In my conversations over the past few weeks, I have made an observation: the church is frustrated.
I don’t mean that God is somehow frustrated or that His plans have been thwarted. In His sovereignty, He works all things according to the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11). Let me be clear that nothing can frustrate God’s plans.
So when I say the church is frustrated, I mean from an emotional standpoint. Many pastors and church members alike are discouraged. They’re frustrated with all the challenges they’ve faced over the past few months, along with the reality that things don’t appear to be going back to normal any time soon.
Reasons for the Frustrated Church
I have talked with many pastors and church leaders, and they are frustrated about a number of issues:
- Pastors are frustrated because the pandemic has made it more challenging to minister to their flock.
- They’re frustrated because their church has not been able to return to in-person services. Or they’re frustrated because they did return to in-person gatherings, only to experience a false start.
- Some pastors are frustrated because the pandemic has caused a tight church budget to get even tighter.
- Some pastors are frustrated when studies indicate that the pandemic has caused many to drift away from the church.
- Many pastors are frustrated because they are being criticized by some church members who feel they are being too cautious during the pandemic and by others who feel they have not been cautious enough.
Similarly, I have heard from church members who are also experiencing frustration:
- Some are frustrated that they are asked to wear a mask to church.
- Some are frustrated because their small group has not been able to meet in person.
- Some are frustrated that the church did not have VBS this summer.
- Some are frustrated that the church has not provided childcare during its services.
- Some are frustrated that the church stopped having in-person services in the first place.
And these are just the frustrations pertaining to the ministry of the church. I haven’t yet mentioned the spike in cases taking place in many parts of the country, the ongoing racial tensions in our nation, or the question if sports will actually return in any meaningful way. (Trust me, many church members are frustrated about that one too.)
The list of reasons could go on and on, but the bottom line is that many in the church are experiencing significant levels of frustration.
Responses for the Frustrated Church
Given this reality, how should pastors and church members respond? Here are five suggestions:
- Remember that God is in control. As I mentioned earlier, God is sovereign. He works all things according to the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11), and for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28). So, God has His reasons for allowing the church to experience these frustrations. Instead of complaining about them, ask the Lord to help you learn from them.
- Spend time in the Psalms. If you’ve ever spent much time in the Psalms, you’ll know that the psalmists hold nothing back. When they’re frustrated, they cry out to God in honest desperation. “How long, O Lord?” is a frequent phrase, spoken from men who love the Lord, but are frustrated with their circumstances. If you’re experiencing frustration, spend a lot of time in the Psalms. If you don’t know where to start, you can begin with Psalm 6, 10, 13, 35, 79, and 89.
- Discover the root of your frustration. Although the church is composed of redeemed sinners, the fact is we are still sinners. Therefore, we often get frustrated because we want something that we don’t have (James 4:1-3). When our desires turn into demands, conflict soon follows. Spend some time thinking about the source of your frustration. Are there things you want that you’re not getting? Have you allowed these desires to become demands? If so, confess that to the Lord and repent.
- Be patient with others. Let’s be honest. These have been difficult days for everyone. And the stress of this pandemic has begun to take its toll. Patience among church members has been on the decline while frustration has been on the rise. And yet, we’re reminded of Jesus’ words in John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” As followers of Jesus, let’s show our love by patiently giving one another the benefit of the doubt in these challenging days.
- Renew your trust in the Lord. For many of us (myself included), we often put too much trust in ourselves and too little trust in the Lord. We trust in high-quality worship services, great ministry programs, and effective outreach strategies. This pandemic has placed many of those things on the sideline for several months, and that has been incredibly frustrating for some. And yet, the gospel is still being proclaimed. People are still being saved. As long as God is on His throne, the church is still the church. Perhaps He is using this pandemic to help pastors and church members refocus their trust where it truly belongs (Prov. 3:5-6).
Hope for the Future Church
The fact that the church experiences frustrations at all is a reminder that we live in a broken world. A world devasted by sin. A world acquainted with grief. A world that is ultimately not our home.
But the good news is that Jesus is preparing a place for us (John 14:1-3). A place where all things will be made new. Where there will be no more death, grief, crying, or pain (Rev. 21:4-5). As Paul says in Philippians 3:20, “our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly wait for a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” If you’re experiencing frustration right now, take great comfort in this biblical truth. Better days are on the horizon!