Bored at Church

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Jennifer Taylor has confessed her sin publicly: she’s bored at church. But unlike many people, she’s not interested in a more whizz-bang service with hipper music or preaching. “I’m not looking for a slicker sermon series or a faux-hawked worship leader or designer coffee in the back lobby.” And she’s not about to leave her church to find a different mountain to climb:

“I also believe you make a commitment to one local church and invest in community with those believers long-term, I’m not going to start shopping for a new church. Besides, all those churches would also have long sermons and rambling prayers and worship leaders in skinny jeans. That’s the problem.”

So what is she bored with? What is she looking for? Taylor cites an article by Brett McCracken in The Wall Street Journal. McCracken, author of the new book Hipster Christianity, addresses why 70 percent of adults 18-22 leave the church. He writes:

“As a twentysomething, I can say with confidence that when it comes to church, we don’t want cool as much as we want real…. If we are interested in Christianity in any sort of serious way, it is not because it’s easy or trendy or popular. It’s because Jesus himself is appealing and what he says rings true.”

The comments to Jennifer Taylor’s post also contain some surprising confessions. One commenter says:

“I have been in the church all of my seventy year life and I have been bored for most of it. The trouble is that even though we are looking for a relationship with God, most church leaders/preachers interpret that to mean a relationship with a church.”

Another named Diane says:

“The routine isn’t what bothers me. What I want is depth to the routine. I want our attention to rivet on God at the start-a true call to worship, not necessarily a song. I want prayer…I want Scripture read, a lot of Scripture…I want time for confession and for assurance of forgiveness…. I want to be reminded, every week, of who God is and who I am in Christ.”

There is also the confession of a pastor:

“I’m the senior- minister-preacher-worship-minister for our congregation. I’m the guy who is in charge of making it all happen each week. And much of the time, I MYSELF am bored senseless with what we do. I have a masters degree in worship ministry, from a program full of very hip California-types, who are all about “engaging worship” and such. And yet I experienced the same boredom in so many places where I’ve visited, from coast to coast.”

Taken together these confessions are a sample of things I’ve been hearing for a while. And it’s not just from young people-people in my parents’ generation and even pastors are confessing their frustrations. I hear it at my church as well, from folks in the class I’ve taught, and from the college students I meet with regularly. And, yes, I too share the feeling expressed by Jennifer Taylor and many others.

At the end of her post, Taylor says, “I’m sincerely unsure of the solution.” Again, I really applaud her honesty. Well, I don’t have a solution for you, Jennifer. But I think there are a few things we all would be wise to remember.

  1. Don’t expect from a worship gathering what can only be found in communion with Christ. I wrote a post about this earlier, but many of us exchange an internal communion with God through the Spirit with an external communion via increasingly elaborate worship experiences.
  1. Brett McCracken is right-we’re longing for what’s real not what’s entertaining. I’d put it another way: we longing for the transcendent. This is likely what’s behind, in part, the movement of many evangelicals toward high-church traditions and liturgy. They’re hungry from something beyond culturally-familiar or Christianized versions of pop trends. I don’t think this hunger for transcendence can only be satisfied with high liturgy. Others discover it in nature, in art, in contemplative prayer, and in the reflective reading of Scripture.
  1. Our boredom isn’t with Christ or even his Church, but with the institutional trappings of the 501c3 organizations we call “the church.” When serving full-time on the pastoral staff of my church, I often failed to distinguish between these two things. The organization (programs, structures, budgets, staff) and the church (the community of disciples seeking Christ) were synonymous in my mind. When this happens we begin to believe that what is good for the organization is also good for the church and God’s mission. And a vision of life with God is slowly overshadowed by a life for the organization. When this seeps into our worship gatherings, and a vision for the church rather than Christ is what fuels the time, we shouldn’t be surprised when people become “bored.”

What do you think? Are you bored with church? And what’s at the heart of it. I’m not interested in debating worship styles or preaching themes. And I’m not eager to talk about how the proverbial church-down-the-street is doing it. Let’s dig deeper.

Thank you, Jennifer, for your honest confession and for jump starting this conversation.  And I also appreciate you’re ability to discuss your feelings without falling into consumerist language about the church. We need more voices like yours.




  • http://www.jeremyhenson.com/ Jeremy

    I am absolutely bored with worship services. I think we miss a lot by having everything arranged. It puts undue stress on leaders to make something for everybody. I believe it frankly robs the Body of expressing her gifts in the regular meetings. Worship feels like an unending training seminar for a job that never starts.

    My reading of Acts and the Epistles shows the apostles expected local congregations to work out their faith together without hand-holding – to love, teach, encourage, admonish, suffer and rejoice with each other and the occasional apostolic check-in.

    Today Christians are expected to mainly just attend, and sometimes to pray, read Scripture, and do good works. It’s very isolated. There’s no need to take faith with both hands, since the pastor and other leaders handle the hard parts, from discerning vision to setting a schedule.

    I don’t buy leaderless models, though. Where does that leave apostolic gifts? Conversion alone does not a disciple make. Leadership is necessary, but a vastly different kind than the organizational/public-speaking variety we groom in American churches. Apprenticeship comes closer. Closer still would be a parent-child comparison; Paul uses the analogy regularly.

    Where are the apostles today? Am I missing them? How does the Church get along without the first spiritual gift?

  • Melissa

    I know this boredom of which you speak. I also know a boredom with myself as a Christian. I distinctly remember saying to myself at a Christian Conference, “So, this is what it is going to be? Going from conference to conference for an intellectual/emotional fix? Can this really tide you over? Can you really spend your years doing this with nothing in between?” My spirituality, or the motions that I had deemed “My Spirituality” were just as washed up and bland as the church that I criticized.

    I think a lot of people go to church expect it to be their one-stop-shop for all things spiritual (Eeee, is that consumerist speak?!). Or, maybe it’s that churches and their leadership teams THINK that is what people are expecting. So, a lot is packed into the experience. A lot of bells and whistles going off. And we Believers go, and we figure it is actually what we’re looking for, because it’s what’s being offered. And look, all these other people are coming for it too.

    It all looks good, and most of the time there is great content in there, but it’s a whole lot to process. I don’t know if it is necessarily boredom we all suffer from, or if the ‘disengagement’ is just the brain’s way of handling the overload…looks like another Church Service TKO…

    For me, sometimes (read: most times) God comes in the stillness of a contemplation. Or in the weight of a line from a song. Or in a nature metaphor. These moments, though, are gathered over time, in a variety of settings, in a plethora of genres. And the weird thing about these moments is, if I try to orchestrate them or pin them down, they feel false or shatter. Even finding words to explain it proves difficult–how am I ever going to find a church that would provide the entirety of such an experience for me?!

    The church I attend on Sundays and Wednesdays cannot possibly include enough in our 2-3 hours together to “be” what God means to me. I don’t look to them as my one-stop-shop and I really doubt that too many other Believers do either. I think somewhere along the line, messages got crossed and everyone’s kind of confused and disillusioned about the whole thing. “I thought this is what you wanted?” “What? No, I thought this is what YOU wanted…” It’s like the Believers want God, and the church wants God, but there’s this dress-up game distracting everyone away from God and for a while it was fun, but now it’s just losing it’s appeal. No one really knows when or how it started, but everyone is getting ready to quit it.

    Lately, I have been getting these breath-taking glimpses of a God who is calling me into an intimate, loving unity with him. That means a life and a reality that are not clear or certain, but that are rich with experience, hope, and joy. The more I see, the more I want. The more I want, the more I cling to times and events that I sense will bring me more glimpses.

    After 20+ years of going to church, there is a part of me that kind of wants to feel gypped: how is it that when people said “personal relationship with Jesus” I never saw it like I am seeing it now? How is it that words and concepts that are so very similar can have completely different meanings? Was I misunderstanding the whole time, or was the church mis-communicating the whole time? How did I ever come to think that living my life with Christ meant earning his favor by jumping through the hoops of high moral and ethical practice? Is that just the plight of humanity–to struggle with the concept of grace and to rely upon ourselves for salvation? Or is the church to blame? Was I just misinterpreting the jargon the whole time? Or, if grace and salvation through Christ are the main tenets of Christianity, isn’t it the church’s primary responsibility to adequately convey them to its members?

    I don’t really know. The answers ping around in my head from time to time. But, whatever the cause, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I come to know God–that Jesus’ mission be made real in me. He has saved me, and he has reintroduced me to a Loving, Awesome God. That’s quite a task. And it’s not a task for the local church to take on alone. I don’t expect the church to provide The Eternal Package for me to purchase with weekly payments of 2 hours and a tithe (Eeee! Again with the consumerism…), but I am grateful for what tools and resources they provide along the way: insight into scripture, snapshots of this Loving Creator, a community where I can share my experiences with others, opportunities to do the work of the Kingdom. It’s like food and encouragement along the journey to God. It is vital to my health and success, but it isn’t my destination. Being with God is my destination. I belong to a church in order to meet God more frequently, not because a church is my god.

    I think conversations like these that need to keep happening. I think if we could all be clear and up front with one another, the hand-me-down prom dresses and over-sized high heels would go back in the box and the dress up game would be over. It was fun for a time, but we’re growing out of the game.

    Thanks to you (and others) for striking it up…

  • http://www.throwdowntheology.com Kevin

    I’m in my forties, and I’m bored with church. I have been for years. I guess I’ve done the “right” thing and decided not to go shopping for something better — but sometimes that is only because I’ve come to believe (sadly) that there’s nothing better out there anyway. Sometimes I’ve stuck it out just “for the sake of the kids”. I decided not to bail out, but I’ve also chosen to seek for community and mission outside of my 501c3 as you called it. (Which, by the way, would be a very catchy name for a hipster church!)

    But what concerns me the most is how much I feel like the black sheep for even admitting that I’m bored. I feel like I’m perceived as chronically discontent and hyper-critical I hear the conventional voices telling me that I’m bored because I’m not “giving back” by teaching Sunday School or being an usher or being involved in worship ministry, and that I wouldn’t be bored if I just worked harder.

    I want to believe there’s more. Your book has re-awakened my curiosity. Thanks…

  • http://eclecticchristian.com Michael Bell

    I hope this is not too much of a distraction, but here is one humorous take on how to deal with Church boredom. Introducing…. Brother Jepthah

  • http://quotidianjournal.blogspot.com/ dan haase

    I am reminded of these words by C.S. Lewis on his church:

    “I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music. But as I went on I saw the great merit of it…I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren’t fit to clean those boots. It gets you out of your solitary conceit.”

    and this by Frederick Buecner from his book Telling The Truth: The Gospel As Tragedy, Comedy & Fairy Tale

    “What is the kingdom of God? He does not speak of a reorganization of society as a political possibility or of the doctrine of salvation as a doctrine. He speaks of what it is like to find a diamond ring that you thought you’d lost forever. He speaks of what it is like to win the Irish Sweepstakes. He suggests rather than spells out. He evokes rather than explains. He catches by surprise. He doesn’t let the homiletic seams show. He is sometimes cryptic, sometimes obscure, sometimes irreverent, always provocative. He tells stories. He speaks in parables, and though we have approached these parables reverentially all these many years and have heard them expounded as grave and reverent vehicles of holy truth, I suspect that many if not all of them were originally not grave at all but were antic, comic, often more than just a little shocking. I suspect that Jesus spoke many of his parables as a kind of sad and holy joke and that that may be part of why he seemed reluctant to explain them because if you have to explain a joke, you might as well save your breath. I don’t mean jokes for the joke’s sake, of course. I don’t mean the kind of godly jest the preacher starts his sermon with to warm people up and show them that despite his Geneva tabs or cassock he can laugh with the rest of them and is as human as everybody else. I mean the kind of joke Jesus told when he said it is harder for a rich person to enter Paradise than for a Mercedes to get through a revolving door, harder for a rich person to enter Paradise than for Nelson Rockefeller to get through the night deposit slot of First National City Bank. And then added that though for man it is impossible, for God all things are possible because God is the master of the impossible, and he is master of the impossible in terms of what man thinks possible he is in the end a wild and impossible god. It seems to me more often than not the parables can be read as high and holy jokes about God and about man and about the Gospel itself as the highest and holiest joke of them all…I think that these parables can be read as jokes about God in the sense that what they are essentially about is the outlandishness of God who does impossible things with impossible people, and I believe that the comedy of them is not just a device for making the truth that they contain go down easy but that the truth that they contain can itself be thought of as comic.” (p. 63, 66)

  • http://quotidianjournal.blogspot.com/ dan haase

    oops – that’s Buechner – really a fabulous read…it makes the Gospel so appealing

  • J

    I have read the posts here and on the original blog and I have to admit – I am not bored with church. I have been to boring church services, but I am not bored with church. For those who are bored, if I can ask, why do you go to church? I enjoy the fellowship and desire to connect with God in worship. When I attend churches I hope to learn from the pastor. When I find a service boring it is usually because the sermon is shallow and empty of anything challenging. Anyhow, back to my question: Why do you go to church?

  • Matt

    There are no boring churches, only boring Christians.

  • http://www.jeremyhenson.com/ Jeremy

    J:

    I have actually walked away for now (it’s been two and a half years), to try to detox from the bitterness that built up in my heart.

    I believe strongly that connection to the Body is fundamental to Christian life. Like Kevin, I was slowly regarded as a malcontent. What I could offer – of myself or the Spirit – was not welcome. I didn’t fit into the organizational mold. Offers and suggestions turned to criticism and frustration, and of course became less welcome.

    It took a long, frustrating time to realize I wasn’t really connected to the Body, no matter my programmatic involvement. Continuing only made things worse. I stayed years past the disconnect because I believed theologically in the central role of the church in Christian life. But many passages in the Epistles make me wonder if the traditional American church organization really is (or contains) a Biblical church.

    I Corinthians 14 speaks to it most directly. “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. … Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to someone else sitting nearby, let the first person be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged. And the spirits of prophets are subject to the prophets, for God is a God not of disorder but of peace.”

    These things simply aren’t options in worship services. The Spirit is kindly asked to only work through designated worship leadership (and most of it days removed when the service is planned).

    For now I left, to at least seek perspective. I still believe in the vital role of local churches in Christ’s Church. I’ve visited countless other churches, all essentially organized the same way. The Lord has not opened any alternatives like a house church or organic church, either. I think I’m supposed to wrestle with this one to its end.

  • http://www.throwdowntheology.com Kevin

    I’ve given this more thought. And the more I think about it, the words “bored” and “boring” are so loaded that I’m not sure it’s easy to capture the essence of the problem. I guess that’s the weakness of blogging vs. having face-to-face conversations. If “bored” means being fickle or having unrealistic expectations or not getting enough entertainment from a “worship service”, then I certainly wouldn’t want to imply that I’m bored with church. And I wouldn’t want to use “boring” as a condemnation of a person or a whole group of people…

    But I tend to think of it as a parent. The summer is almost over and my kids are starting to complain more and more that they’re BORED. In some ways, that’s not a bad thing. It’s not until they really get bored that they have to dig deep and figure out other ways to be creative with their time. I don’t blame myself for not entertaining them enough, but at the same time I don’t condemn them for telling me they’re bored. I can’t just write them off as being petty and fickle and tell them that they are just a bunch of discontented brats!

    I have to ask myself several questions:
    (1) Have I raised them in such an entertainment-saturated culture that they don’t know how to live without constant stimulation? If I’ve let them just sit in front of the TV and video games for years, it’s pretty unrealistic for me to now expect that they’re going to suddenly know how to handle life once the TV season ends and the games have all been played.
    (2) Have I demonstrated a lifestyle that encourages them to push beyond the boundaries of boredom and into new frontiers of imagination? Have I trained them and given them the rights tools to understand themselves and how to manage their own time and talents?

    Being bored is just a symptom of a larger and more complicated problem. In the case of my children, maybe the older ones need to get out and get a part time job. Or maybe they need to slow down and appreciate the down-time before school starts and we have more activity than we can handle. Maybe they should read or do something artistic. Or maybe they need to get out of the house and interact with more people. There could even be deeper issues with depression or anxiety. I have to look at each child individually and try to understand the root cause of their boredom and then try to help them discover the solution for themselves.

    Seems like some of these same general principles apply to being bored with church. There’s not a single right or wrong answer, and we all need to dig deeper and try to understand the root causes and the right responses based on our own issues. I think God can use boredom in our lives as a catalyst to re-evaluate our situation and take corrective action. It’s part of the path of growing in grace and knowledge of Christ.

    (But over all, I’m still “bored with church”! I guess I need to do a lot more soul-searching to figure out why…)

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  • http://writeaboutnow.christianstandard.com/ Jennifer Taylor

    I appreciated everyone’s thoughts. I’ve written a bit more about the topic on today’s blog and welcome more feedback. http://bit.ly/d7x7I4

  • Margaret N.

    Wow . . . I have to say that I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE church! More importantly I can’t say that this has always been my experience however. As a faithful follower of Jesus my whole life, I have had my share of (boring) church services. In fact 2007 was one of the most difficult years spiritually for me. I spent most of that year dragging myself to church and being on my church’s leadership team only seemed to cause me to sink deeper into the quicksand of what seemed like a lifeless and powerless faith. Don’t get me wrong, I went to a great bible believing, God loving church, but what I couldn’t put into words was what was missing. I remember trying to relay my concerns to my pastor when I completed my two-year tenure on the church governing board, “It feels almost impossible to articulate. It’s not that there is something bad; It’s that something is not right”. What I learned later is that God had been growing a hunger in me for something greater. It’s not that what I was experiencing before was “bad”, but once again something just wasn’t right. And although I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time, that something was a lack of power. That something was a lack of the tangible presence and power of God – namely the Holy Spirit.

    I started off this blog comment with the statement that I love church. But was is perhaps even more critical than that is that I find myself passionately in love with the God of my youth who I now experience in real and tangible ways through my spirit, my senses and my WHOLE being. He has become so real to me that I often joke that I wasn’t really a Christian before. Not true of course, for with God it is always “from Glory to Glory”, however there is a tangible difference. Like the story in Ezekiel 47, I KNOW that God has taken me from what felt like only an ankle deep experience with Him to something much much deeper ☺

    It happened, seemingly miraculously at the time, one fine day in February in Oak Park IL. I had an encounter with Jesus like I had never had up until that point in my 30+ years of being a Christian. While visiting a friend’s church, Jesus met me and reintroduced me to the person of the Holy Spirit. That encounter was spiritual, emotional AND physical. And what I later learned is that when you are introduced to the Holy Spirit you are introduced to the incarnate Power of God. Ephesians 1:18 to the end took on new meaning as I began to experience first hand His power not only in my life (and church life) but through my life leaking out on anything and everything in it’s path! I started to know and actually feel His presence in a tangible way. A little over two years after my encounter and I still struggle with the words to describe it. All I can say is that it felt like I had won the lottery only to realize that I had never bought a ticket and yet the winnings were all mine.

    Needless to say my life and church has never been the same since. I did with much heartache leave my church of 15 years but I am not saying that this is what others should do but it is what God had me do. After I began to experience the Holy Spirit, God’s tangible presence, power and freedom like I had never experienced before, I was ruined for anything less.

    What I would like to say to you Jen and to the like-minded contributors is this. I have learned and believe now that your dissatisfaction is a gift. It is a gift that already has you down the path to receive more. God’s message to every dissatisfied Christian is this . . . “I have MORE for you!” ☺ That “more” is found in the person of the Holy Spirit.

    Blessings, Margaret

  • Rick Burkett

    As I read Skye’s blog and the subsequent responses and commentary, I find the testimonies to be extremely edifying, introspective, and relevant to my own spiritual walk. I find that these conversations result in personal reflection, contemplation, self-examination, and a deeper longing for an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ. Perhaps the routine and programmatic approaches our churches have taken (e.g follow the bulletin!) have glossed over real issues, real hurts, real doubts, and real longing by covering them with a thick veneer of the routine and predictable, quieting the voices of honesty, quelling the willingness to share openly, and limiting opportunities for the body of believers to share and to lean upon each other in their walk with Christ. I believe if we can return to the concept of what true fellowship means as a body of believers, and not only engage in honest and open dialogue about what we face in our dynamic, or not so dynamic relationship with Jesus Christ, we would not only discover a more authentic worship experience, but also be provided with ample opportunities to reach out and to encourage and minister to those within our congregation who might be experiencing something similar to what we have endured in our own lives.

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  • http://www.weightlosshelpfast.com Donald Urquhart

    As I read all of the varied responses here, I also can’t help but think of C.S. Lewis. The quote that I’m thinking of is in the Screwtape Letters, specifically the letter where Screwtape is telling his nephew Wormwood about the Law of Undulation. According to the venerable demon, because humans are eternal spirit within a changing body, we can’t ever find our emotions steadfast on anything. We are inspired for a time and then we are not. Our lives follow a rhythm of feast then fast then feast again. In addition, the bare, dry, dull times in our lives is often when we are growing most in Christ if we continue to do what He wants of us. When we do our duty as best we can and obey as best we can when all inspiration seems to have left us and the universe is barren, then we are learning to do things without the crutch of emotion. Bravo for a wonderful post and conversation about how to do just that.

    Donald from Lose Weight Fast

  • http://www.jephandcraig.com Craig

    I’m with Jeremy and Kevin, where are all the apostles and why are we made to feel like the black sheep for admitting we are not quite content with the status quo in our church services. If we don’t like what is being done on Sunday mornings how does encouraging / guilt tripping us to get involved so that we can do more of the same help in any way?

    One of the easiest areas to spot the disconnect between our Church practices today and that which we find in scripture is the passivity of our services. We see mutual interaction among members of the Church in Acts and in Paul’s writings. It’s worth noting that the disciples learned this manner of gathering from their time with Jesus. His manner of discipleship was kinetic, interactive and participatory, not static, passive and boring.

    I think there is a place for our Sunday services that benefit the Church but those I have attended are missing it entirely.

  • http://sharalonghorne.blogspot.com Shara

    I think that if we will look deep down and really examine ourselves…the reason we are bored does not fall on the shoulders of our leaders or those we attend worship with but that the reason is ourselves. Like Jesus said of the church at Ephesus when He was giving John the Revelation…..we have left our first love. I have learned that I can worship Him and NOT be bored whether I am singing out of an old hymnal or have the most up to date technology happening during worship. I can worship Him and NOT be bored whether the preaching and teaching is challenging or dull. I can worship Him in whatever setting I find myself in and NOT be bored because I fell head over heels in love with Jesus—my first love—all over again! I am not saying you don’t love Jesus…I am just saying your love for Him could be so much deeper and then maybe you wouldn’t be so bored with worship. And here is your preacher’s wife confession…..my family has (in the past) been so consumed with making sure everybody in our worship services was happy…from air to music to nursery to comfy seats….etc etc…that we found ourselves caring more about that than being in His presence. That’s all changed in the past couple of years and now…no matter how “service” goes….we have just had the time of our lives in HIS presence because we fell back in love with Jesus!!!!!!!

  • Phoebe

    I have been a bor-again Christian since the age of 21. L’ve never experienced so much “Church Bordom” until I moved to the East Coast. Out church services are so “predictable”. No one gets saved hardly, and if they do, they don’t come back. I used to being at a church in the “Midwest” where the pastor would get up before the congregation and say “Someone is going to be healed, delivered, and set free today”, and “YES”, it would be just so. Our church would have an altar full of souls, People would actually come back on the following Tuesday night for 2 hr. prayer service on our knees, YES out pastor lead us in prayer every Tuesday night for 2 full hrs. and the church would be “Full”. People would actually giver their testimonies of how the Lord delivered them, and “Healed” them from the Sunday morning services! Our COGIC churches are boring today. Everything is soooooooo repetative. Where are the miracles I’ve witnessed just a few years ago?? There is no Freecourse, in our services for the Lord to do what he wants to do. Why is the church today so spiritually blind?? Why do we think that people come to church to see and hear us?? It’s not us, but Christ that does the delivering of the people. When we we see that without God, we can do “Nothing”!
    It has gotten to the point that everything is like a ritual! It’s amazing how the first of the year we go on a 21 day fast, and fasts aren’t mentioned anymore through the entire year! 21 day fast, and there are 344 days left in the year. We need to live lives of prayer and fasting all through the entire year. It has to be a “life style of fasting and prayer! The church I see today is pitiful! We have lost our spiritual insight! Please, Pray for me, I’m spiritually board!!!!