The Church Is Not Respectable

The Church Is Not Respectable

January 4, 2016 by

Respect is still highly valued in some corners of the church. And not meeting those standards of respectability? Not cool. Here’s how Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of the Catholic Diocese of Providence put it:

The sloppy and even offensive way people dress while attending Mass is something I’ve witnessed personally and regularly receive complaints about. … Hirsute flabmeisters spreading out in the pew, wearing wrinkled, very-short shorts and garish, unbuttoned shirts; mature women with skimpy clothes that reveal way too much, slogging up the aisle accompanied by the flap-flap-flap of their flip-flops; hyperactive gum-chewing kids with messy hair and dirty hands, checking their iPhones and annoying everyone within earshot or eyesight.

Complaining about distractions in church is an age-old hobby for busybodies. Yeah, you probably shouldn’t play Angry Birds during the sermon, but you know what? I’m glad that kid is actually in church, whether they’re listening or not. (And let’s be honest: I say “that kid,” but often it’s one of us adults checked out and not paying attention. I’ll admit it—guilty as charged.)

Calling for respectability as we come before the throne of God is ridiculous.

Reverence? Yes. But I don’t think wrinkled shorts and dirty hands show a lack of reverence in any way. I’d argue that complaining about those things shows an excess of  judgment.

Don’t let respectability keep you from flipping tables or welcoming children.

The Church Was Never Respectable

Let’s face it:

“The orthodox church was never respectable.” -G.K. Chesterton (Orthodoxy)

The Christian writer G.K. Chesterton could have been described as a flabmeister himself (and so what—are we seriously fat-shaming?), but I think he’s right on.

Jesus never worried about being respectable. He welcomed and embraced those who were completely disrespected in that culture—women, children, the sick, the disabled. He flipped tables and drove out those who didn’t treat the temple with reverence.

The church today needs to worry less about outward respectability. If someone else is doing something you think is wrong, that’s not your biggest problem. I tell my kids to worry about themselves. I think Jesus said something similar, though he probably didn’t sound as exasperated.

Don’t Court the Status Quo

This goes beyond a finicky bishop.

As our churches communicate and do good in our communities, we need to worry less about the status quo. We don’t need to be jerks and offend everybody (there’s more than enough of that happening these days), but we do need to push boundaries and be innovative. We need to daringly love people the way Jesus did.

That might mean welcoming summer guests in their flip-flops and garish T-shirts.

It might mean sermons or social media posts on topics that make some people blush or get flustered.

That could mean having the freedom to laugh at ourselves and not take everything so seriously.

It might look a little odd—like church in a bar or drums in a cathedral.

But that’s OK. Our faith is a little odd. When we dress it up too neatly and cover everything with spit and polish, the rest of the world can see right through us.

I don’t know anyone looking for perfectly coiffed Christians to follow. The people I know are struggling to find love and kindness in a hectic world. That almost always looks messy.

So whether it’s Sunday attire, ministry activities or social media, worry less about being respected and more about simply loving.

Let’s do things well and approach God with reverence. But respectability? It’s not something Jesus modeled, nor a fruit of the Spirit we’re supposed to pursue. Don’t let respectability keep you from flipping tables or welcoming children. Don’t let respectability keep you from speaking the truth with boldness and grace. Don’t let respectability keep you from being a church that actually makes a difference in your community.

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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One Response to “The Church Is Not Respectable”

  • John
    January 14, 2016

    This type of thinking and behavior is usually indicative of a “Pharisee” mindset. It is an attempt at being spiritual or godly, cleaning up the outside to feel better about the inside. It ignores the idea that we MUST meet Jesus exactly where we are and that he must meet us the same way. It encourages people to try and “clean up” before they come to God.

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