A Letter from an Unsatisfied Churchgoer

A Letter from an Unsatisfied Churchgoer

It really was a perfectly good church service I attended a few days ago except for—well, except for the one thing that makes me write this letter.

Dear Pastor,

First of all, excuse me for posting this letter for all to see rather than just writing to you directly. Also, please forgive me for making what will probably sound like a complaint. I really don’t want to complain to you. In fact, I doubt you’ll ever read this—which is just as well. I’m writing this letter because I hope it’ll help someone else.

I was in your church last Sunday. I was visiting from out of town and I wanted a place to worship, so I did some research and settled on your church. It’s affiliated with a group I respect, and your website said that you love the gospel.

Again, I don’t wish to complain. I have many reasons to be grateful to you. Your church provided me with a warm welcome and a place to join fellow believers in worshiping our Savior. This was a blessing only a thankless, nitpicky fellow could overlook—and I surely don’t want to be one of those. Thank you for opening your house of worship to me. I mean that.

You preached to me, too, and you had good things to say. Your sermon was about the importance of reading the Bible. You urged me and my fellow worshipers to make a habit of spending time in God’s Word. This is a topic close to my heart. Few disciplines are as crucial to the Christian life as soaking in Scripture, so I heartily agreed with your exhortations and felt challenged to do better. Not that it’s my place to judge, but I thought you brought up many excellent points.

Still, I’ve decided to write to you because I left feeling unsatisfied. I didn’t understand quite why until I finished mulling over your sermon several hours later. That’s when I realized that despite your good material, it was missing something great.

I’m sad to say, pastor, that you didn’t preach the gospel. You said nothing about Jesus. I’m pretty sure you never mentioned him at all.

And I need to hear about Jesus every week. He’s why I do godly things like read the Bible.

I need to be reminded that God’s Word has come to me in the context of the Word, who gave his life for me and rose again. I need to hear of that love and of my holy, glad duty which flows from it. I also need to be reminded that he who did not spare his only Son will surely give me all good things. I need to know that in Christ the effort I make to delve into Scripture will certainly bring rewards of unimaginable sweetness, and yet my Father just as surely loves me even if I fail at your Bible reading plan. In short, I need the gratitude, comfort, confidence, and hope that only the gospel gives.

You could have ministered to me by preaching these things, but you didn’t. I know the service is not supposed to be all about me and what I get out of it, but I do think it’s supposed to be about Jesus. As it was, any non-Christian religious person might have listened to your sermon and agreed with it. I think you could have substituted the word “Koran” for “Bible” and made most Muslims happy. That shouldn’t be. A gospel sermon ought to be shockingly different from anything else in the world.

But I don’t wish to complain. I really don’t. This is because I too have the duty, on most Sundays, to tell the gospel.

I teach a Sunday school class of third and fourth graders. They are just as desperate as I am for that gratitude, comfort, confidence, and hope I spoke of, and I too sometimes fail to serve them the gospel. I get caught up in giving them good advice. It’s good enough, but I fail to say anything truly great—the sort of shattering truth found only in the cross of Jesus and in his jaw-dropping, empty tomb.

On Sunday at your church, I felt from you what my students have too often felt from me. It has renewed my determination to teach the gospel every week. That’s a nudge we all need regularly.

So you see, this is the kind of letter I ought to receive from my students now and then, though none of them has ever had the courage to write one. I wrote this letter to help me, and that’s why I’m posting it here.

Yours truly,

Jack

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There are 5 comments for this article
  1. Joe at 11:49 am

    I am the king of critizism. Some might say I’m talented at it. One of my old pastors said I could have a career as an FBI profiler for my ability to find fault with people or find the fly in the ointment of the church machine. He said he’s glad I’m on the good guys side. So with that in mind I have a question.

    If you do what the preacher says and you read through the Bible don’t you encounter Jesus? I guess I think you’re being nitpicky. I really doubt the entirety of the event was completely unfocused on Jesus or the Gospel. You were presented Jesus. Through the people, and I bet they sang about him directly in the lyrics of the music they spent weeks preparing. I bet the greeters prayed for you before the service and Jesus was there preparing to minister to you as you walked through the door. Was they Holy Spirit not with them as they gave their offering of praise and spent much time in prayer as they prepared to lead you in worship? Was he there with the ministers as each one prayed for his area of ministry to be saturated with the Gospel. Do you really think none of that happened before you got there? I find it hard to believe that was missed. So because he wasn’t explicitly talked about as you were encouraged to reach through the Bible. That was your issue. Wasn’t it? Did you not experience Jesus when someone warmly shook your hand? Helped you find a seat? Explained how church worked (just in case you didn’t realize it) Gave announcements tso you weren’t completely in the dark. Prepared lyrics so you could follow along. Explained why we are singing? And loved you. in Christ because of Jesus. Right? You won’t get that in Muslim gatherings. I think Jesus was in fact present, real, and loved in your presence. Perhaps instead you missed it. And that really isn’t their fault is it? That you were so focused on missing Jesus that you ….well, missed him. There is a movement afoot to criticize church efforts if you don’t hear the word Jesus in the sermon. It’s a mistake. Don’t make the mistake again. Instead see Jesus in the actions and attitudes and lyrics and look for him in the people. Not just the words. I bet. I just bet that if you went twice. you would hear the name of Jesus spoken. We encourage people to never judge, but to never judge a gathering by one visit. But I’m sure the 2nd time you might find the greeters unfriendly. Then you would be writing an open letter about how the church talked about Jesus but didn’t behave like he would. They talked Gospel but didn’t live it out right? Let’s give em a break. Let’s not write open letters. They do not good.

    • Jack Klumpenhower at 3:32 pm

      I appreciate your concern that we not be critical, Joe. If my experience hadn’t given ME something to ponder about MY teaching, I never would have written about it. I was serious when I wrote that I’m grateful for the worship service I attended. I suspect that much of what you read into the behind-the-scenes life of that church is true, and I also imagine that the pastor there preaches many sermons that are full of the gospel. Like I do sometimes, he probably just missed it the day I was there.

      However, as true as it is that those who greet, prepare the music, etc. have Christ-honoring ministries and witness to his love in their work, the nature of the gospel is that it is news; it must be told in words. And it is news about Jesus, so he must be mentioned. The preacher has the primary responsibility for this, and I thought he skipped over it. I share your wariness about grading preachers with a checklist, and I really didn’t sit there focused on whether or not Jesus would be spoken of (I only realized hours later why I felt something was missing), but I don’t think I can say the gospel message was present if Jesus was not mentioned. It would take redefining the gospel into something other than the good news about Jesus Christ. Again, the point is not to criticize this pastor, but to recognize that any of us (starting with me!) might make that same slip-up if we aren’t careful.

      And, of course, this is not really an open letter. No one knows what church or pastor I’m talking about, and that’s on purpose.

  2. Steve R at 6:34 am

    Jack, I thought it was an appropriate remark if the preacher did not speak of Christ. I know you to be a gracious yet truth-telling man – we all need a gentle reproof once in a while, even pastors.

  3. Anne Lawson at 7:40 am

    Well said, Mr. Klumpenhower! It’s so true – you haven’t preached the gospel until you say something about Jesus!

    I also appreciate how you brought up the idea that unless we read the Bible with a gospel lens, and with the grace that tells us that reading the Bible doesn’t score us points with the Father, we can be in danger of legalism. The Pharisees were diligent Scripture readers!

    Jesus said, “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” Let us continue to read our bibles more and more – but let us do it with the desire to find Jesus on every page.

    I don’t think your open letter was criticism with the heart of tearing down a pastor or church. Instead it served to inspire those of us who preach and teach and lead to do so with our eyes on Jesus and His name on our lips. Thank you!

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