“10 Gut-Wrenching Observations from a Former Church Insider”–by Shaun King

This is an article I found at ChurchLeaders.com this morning and what I thought might/or might not be a salient comment.

10 Gut-Wrenching Observations from a Former Church Insider

by Shaun King

A powerful look at church from the outside by a former pastor.

(This post has not been edited for errors.  These are my raw, honest thoughts. In a hurry?  Scroll down for my 10 observations.)

I didn’t grow up in church.

It wasn’t until I was assaulted in high school and required several spinal surgeries that I even knew I needed God.  But from 1996-2011, from the time I was 16 until I was 31, church was CENTRAL to my life personally and professionally.  I became a church insider almost instantly.  Here is a bit of my church history…

At the age of 16 I was baptized @ Antioch Baptist Church in Lexington, KY by my best friends dad, Willis Polk

At the age of 17 I was licensed to preach by Willis Polk at his new church, Imani Baptist Church

At the age of 17 I moved to Atlanta.  My first mentor in Atlanta was Howard Creecy, the chaplain of the city of Atlanta and pastor of an urban church – St. Peter Baptist Church.

At the age of 18 I decided I wanted to be like a man named Dr. Aaron Parker.  I revered this dude.  He was a religion professor @ Morehouse College and a local pastor of Zion Hill Baptist Church.

At the age of 18 I started preaching all over the country and became active @ Zion Hill Baptist Church

At the age of 22 I visited Union Theological Seminary in NYC and thought long and hard about going there for my Master of Divinity.

At the age of 23 I started attending Total Grace Christian Center after several friends of mine from Morehouse and Spelman insisted it was an amazing place.  The pastor, Johnathan Alvarado, whom I have since spoken out against very strongly, was actually great to me during most of time there and put me on the fast track to leadership.  I was ordained as a pastor by him, became his personal assistant, and eventually helped launch a new campus of the church.

At the age of 25 I was approved and trained by the Evangelical Covenant Church denomination to become a church planter.

At the age of 28 I was approved and trained by ARC (Association of Related Churches) to become a church planter.

At the age of 29 I launched Courageous Church in downtown Atlanta.  I thought I’d pastor there forever. It sounds crazy to me now, but I loved that church and the people.  I’d do so many things differently if I could do it all over again. We had something special there.

In 2011 I stepped down from my role as Pastor of Courageous Church.  Man that hurt.

———

In the nearly 2 years since then I’ve visited a lot of churches with my family.

We’ve visited churches we’ve heard about for years, places we just learned about on the fly, we’ve sat in the balcony and down front, we’ve been to churches of all cultures and backgrounds, we’ve tried out all of the children’s ministries, we’ve seen church every way you can make it in America.

We’ve lived in California, Kentucky, and New York these past 2 years and have pretty much seen it all.  All of that considered, I have 10 observations that I’d love to share.

I like to always give this stipulation when I offer what may sound like a self-righteous critique of church. I love the Church. I love God. I am flawed. This is not me saying I’m perfect and that the church sucks. With that said, here goes…

10 Honest Observations of Church Now that I am an Outsider

10. This is going to sound terrible, but I’m surprised how little church means to me now that I’m not a church insider.

When I was a church insider, I operated under the assumption that what we were offering people was going to fill some deep gap that they had and knew that they had, but now that I am a church outsider, I’m a perfectly content guy. I don’t feel like something is missing. Maybe it is, but it doesn’t feel that way. 

I think pastors and church leaders too often assume that people that don’t show up on Sunday are lonely or deficient in some way, but it’s just not the case in my world and probably isn’t the case with others.

I listed this first because I think if I knew that people felt that way when I was a pastor I would have offered them something different and talked to them differently. 

It changes everything.

9. Most church nurseries stink. 

I mean like outrageous funk hits you in the face right away type of stink. They smell like crap and instantly make me not want to drop my baby off there.

Listen, I know diapers are changed there, but I’ve seen it done where it doesn’t smell like an old man crapped on the floor. Dropping a baby off to strangers is already a weird and difficult proposition – please dispose of the diapers in a close container and use air freshener.

8. I’ve gotten lost in every church I’ve ever attended. 

I can’t find the bathrooms, I can’t find where to drop off the kids, and when I find the bathrooms and where to drop off the kids, I can’t find my way back to my seat. 

Directional signs are SO DOGGONE CHEAP. You can seriously go as cheap as laminating some paper and taping them on the walls or go super fancy and have them professionally done. 

Just do it.

7. The sermons are rarely memorable.

This is a huge problem because in every church we’ve visited the sermon is clearly designed to be the crescendo/centerpiece of the entire service. 

I won’t tell you where we went last, but I can’t tell you even one sentence from the sermon and I listened the whole doggone time.

6. In my church training, I always learned that parents will go to a church that they like just a little bit if the kids LOVE it…

But that parents will leave a church they like a lot if the kids don’t like it.

It’s true.  I preferred one church in New York personally but the kids didn’t like it at all.

We went back one time. The kids didn’t like it again. I love it. We never went back. 

DOUBLE DOWN ON WHAT YOU DO FOR KIDS. Make it even bigger and better than what you do for adults!!

5. I honestly don’t remember if I acted this way when I was a pastor, but I’ve had a few pastors act really weird over their church members volunteering to help with something I was leading outside of the church. 

Each time it baffled me. Don’t act like you own your members. I’m not going to start a church with them. They can volunteer outside of your church. 

It’s healthy. Don’t be weird and don’t act so insecure fellas.

4. When I pastored Courageous Church we spent an outrageous amount of time on announcements. 

I was slightly aware that we spoke of our announcements too many times. Now that I am on the other end of things, IT IS CRAZY

Don’t have an announcement video, then an announcement flyer, then have the pastor restate all of the announcements, then have a host come do it at the end. 

Cut almost all of it out. 

Do it once and have a flyer. If the pastor has to emphasize something, have them only say something about one thing, but my guess is that unless it’s urgent, let the pastor just preach. It goes in one ear and out the other, it drags the service on an extra half an hour, and it’s just not effective.

3. I feel like I’m going back in time when I go to most churches. 

Listen, I know God is unchanging, but the world changes.

I hear pastors make illustrations with references from the 80s that go right over people’s heads. 

I hear music that was popular in the 90s (which is getting to be a long time ago). 

A ton of churches make zero references to social media during the services, but it’s a big part of people’s lives.  I hate to say this, but when I visited some churches, it felt just like it did when I visited them 10 years ago and gave me very little motivation to go back.

2. Most churches have NO IDEA what to do with the true skills and gifts that men and women have…

if they don’t involve singing, doing camera work, or running lyrics on a laptop. 

I rarely feel challenged in church and rarely hear of any opportunities to use any of my skills, gifts, or talents in a remotely meaningful way. I am sure people felt this way when I was a pastor as well, but it totally went over my head. 

Your church is full of smart, experienced, skilled people. It’s OK for them to be ushers and greeters, but if somebody is an expert at something, take the time to figure out how to use that. 

It will engage them on a deep level and make the commit like never before.

1. All of that said, I’m still so proud of you pastors. 

Your work is so important, but so hard and it can be nearly impossible to get outside of your bubble to know what the world truly thinks and feels. 

I am rooting for you in every way!

Keep getting better. Figure out how to have regular, unbiased feedback from visitors or even from 3rd parties that you bring in. It will keep you sharp! 

What I heard in this article was someone who ‘joined church’ and a lot of complaints from a still young man, based mostly on personal preferences\likes being satisfied. Well, I’m not a young whippersnapper anymore. I repented of my sin and believed in Christ as a young teenager, however was a prodigal for nearly 10 years from about ages 18 – 26 having left organized church because of what I thought was wrong with it. God hauled me back in while I was in the US Army Special Forces and I remained within that elite military community for nearly 30 years. I retired about 15 years ago and am still just a regular working man at age 63. But this isn’t about me. I just wanted to provide a bit of background.

I learned about 30 years ago now that locating a church to attend wasn’t a matter of finding what ‘fit’ my personal likes/desires. It was a matter of asking God where he wanted me to serve as I moved around serving in the military (and probably a bit more than the young fellow who wrote the article)  . For that reason, although no church/chapel has met all of my personal expectations, I have always found a place where I could add what talents and gifts I’ve been granted for the building up of the body.

I’ve never been to a regular Bible college or seminary, but I’ve read through and the Bible a few times and did a bit of studying on my own. Because laborers are always in demand, I’ve had the honor and privilege to teach Sunday School and various small group Bible studies, provide a message when all the chaplains have been deployed, be an usher, join prayer teams, cook for lots of people and clean up afterwards.

I’ve heard a LOT of sermons, some from popular, exciting and gifted preachers/teachers, but many more from just ordinary pastors and servants. God has spoken to me in many ways through most of them. If I didn’t hear God speak to me somehow, I probably wasn’t listening.

Along the way, I’ve learned a thing or two about ‘church’ and ministry in general. About churches – they are either founded on the pure unvarnished gospel that Christ died for our sins (built by Jesus), or they are merely works of men, some of whom preach a different Gospel, like Christ died for OUR dreams (that was in actual sermon I heard once). About ministry – all true ministry is God’s ministry, and we still flawed mortals are blessed to help, no matter where we find ourselves on the ‘food chain’.

A last word about this article. The young man who wrote it spent a lot of time talking about himself and his accomplishments, as if he was establishing his credentials, so he could gripe about what he thought was wrong with most churches,the need to ‘get with it’ and then tell young pastors he was proud of them anyway? While it did make a couple of good points, it seemed to be more about churches men build rather than the one Jesus built, and is still building.

10 responses to ““10 Gut-Wrenching Observations from a Former Church Insider”–by Shaun King

  1. “A last word about this article. The young man who wrote it spent a lot of time talking about himself and his accomplishments, as if he was establishing his credentials, so he could gripe about what he thought was wrong with most churches,”

    I noticed that too Born. Also noticed that a 17 year old, who had accepted Christ just one year earlier had been licensed a a preacher? Not sure what that means, but it sounds off to me.

    I guess I didn’t think that many of the arguments given were really thoughtful. Things like…the nursery smells like crap? the music is from the 90’s, the media is outdated but I’m proud of you pastors anyway, even though I can’t remember anything you ever taught me. Very strange. Thanks for posting this though because I suspect this Shaun’s thoughts are not unique and thanks for your thoughts about the article at the end.

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  2. I also didn’t think the top 10 were gut wrenching. Those would not have been things that I personally would have put on a list like this…

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    • Agreed, unless we are talking about churches that ‘men’ build rather than the church Jesus built and is still building founded on the gospel that Christ died for OUR sins rather than our best lives now.,

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      • Did you get the sense that this article didn’t just have a “your best life now” slant, but an emergent and definitely pragmatic slant as well?

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        • Pragmatism, for sure – whatever works to get the unsaved through the doors and keep the young folks coming back. I read the on site comments that were piling up. That church is for the unsaved, rather than the saved, is a prevailing philosophy these days. The Bible tells me that Christ adds ‘those who are being saved’. They in turn should be spreading the gospel and bring others who are being saved to church.

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  3. I didn’t finish reading the whole article by this guy…because I couldn’t stomach his complaints since they seem rather juvenile. Like the one mentioning his former church and complaining about the announcements and also getting lost in church. This is one of the reason why I can’t stomach that leadership website. But I did read the entirety of your thoughts and I think you hit it on the nail. If we focus on Christ and the GOSPEL it will make us desire to Serve Him instead of all the gimmicks. We need more men like you in today’s churches.

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  4. Brother, I agree with your assessment of this article, but I did find some things worth noting in it. People often do not attend church for truth but for their kids. If there is not some special, “exciting” program for the kids, they will find an entertainment center that has such a program.

    I have also sat through countless sermons that weren’t worth listening to because the “pastor” hadn’t cared enough about the sheep to prepare adequately. It seems to me many care more about a cute outline than the truth.

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