Is Your Church Rightfully Embarrassing?


Skateboarding ecclesiastical dudes!We seem to be having more than our share lately of worship services that don’t follow the bulletin. We don’t have a service outline in our bulleting for just that reason. Still, since we started attending in December 2004, I’ve noticed an uptick of services when you can just throw the script away.

I love that. I wish more churches pitched their scripted Sunday mornings. (I wish more churches had reason to deviate from the script, but sadly, I won’t hold my breath on that one.)

Yesterday, God showed up again palpably. Last time, I was moved, but this time I just watched. It’s not about me. If He blessed others rather than me this time, that’s super.

Worship team practice before the service stunk, but when it came time to play, grace prevailed and the music flowed. The atmosphere changed in the church and you could tell something was stirring.

One of the things I appreciate about my church concerns the openness to letting anyone talk. The pastor and elders do a fine job of knowing when to let others stand up and take the microphone. That’s a real gift. It also means everyone’s involved in the service. People don’t just sponge it all up; they contribute in tangible ways.

I feel blessed to be a part of a church that has so many positives going for it.

I love to see my wife dance in church. Several of the women danced spontaneously—yet another blessing to have that openness to express one’s worship through dancing. But by the time the A/C kicked in (82 degrees in March?) I was pretty sweaty and so was my wife. We fanned each other after I came down from behind the drums.

We sit near the front. Since our church does draw a rural crowd, we get a lot of folks who sit in the last third of the church. Most of the visitors do, anyway. But this morning, two women visitors sat behind us. During the offering time, the church breaks up to greet others, so we chatted with the visitors.

Moments later, one of the men of the church approached the pastor with several things he felt we should be praying for. He listed the needs and called people up for prayer. At that point, I knew the pastor wouldn’t be preaching that morning and I got that “Oh no, the visitors aren’t going to see a normal Sunday” feeling.

It’s a mixed feeling. I want people to come back. I know when I’m out of town and visit another church, it’s always disconcerting to me to show up on that weird Sunday when nothing’s the way it normally is. I’m always fascinated by what constitutes “normal” church for other people, so I get disappointed when I get the guest speaker or it’s “Raise Money for the New Children’s Wing” Sunday or some other aberrant meeting.

So when it got a little “pentecostal” during the extended prayer time, I had that feeling wash over me—the “Hey, it’s not even noon, so no one can be drunk” riff on Peter’s original Pentecost sermon. When the worship team got called back up to the front, I had this in mind about our visitors:

If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.
—1 Corinthians 14:23-26

Plenty of building up happened Sunday. God blessed people and they blessed Him in return. That’s the best you can hope for on any given Sunday. Even if the blessing this particular Sunday might be perceived by outsiders as a bit unconventional.

I’m perfectly fine with whatever looniness I exhibit. I learned a long time ago not to be so stuck on myself that I keep God from doing a work in me or through me. But what about those visitors?

As you all well know, I’m not ashamed of the charismata. Yet I always get a little voice inside me saying, “What are the visitors thinking?” What I consider perfectly normal, they might think is…well, loony.

Or better, rightfully embarrassing.

The cross is embarrassing in some ways, isn’t it? We crucified our God. Not too many adherents of a particular religion are willing to accept that kind of blame. Some Christian churches aren’t, either. They got rid of the cross a long time ago. All that talk of dying to self made the visitors squirm.

Though it’s a more common practice today in Evangelicalism, the laying on of hands may embarrass some. We’re not a high touch culture, preferring our personal space. Hugging other people in church becomes a no-no, too. And let’s not get started on that holy kiss, either.

Christians cry in church, too. Even grown men. The reasons for doing so are legion, but in public they’re more rigidly defined. Seeing someone go outside those definitions, even in church, makes some people tense.

I think the mark of a good church is its willingness to be rightfully embarrassing, even if it might drive away potential members. The Gospel itself is embarrassing because it upends every standard cultural convention. Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. If someone strikes you, offer the other cheek. Don’t hold grudges, forgive. Deny yourself in order to supply others. That baldfaced countercultural response drives some to consider us loony. We’re an embarrassment.

Or at least we should be.

Paul’s comments to the smug Corinthian church oozes with irony:

For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute.
—1 Corinthians 4:7-10

We Christians have nothing to apologize for. If we’re truly living out the words of our Lord Jesus, nothing (or no one) can embarrass us. We are dead to the world. That world can laugh all it wants, but in the end, we’ll get the final guffaw.

So what does your church do that’s rightfully embarrassing?

18 thoughts on “Is Your Church Rightfully Embarrassing?

  1. Ronni

    I guess our church is known for being embarrassing outside the church rather than in it… although we have been known to see our pastor rap at the drop of a hat (even if he has to drop it himself), and had worship sets just thrown away, or extended dramatically.

    Outside the church is where we get weird tho. We buy peoples gas, or give them pop for no reason, we will wash their cars for free or buy them lunch just to do it. My favorite thing is paying for the person behind you in the drive thru’s meal… lol…

    Ah well. I do wish we would loosen up a bit. I came from a more pentecostal church at one point and at times wish they were more free to do somethings… there have been great strides recently though…

    • Ronni,

      What your church does outside its walls is very familiar to me. Most of that behavior got its start at the church I used to attend, which is kind of the birthplace of the whole servant evangelism thing.

      • Ronni

        I totally forgot you went there… but yeah… you know… something in me stirred majorly last week tho… I ended up on my knees in the middle of worship… what got me was the odd looks. I didn’t care, and I won’t ever again, but it saddened me. I pray someday the spirit hits so hard we all end up on our faces. Prostrate.

  2. Connie Reagan

    I just forwarded this to one of my pastors.

    You have been batting a thousand lately with these posts. Keep ’em coming!

  3. I think a hallmark of a mature body is the willingness to be “naked and unashamed”. I’m not saying that we should all shed our clothes here, but definately our social inhibitions. The major reason why we can’t is shame. There are certainly things all of us are rightly ashamed of, but we allow that shame to rule over us, rather than overcoming sin and moving on. The result is a body that is kept in a straight-jacket of social rules and regulations, often in direct conflict with the Spirit. A bride unwilling to disrobe can’t commune with her groom.

    While I sometimes have problems with some of the really wild stuff that some people do in the ‘spirit of worship’ believing them to be in direct conflict with how the Bible calls us to act, I have far more problems with the lack of action in so many congregations, marching in lockstep from 10:30 AM to 12 Noon. We should be guided by the Holy Spirit, not the length of the line at the local buffet. Remember Michal, one of the wives of David? She despised David because he “made a fool of himself” before Israel. David never slept with her again, essentially making her barren. I don’t think that story was a chance historical missive. By being rigid and unbending in our worship of God, we bind the power of the Spirit of God, making our body barren and unable to birth new life. We are useless to God if we do not allow God to move others through us.

    • David,

      A lot of worthy ideas in your comment.

      I still see bits of charismania in my own church. It’s far less than some places, but it still happens. However, you’re right in that too many churches can’t be troubled to go outside the script. Even if the Holy Spirit starts to move, they won’t deviate from the script. Their members suffer as a result, never comprehending what a real move of the Spirit is like.

  4. Diane Roberts

    It’s been interesting to me to find how many NON- Charismatic/Pentecostal (C/P) churches have entered into some of this worship. Perhaps that is TBN’s long influence. For example in my PCUSA non-C/P church, quite a few lift hands during the praise band service, and clap and sway. 30 years ago that would have been verbotten.

    • Diane,

      Actually, I don’t think it’s TBN. Even though I know people who watch TBN (though for the life of me I don’t understand why), I believe it’s more of the penetration of the charismatic movement through the old mainline churches. In other words, folks like me.

      I grew up in a Lutheran Church that had a few charismatic sympathies. The youth leader, in particular, was a charismatic and she encouraged a more “free” style of worship. Her experience came out of the late 60s/early 70s initial move that started in the Episcopal Church and other mainliners. That’s my source, too. TBN didn’t even exist then.

      Now that my peers are the folks running churches today, they took what they learned in those pre-TBN days and applied it to their churches, particularly as they left foundering mainline congregations for non-denoms and other more Evangelical churches. Many of those “new” Evangelicals started cutting-edge churches. Folks who grew up in those churches were in demand as leaders in other churches since they knew the principles behind what made that church great.

      In my own area, College Hill Presbyterian Church was the place to be in the 80s. That was a charismatic Presbyterian church long before the Sovereign Grace Churches came on the scene. Today, you can’t visit a Protestant church in Cincinnati that hasn’t been affected by College Hill. The Vineyard I was a part of consisted of hundreds of College Hill ex-pats after the College Hill split due to issues within the PCUSA. All those College Hill folks spread out over the city and took a little bit of College Hill with them. TBN had nothing to do with it.

      I know that College Hill is not unusual in that regard. Any major metropolitan area has about two or three churches that were huge at one time and spawned dozens or even hundreds of other churches, both directly and indirectly.

      I think that better explains the phenomenon. Those charismatics that enjoy liturgy or who prefer a “high” church setting are more willing to “infiltrate” a traditional church. They take that willingness to be unrestricted with them and it catches fire with others.

      Some would view this as a bad thing. I don’t always. A restraint does exist in both directions. I think we can be both too free and too tight. As is so often the case, truth lies somewhere in the middle ground.

      • Dave

        Dan says:

        “the kind of church where people meet Jesus Christ, receive supernatural healing, and are empowered to go out and spread the Gospel.”


        Thank you for this comment. This is a great description of the Church of Christ. I’ve decided to put a quote section on my side bar and this is going on it brother…. this is an awesome statement. Thank you.



  5. I think I’d like your church – it sounds a lot like ours!

    When we first started attending there, about six years ago, coming from a much more reserved church culture, I often had the same feelings you talk about (‘what if so and so saw me here – they’d think we’re all nuts!’) But as time and again I find out God knows what He’s doing by bringing people at just the right time, I’m getting better at tuning out that voice.

  6. Dave


    I think it’s pretty awesome that you ‘chose’ and or had the ‘unction’ to use the word, ’embarrassing’.

    I’ve always had a strong focus on how ‘convicting’ a church should be, but I never really think of our witness and worship as ’embarrassing’. But after this post, I am definitely going to keep that in mind, because I think your absolutely right. The Gospel and our witness and worship can be ’embarrassing’ some times. But we know that we shouldn’t be ashamed of it because of what Paul, led by the spirit, tells us in his letter to the Romans.

    I believe that we should always be mindful of trying to meet people where their at, but at the same time, we should never compromise the truth or prevent the spirit from doing His work.

    By being led by the Spirit, this type of witness could be the very thing that brings those visitors back, who knows, who can tell? Be real and rely on Christ to build His church! 🙂

    Good post brother.

    In His grace,


  7. I regularly visit a church with a largish, open, flat churchyard. This past Sunday was so nice, warm with low humidity. I considered long after the service had ended how nice it would have been if we had held the service outside. Of course, the churchyard fronts a somewhat busy highway. It would have been rightfully embarassing to worship openly in a free and open society. I would not intend to put on a show for neighbors or passersby. That would be pharisaical. But I would have enjoyed the sunshine, blue sky, and breeze, even if the keyboard, piano, drums, soundboard, and Powerpoint projector had to be left inside. The church will be holding a yard sale outside this coming weekend. Why not the service?

    • Dave

      I like your idea Michael. 🙂

      This is why I like to attend church retreats. Going off to a more natural environment, with fewer of the body, spending church service outside somewhere, having only a guitar and some tambourines, hearing a sermon and singing without sound equipment. It all allows for a more intimate and personal setting.

      I think I will submit a request to maybe have a service once or twice a year without any electronics and maybe outside… although that would be hard for the church I’m in, because there are a lot of people.

      In His grace,


  8. Mark

    Great post.

    Can you help clarify this “I knew the pastor wouldn’t be preaching that morning and I got that “Oh no, the visitors aren’t going to see a normal Sunday feeling.”

    Does that mean no sermon that morning?

    We have much to be dancing about.


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