“Why,” asked a friend this week, “are so few Adventist churches really happy, rewarding places to be?”
Human beings are always going to have conflicts, I told him, and there is no organization that is entirely free of them. It doesn’t matter if it’s an office, a club, a school, a family, or a church. We try to minimize conflict and disagreement, and we won’t always succeed.
“I agree,” he said (ironically, contradicting his thesis). “But it seems to me that Adventist churches have more conflict in proportion to reward than your average office or club or family.”
I don’t know whether he’s right, but I do know that statistics put member-reported conflict in 60% to 80% of congregations. If that’s true, it seems to me that making happy congregations should be the priority for all congregations.
So why are some congregations so unrewarding? Here’s my analysis, for what it’s worth. People come to church to find community, not just facts or ideas. But so many congregations (and pastors and organized religion generally have to take some of the blame here) are more about doctrines and conformity than being happy together.
But there’s a particular problem with creating a happy Adventist community: when a religious movement defines itself by a long, detailed list of beliefs and duties, it provides that many more opportunities for potential conflict. Too few congregations understand that “They’ll know we are Christians by our love” is more important than “They’ll know we are Christians by our correct beliefs and acceptable lifestyle.” That is to say, too many among us want to be right rather than to be happy.
And, as any pastor can tell you, even if most of your church members are kind and encouraging, all it takes is one angry, judgmental saint to make others decide they have better things to do on a Saturday morning.
There was a time when we assumed that believers would put up with almost anything to be in church. Not anymore. If church isn’t rewarding, they’ll find better things to do—and (at least in my opinion) they should.
Whatever the grace of Christ is supposed to mean, it should mean that a church tries hard to be as happy a community as human beings can achieve. Either going to church is a good experience—or why bother?
Executive Editor, Adventist Today
November 18, 2023
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