in the Lord.”
“We want to move out.  We don’t want to be inward focused.”
“We are looking for God’s man to do something here in our midst.”
“We want to win our community for Christ.”

Looking back, these people must have been on crack.

So you sit down with your family, commit the ministry opportunity to fervent, expectant prayer and spend countless hours daydreaming about how fabulous it’s going to be to live and minister around a bunch of Believers who are as sold-out to Jesus as the ones at Emmanuel seemed to be.
What paradise!
What utter bliss!
It surely can’t get much better than this!
“Why am I so blessed?” you ask the Lord with genuine joy in your heart and this stupid, naive, slaphappy grin on your face.  “Lord, why me?  Why did you choose me?”
Then less than two years later— uh, make that two long, arduous, disappointing years on the religious Trail of Tears, you’re still asking the Lord the same questions.  Only this time the smile and the joy are gone.
“Lord, with all the millions of people in the world You could’ve sent to Emmanuel Baptist Church... why me?  Why did You choose me?  What did I ever do to You?”

So we packed the house, loaded up the kids and moved to LaGrange.
We were beaming, slam full of anticipation and confidence that God was going to do something wonderful in this church.  Something beyond anything we could even imagine or dream of.
Problem was, Emmanuel Baptist Church reached its spiritual zenith several years after the Great Depression.  From that point on it was straight downhill— on roller blades!  Year after year they had struggled for life, coughing and wheezing with the death rattle of a church that had long ago lost its focus and forsaken its first love.  Emmanuel was in the final stage of church death and nobody, including the proverbial “Unsinkable Molly Brown” young new pastor, wanted to admit it or recognize the undeniable tell-tale symptoms.
At first, that is.
But after a while the symptoms became impossible to ignore.
It was like trying not to notice the clinging stench of a decaying corpse rotting in the middle of your dining room.  No matter how hard you try to convince yourself that “you know, the smell’s not really all that bad” or how hard you try to fill each day with the busy activities of life in the vain hope that maybe the smell will go away or maybe you just won’t notice it any longer— at some point in time you simply must face the stinking reality that you’re living in the midst of something dead.
And there’s nothing you can do to change that.
“What did you learn?” you may ask like Yoda to young Skywalker.
Many things.  Some good and some not so good.

But one of the first things that was permanently imprinted in my brain is the simple fact that people— young and old, male and female, rich or poor, Christian and non-Christian— do what they want to do.  Truth Number One.  They’re the master of their own fate and will go down swinging just to keep it that way.  Hey, if it feels good to them, is deemed profitable or somehow benefits them personally, financially or even adds to their inner sense of well-being, self-worth or intrinsic importance— count them in!
They’ll “climb every mountain and ford every stream” to make whatever sacrifice is necessary or required to accomplish what they put their hands to.  What they want to do.  What’s important to them.

People Do What They Want To Do!

Because people do what they want to do!  Always have and always will.
And if you recognize the validity of Truth Number One, then you must also realize that the opposite of Truth Number One is also true.
People won’t do what they don’t want to do.  I’ll simply call that Truth Number One (a).
Come on, think about it.
If people do what they want to do, then it stands to reason that people aren’t going to do what they don’t want to do.  They’re just not.  Why?  Because change is hard— and painful.  And we don’t like pain.  The fact is that no matter how hard you nag them or encourage them or implore them or even try to shame them— people aren’t going to do what they don’t want to do.
As the doorkeeper said to Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, “Ain’t no way.  Ain’t no how!”
Want proof?
Ok, pick any Sunday after church and follow the caravan of minivans to the local All-You-Can-Eat feeding trough.  Stroll up to the first group of overweight Baptists you see and say, “You know, the fried chicken isn’t really healthy, why don’t you try the salad bar instead?”  Or, “You’re going to ruin your diet if you eat that.  Be strong.  Stay focused.  Just say, no.”  Or, “Look Bertha, you can barely squeeze into those pantyhose as it is now.  Just think what that dessert is going to do to you.  Material can only stretch so far.  If you eat that dessert you’ll be busting out all over and all of us will lose our appetite!”
Three days later when you finally come-to and pick yourself up off the restaurant floor, remember Truth Number One— people do what they want to do.  And Truth Number One (a)— people won’t do what they don’t want to do.  No matter how many facts you throw at them or how well-meaning your words of encouragement are.
It just ain’t gonna happen.
It’s like trying to lead a dead dog on a leash.  He’s not going anywhere.  The best you can hope for is to drag him around behind you and try to convince your friends and neighbors that are giving you these strange, puzzled stares that you’re really just taking him out for a walk.  Both of you having a good time.  Walking together.
“He’s just tired, that’s all.”
Nope.  Hard sell.  It’s just not going to happen.

People Do What They Want To Do

Now, I could give you example after example of specific, personal situations where Believers, when faced with a choice of doing what is right, Christ-exalting and Spirit-minded, will almost always choose the path of self-gratification and blindly follow what feels good for the moment or “seems right in our own minds.”
It’s the same dilemma Paul spoke about in his letter to the church at Galatia when he wrote, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh.”
Yeah, I could give you numerous personal examples to prove the point.
But I won’t.
Instead, let’s look at a few of the big guys and see if they practiced Truth Number One.

Abraham could have told the truth about Sarah being his wife when he fled from the land God had given him to escape the famine in Egypt.  He could have honored and protected her and been an example of a Godly husband and provider to his kid (who later did the same thing to his own wife. Like, duh!).  He could have placed his trust in the Lord and not in the fear of man. He could have thought more about the ones he loved than he did about himself.
In other words, Abraham could have walked by the Spirit and not given in to the desires of the flesh.
He could have. He should have.
But he didn’t.

Moses could have continued in the path of humility and spiritual intimacy with God and joined the other desert travelers as they set up camp in the Promised Land.  He could have followed God in earnest and retained an almost unparalleled, face-to-face relationship with the Creator of All.  He could have spoken as commanded and not struck the rock with his staff to bring water gushing to the grumbling, never-satisfied, chronically complaining, redeemed children of Israel.  He could have also never uttered the thoughtless words, probably uttered in sheer frustration, “Shall we bring water from the rock” and, in doing so, pridefully deflected God’s glory from the Creator to himself.  (I can imagine God saying, “We?  Tell me Moses, what was your part in bringing water from the rock?  What was your part in the ‘we’ of this?”)
In other words, Moses could have walked by the Spirit and not given in to the desires of the flesh.
So much Moses could have done. So much he should have done.
But he didn't.

David could have been out leading his armies during the time of war instead of just hanging around the palace, bored, twiddling his thumbs, with way too much time on his hands.  He could have shielded his eyes or looked the other way when, by chance, he saw a woman who was married to one of his friends bathing alone on the rooftop.  He could have said “no” to his lustful thoughts and sexual fantasies and not bloodied his hands with the stain of adultery, deceit and murder just to have her fulfill them.  David, a “man after God’s own heart” could have spared himself the horrid judgment of God that was delivered by the prophet Nathan as he proclaimed the chilling words, his bony finger pointed, aimed directly at the center of David’s chest, “You are the man!”  David could have even experienced the incredible joy of seeing his son grow into manhood and taking a wife for himself— of seeing his son raise his own children.  David could have even held in his own arms the grandchildren, maybe many grandchildren, that would have filled his aging heart with such peace and purpose as his hair grayed and his steps slowed with the passing of years.  Instead, David had to relive, over and over again in living color on the anniversary of the innocent child’s death, the sad, guilt-ridden memory and pain of the consequences of his own sin.
Oh, the sleepless nights David could have been spared had he done what was right and walked by the Spirit and not given in to the desires of the flesh.
So many things David could have done. So many thing that he should have done.
But he didn’t.

Elijah could have finished the task God had given him strong— out front and on top.  He could have retired the Undefeated Heavyweight Champion of the world.  Think about it, Elijah, the one with the Rocky, “I’m not going down no more” spirit boldly stood and single-handedly stared down 450 prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel.  That’s 450 to one!  Not great odds in our way of thinking but chump change for the Lord.  Elijah could have then faced Jezebel with the same quiet, unnerving confidence and determination like Gary Cooper in “High Noon” and not run, tail between his legs, praying to die, totally panicked, like the lovable poster boy of worrisome wimpiness, Barney Fife.
In other words, Elijah could have walked by the Spirit and not given in to the desires of the flesh.
So much Elijah could have done. So much he should have done.
But he didn’t.

The disciples, the twelve, the chosen ones could have determined to honor Jesus during His last Passover with them and not picked and bickered among themselves as to the supposed upcoming pecking order they would be in after the Great Judgment.  Can you imagine?  Jesus had just told the twelve how much He “earnestly desired to celebrate this last meal with you before I suffer.”  He had lovingly washed their feet in order to show them what true humility, true ministry and real life in His kingdom was all about.  The bread, just like His body several hours later, was broken for them.  The wine, rich, dark and crimson, was freely poured out for them like His blood was to be by noon of the next day.  Such humility.  Such love.
And the disciples?  Grumbling in small groups, oblivious to the intimacy of the moment, more concerned about who would be the greatest in His Kingdom.

Even now, before He was to suffer, Jesus was thinking of them.
And even now, before His death at the hands of violent men, the disciples were thinking about the same thing They were thinking only about themselves!
Want to know why?

People Do What They Want To Do

Because people do what they want to do.
Truth Number One is true of the members of Emmanuel Baptist Church and equally true about their former pastor— me.  And I would bet it’s also true about you.
And your friends.
And your family.
And probably the people you go to church with, and minister along side, and look up to for leadership or look down at in derision.
I bet Truth Number One is true of your pastor and probably also true of our larger-than-life religious icons and heroes like Billy Graham or D.L. Moody or Martin Luther.  Why?  Because “doing what we want to do” is our right, or so we seem to think.  It’s the inbred, hereditary, ever-present curse of our Laodicean, hot and cold, “vomit you out of My mouth” spiritual climate that we live in and have been raised in and nurtured in.
It’s pretty much all we know.  All we’ve ever known.
And unless something radically changes, it’s probably all we’ll ever know.

It has become, over time, the acceptable, normal Christian life.  The steady, systematic lowering of the bar of spiritual fervency.  The slow dimming of the light until we live in the shadowy, gray areas of spiritual apathy and lukewarmness.
Living in the land of Laodicea.
Sad, isn’t it?

What I discovered in my first pastorate is that the verbal desires that roll off people’s lips, many well-meaning desires and longings may I add, are not necessarily the desires of their hearts.  And if the heart says no— nothing happens.  Why?
Because talk is cheap.  Wal-Mart cheap.

We talk about wanting our church to grow…er…just as long as nothing changes.
“Yep Pastor, we want our church to grow.  After all, that’s why we hired you— to bring in the new people.  But that’s just as long as the new people understand that Emmanuel is our church.  Not theirs.  We were here first.  We don’t want any new programs.  We don’t want to spend any money.  And we don’t want the music to change one bit.  We kinda like the old hymns.  Oh, and the order of service has worked fine for us since we came home from WWII so we don’t see any need in messin’ with that either.  And don’t expect us to get any more involved than we are right now.  You just keep doing what we’ve always done and things will go fine.  Got that?  Good.  So you go out and win this town for Christ.”
In other words, we want growth without change.
Growth without sacrifice.
Growth without commitment.
Give me a break.
Or, as Forrest Gump would say, “Stupid is as stupid does.”

But I also find this true in my own spiritual life.  How about yours?
We constantly moan and lament and cry and complain and beat ourselves up over the fact that we’re not as close to the Lord as we want to be— yet nothing ever changes.
“I know I need to read my Bible more, but...”
“I wish I had a deeper prayer life, but...”
“I wish I was used by God to win more people to him, but...”
“I wish I had a deeper intimacy with the Spirit, but...”
“I hate the fact that I worry and I doubt and have fears all the time.  I wish I had that peace that passes all understanding that Jesus talked about...”
“I wish, I wish, I wish...”

But it’s more that just empty wishing.
You can’t simply click the heels of your ruby slippers together and mumble under your breath, “There’s no place like home.  There’s no place like home.” Or, “I wish things were different.  I wish I were more like Christ.  I wish my church was better” and expect instant results.  Get the point?  There has to be a proactive, concrete commitment and sacrifice for things to be different tomorrow than they are today.
Or yesterday, for that matter.
And therein lies the problem.  The dilemma.
The church paradox.

Which brings us face to face with Truth Number Two. “If things are going to change, then I’ve got to change.”  No easy way out.  No shortcuts.  No spiritual pill we can take at night and wake up the next day 20 pounds lighter and 12 years younger.
Nope.  “Ain’t gonna work that way.”
Why?  Remember Truth Number One.
Because people are going to do what they want to do.

And if things are going to change, then I’ve got to change. Truth Number Two.
I can’t keep using the same bait and expect to catch different fish.
Really?  Oh, yeah.
If I want the outcome to change, I’ve got to change my bait, the time of day I go fishing, the fishing hole I fish in, the…”
Doesn’t that make sense?  Nuthin’ truly profound ‘bout Truth Number Two!

Let me drive it all home this way.

Final Exam

Ok.  Final exam.  Just a couple of quick questions that you’ve heard before.
Do you believe the church can change society?
Do you believe the grace of God is stronger than anything Satan can throw at us?
Do you believe the power of God is stronger than your apathy?  How about stronger than my apathy or the apathy of others?
Do you want to be different?  Really different?  Or, do you want to keep doing the same lifeless, boring, rote religious stuff over and over again that didn’t work in the first place and then lie to yourselves by saying that it amounts to something important?  Something spiritual?
Do you want to experience the abundant life Jesus promised us?  Or, are you sadly satisfied with the status quo?
Do you Love Jesus, yet find yourself loathing and Hating Church?

If your answer to these questions is yes— then I’ve got some good news for you!  You can change.  You can be different.
Take a deep breath and turn the page.

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