What’s Different? Church vs. Bar

What’s Different? Church vs. Bar

Overheard recently: “I’m wondering what’s the difference between church and the bar?”

In church you pray for the Spirit. In a bar you pay for the spirits? (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)


Everybody knows your name…

When Jennifer and I lived in Springfield, MO, and worked at the Assemblies of God headquarters, our friendly pagan neighbors invited us to join them at a neighborhood bar for lunch. We were on our way back home from church where we had invited them, so we figured a little tit for tat was probably in order.

When I write “neighborhood,” I mean, it was 1.5 miles from our home (plus, incidentally, 1.3 miles from the A/G HQ). And when I write “bar,” I mean it was one of those windowless, pre-fabricated metal buildings that you always imagine when the words “biker bar” appear in news print. And, yes, there were occasional twisted-iron road gators resting out front.

Never having been a regular customer of neighborhood bars before (or since), we were a little nervous about going inside, but our young urban neighbors encouraged me to “man up” and bragged that this was the best place in Springfield to get a good, cheap, dinner of steak and potatoes … and boy were they right! The steaks tasted so good that Jennifer and I made Dan’s Place a regular stop on our way home from work.

Now, Dan’s Place had two coin-operated pool tables in the crowded center floor. After a few visits Jennifer and I joined in the fun. Really, we couldn’t resist. Before long, we’d eschewed the banged up house cues and we went and bought our own sticks from a pro-shop, just so we wouldn’t have to keep hunting down the one or two decent pieces of wood in the bar.

After a couple years of eating regularly at Dan’s place — competing against the neighborhood pool sharks (who, interestingly, shot better “under the influence” than sober), sipping her tea and my diet Cokes — we became part of the family. Whenever we’d enter, the patrons would shout our names: “Hey, Jennifer! Hey, Rich!” Our friends would sit with us during dinner and regale us with their tales of woe and victory. They’d show us their latest photos, and talk of the last trip they took to Arkansas, or Silver Dollar City. They’d talk about their children, their jobs, their spouses and their divorces. They became our friends.

On our last night in Springfield, we announced our departure to Chicago.

They bought us shots. They hugged us. And told us to stop by — any time.

We drank the shots. We embraced, and we promised to visit.

My point

During the time Jennifer and I haunted that smoky old joint, I frequently found occasion to compare the neighborhood bar with my local church. Unfortunately, I noted some differences where I wished our churches were more like bars.

  • People went because they wanted to be there, not out of duty or obligation
  • The singing was celebratory and sometimes therapeutic
  • Greetings were heartfelt and welcoming
  • Everybody had a seat waiting for them, if there wasn’t room, someone gave up their seat
  • Everybody got a chance to play, but you didn’t have to play if you didn’t want to
  • People notice when you stop showing up
  • Nobody puts on “airs” and when they do, they get called on it
  • Thus, nobody expected anybody to be perfect, and nobody pretended otherwise
  • If you make a mistake, you get called on it
  • If you admit your mistake, you get forgiven
  • It was a great place to go when feeling lonely
  • It was a great place to go when feeling sociable
  • It was a great place to go when feeling down
  • It was a great place to go when feeling up

I’ll leave it to you to determine how your local church does or does not reflect those differences. But in my opinion, most churches could afford to be a little bit more like a bar.

Sure, there are differences that set church apart from any bar — notably the sacraments, the preaching of the Gospel, the fellowship of the saints and the power of the Spirit. But, if your church is doing its job, you should also have a few drunks in attendance, you should need a few ashtrays out front, and you know when your regulars are missing.

And everybody should know your name.


Update (07/24/2007): Be sure to check out the article from Chuck Swindoll I found and have included below.

[tags]alcohol, bar, blogrodent, charles-swindoll, christ, christianity, chuck-swindoll, church, church-culture, commentary, communion, community, culture, drinking, fellowship, friends, friendship, gospel, intimacy, love, marine, neighborhood, preaching, relationship, religion, spirituality[/tags]

49 thoughts on “What’s Different? Church vs. Bar

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  2. lou


    Great post!! Point well made!

    You left out the part about the ice in the urinals and the free pastachios… pstachios… perstachios… you know, popcorn!

    blue skies,


  3. Rich Post author

    LOL, hey Lou,

    Sadly, no free pistachio’s at Dan’s place. Or if there are, they’re up at the counter, where I never sat. But if you go on your birthday you might be able to talk them into a free game of pool!

    You gotta play “A Boy Named Sue” on the jukebox while you line up your shots though, to create the proper ambience.

    :: grin ::


  4. sista cala

    “it would have been a job-ending offense for frequenting a place of ‘ill repute.'”

    Seems like I remember “places of questionable amusement” being on the back of my A/G membership card. I look back and find myself amused at the progression/regression of the denomination. (depends on what issues you’re looking at)

    Way back, the TV was called an ‘one-eyed demon’ and you were in danger of hell fire if you had one. Then when the new wore off of that and every preacher secretly had one; theaters became the sin. You know, you couldn’t be in one or own one. Gracious, it was even dangerous to be seen walking past one in the evening.

    Eating at Dan’s was no different than Jesus eating w/the wine-bibbers and gluttons. I’m sure you brought the LIGHT to that darkened gathering place. Eternity will tell of who was influenced for the good by your presence. I like your disclaimers though. There might be a statute of limitations somewhere in the constitution and bylaws. lol.

    Actually, churches would be more like bars if the members would just get drunk on the new wine.

  5. Rich Post author

    Thanks, Sista Cala. I hope we brought some light. There were a few tear-stained confessionals held over those tables.

    I, too, find our culturally morphing standards amusing. But that’s only appropriate in some ways. As culture’s standards and morays change, the lines we draw in the shifting sand need to be constantly evaluated.

    But, still, it can be amusing. I understand that when hosiery was first introduced, all nylon stockings had a seam running up the back of the leg, because manufacturers could not create a seamless tube of nylon. It had to be stitched together. And then, women with that tell-tale line running up their leg were thought to be immodest, because you’d only wear hose to make your legs more attractive, right?

    The irony is that now, at the A/G headquarters, all women are required to wear hose lest, I suppose, the sight of a barren calf cause one to stumble morally. And that line up the calf? It’s back. Only now it’s fashionable.

    Just not on me!


  6. Suzzette


    I say “More power to ya”!! This is exactly the kind of place where Jesus would have been!

    Building relationships with the ones who needed Him the most!!

  7. Xtian Surfer

    Thanks blog “rodent” for so handily criticizing the church you claim to love.. The truth I’m sure is that your wine-bibbing friends felt free to give you an alcoholic send-off only because you never made it clear to them that you don’t drink.

    Or maybe you do?

    So much for a Pentecostal witness and standards.

    And now you’re out here on the internet bragging about hanging out in bars and letting people buy you drinks – and criticizing the church you claim to love. I hope you haven’t caused someone to stumble here. Their alcohol-saturated blood will surely be on your head.


  8. Rich Post author


    Thanks for your comment. I hope you don’t mind that I stole your email to the discussion group (is it really theft?) and pasted it here on your behalf.

    @Xtian Surfer Dude(ette?)


    Thanks Xtian Surfer for making your feelings known. I don’t consider what I’ve done here “bragging” and I don’t believe I’m being more critical of the Church here than is overly warranted. But, I suppose, you’re the better judge of my motives than I am. Or at least a better judge of my inability to communicate well.

    In my experience, people tend to put their “best foot forward” when going to church. They rarely let on that anything’s going wrong with their hearts or character. They may fight with each other in the car en route to the service, but as soon as they hit the parking lot, it’s all peaches and cream. Then on the road home, they’re indistinguishable from every other harried and angry driver out there — save for their Sunday finery.

    But the Gospel compels us to confess our sins one to another and to help a brother out when snared by sin. How much confessing have we seen in our churches lately? Frankly, I heard more of that in the bar than I have in over 20 years of church attendance.

    I guess, to further cement my Pentecostal “bad boy” status, I’ve also been a bowling league member. And it wasn’t a church league.

    Sorry to disappoint.


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  10. carl

    @surfer — would the “alcohol-saturated” blood be on his head or his hands? I am not sure about the reference here.

    I think the inference that his admission of alcohol consumption will now cause every person who works at the national headquarters of a pentecostal denomination and frequents a restaurant that has a bar to have a shot before before leaving town is a bit of a stretch.

    And last but not at all least, the fact that you used a pseudonym shows that your words were not an ethical challenge to a transgression but a mean spirited attack on a brother in Christ. I hope that your unbiblical slander does not empower others to stumble.

    @rich — I actually thought you were joking when you said you did not drink while working in Springfield. Not that you weren’t telling the truth but that it actually mattered.

    I am not a drinker. Before I got saved I was but I am not now. But that is not because of some extrabiblical law of abstinence. It is because I don’t like being affected by alcohol. I may have a glass of wine with my wife a few times a year (literally) but I am pretty sure I would have passed on the shot (though I was not there).

    On the actual subject of this post, the main difference between the bar and the church is the purpose. The bar exists to make us feel better about our problems. All those who attend, do so in the hopes of avoiding what is outside the doors. In the church, we attend to confront the problems in our life and those of the world.

    While much of the church would be better served with more fellowship, by definition of its purpose a bar that tried to do what the church does would be doomed.

    But there are churches that try to do what the bar does and generally they are not all that successful. As Mr. Pearson.

  11. Rich Post author

    Thanks for coming to my defense, Carl!

    I only mention that I typically abstain from alky beverages simply because the A/G’s official position on the matter is abstinence and for most churches membership requirements and for all ministerial leaders it’s an absolute requirement.

    I don’t think (and most A/G ministers that I know will agree) that consuming alcohol is a de-facto sin. It is if you do it without having a settled conscience (as Paul says when he talks about the consumption of meat offered to idols in Romans). It’s also a sin if you drink while having given your word that you would not (as would be the case for credentialed ministers in the A/G), or if doing so would cause you to lose control (as might be the case with a recovering alcoholic). It would also be a sin to drink to excess, resulting in drunkenness, which the Bible clearly warns against. Oh, and if drinking causes another to stumble in such a manner.

    So, it’s a dangerous activity at best, especially in social situations. But some of my best witnessing moments happened while sitting at the bar drinking my soda pop. Seriously.

    I agree with you, the fundamental purpose of a bar is at odds with church. It’s about making money, having fun, hookin’ up, forgetting sorrows, celebrating whatever, and getting sauced.

    (That actually sounds more like my old youth group, now that I think about it. :: grin ::)


  12. MarcV

    The prime reason for “church” is the corporate worship of God. When that is happening then other blessings, foremost fellowship, will flow. Most people who go to bars also look for fellowship, and find the flow of alcohol can stimulate the fellowship (before getting to the point of slurring). I attend a church of +500 attendance, so everybody does not know my name. Similarly, I would be semi-nameless if I went to a bar that typically held over 100 people, though a bar like that usually has such loud music it’s difficult to talk to the person next to you, let alone hold a conversation around the table. My church does have care groups, and those are important to building a sense of belonging.

    You talked around it but I don’t think mentioned the “R” word: relationship. By going to Dan’s somewhat regularly you were able to build relationships and people could be open to you. Jesus dined with sinners and tax collectors to build relationships, not to convert them during dinner. Living in a dry county I don’t have any place like a “Dan’s”, but if the food is good (and it’s safe) enough I wouldn’t mind going into a “juke joint”.

  13. slw


    I suppose all of us teetoteling A/Gers, would have been more thrilled with your story if some number of the bar heathens would have turned to Christ as a result of your interaction with them. Preferably, just before you downed the shots! I’m surprised you admitted such a thing in a public forum. My guess is that the incident is beyond the statute of limitations, or you are just oblivious to the assaults of the credential police.

    I think your analysis of the social attraction of the bar was insightful and accurate. The familial nature of that bar is what made it so attractive and comfortable. Almost everyone longs for a place to belong. If churches endeavored more to be the family of God rather than seeking to be a conglomeration of godly families, we would see that same dynamic at work for good rather than evil.

    Cue the Cheers music, fade to black…

  14. April Gilford

    I enjoyed this post. I recently linked these seeming disparate places in a post on Life as a Christian Woman titled “Bar Hopping to Church Hopping.” Churches should give you that warm fuzzy feeling, but from the Holy Spirit instead of fermented spirits. Glad to know I’m not the only one!

  15. Rich Post author


    Thanks for the contribution, Mark, you’re right. It’s about relationships.


    Since I’m not credentialled in any way, shape, or form, I am relatively immune from reprisals by the ministerial magistrate of the Assemblies of God. That doesn’t mean that my blog won’t be used as evidence against me should I ever apply for credentials (it will come back to bite me then, I am sure), but if the well-respected Rev. Maury Davis can be convicted for murder but then come to faith and go on to pastor one of the largest A/G churches in the nation, I’m probably on safe ground admitting to drinking a shot or two of likker over 10 years ago.

    (I abstain, by the way. Having had an alcoholic father and mother I’m well aware of the dangers of alcohol and I have never developed the taste for it.)


    You didn’t link to your excellent June 26 article, so I will:

    Bar Hopping to Church Hopping

    This is an excellent post, especially useful in your analysis of three kinds of bars and three kinds of churches. Folks, do take the time to head over and read about Vampiric, Closed, and Open bars and churches. And leave your comments!

    Thanks for your contribution, April!


  16. Rich Post author

    Oh, one other thing.

    I think you’ll find this quote from Chick Swindoll interesting. If I’d read this before writing my post, I would’ve refrained because he says so much that is good here. Enjoy.

    Lessons From a Tavern

    by Charles Swindoll

    January 1, 1983

    An old Marine Corps buddy of mine, to my pleasant surprise, came to know Christ after he was discharged. I say surprise because he cursed loudly, fought hard, chased women, drank heavily, loved war and weapons, and hated chapel services.

    A number of months ago, I ran into this fellow, and after we’d talked awhile, he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “You know, Chuck, the only thing I still miss is that old fellowship I used to have with all the guys down at the tavern. I remember how we used to sit around and laugh and drink a pitcher of beer and tell stories and let our hair down. I can’t find anything like that for Christians. I no longer have a place to admit my faults and talk about my battles-where somebody won’t preach at me and frown and quote me a verse.”

    It wasn’t one month later that in my reading I came across this profound paragraph:

    “The neighborhood bar is possibly the best counterfeit that there is to the fellowship Christ wants to give his church. It’s an imitation, dispensing liquor instead of grace, escape rather than reality-but it is a permissive, accepting, and inclusive fellowship. It is unshockable. It is democratic. You can tell people secrets, and they usually don’t tell others or even want to. The bar flourishes not because most people are alcoholics, but because God has put into the human heart the desire to know and be known, to love and be loved, and so many seek a counterfeit at the price of a few beers. With all my heart,” this writer concludes, “I believe that Christ wants his church to be unshockable, a fellowship where people can come in and say, ‘I’m sunk, I’m beat, I’ve had it.’ Alcoholics Anonymous has this quality-our churches too often miss it.”

    Now before you take up arms to shoot some wag that would compare your church to the corner bar, stop and ask yourself some tough questions, like I had to do. Make a list of some possible embarrassing situations people may not know how to handle.

    • A woman discovers her husband is a practicing homosexual. Where in the church can she find help where she’s secure with her secret?
    • Your mate talks about separation or divorce. To whom do you tell it?
    • Your daughter is pregnant, and she’s run away — for the third time. She’s no longer listening to you. Who do you tell that to?
    • You lost your job, and it was your fault. You blew it, so there’s shame mixed with unemployment. Who do you tell that to?
    • Financially you were unwise, and you’re in deep trouble. Or a man’s wife is an alcoholic. Or something as horrible as getting back the biopsy from the surgeon, and it reveals cancer, and the prognosis isn’t good. Or you had an emotional breakdown. To whom do you tell it?

    We’re the only outfit I know that shoots its wounded. We can become the most severe, condemning, judgmental, guilt-giving people on the face of planet Earth, and we claim it’s in the name of Jesus Christ. And all the while, we don’t even know we’re doing it. That’s the pathetic part of it all.

    — Charles Swindoll, Leadership, Vol. 4, no. 1.

  17. Larry/

    This is interesting. You have hit a nerve and people are making some interesting statements. But this thought came to me… maybe the church is to much like the bar. Let me explain. As I remember my days of visting the local bar I remember it “ministering” to my flesh the “ministry” went no deeper. It never sunk down deep into my sspirit(not a misspelling check my blog under definitions). If the church functioned as it should I believe the bars would be empty as its patrons would flock to the church and find all they have need of. Then someone would be writing how a bar should be like a church. Sadly so many churches, local bodies, are just going through the motions by being seeker sensitive etc. rather than digging deep into the all powerful Word of God and finding “real” answers to “real” needs. The Apostle Peter put it this way, “as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virture, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises..read 2Pet.1:3,4

  18. Ray Wagoner


    I agree that the church should endeavor to have the characteristics you cited. It is an interesting study in social interaction to say the least. The question of alcohol consumption aside, our focus has to be turned more toward those who do not know Christ and less toward those in the pews of our churches on sundays. That is not to say that we are not all important and should not be ministered to; that is to say that we are all important and should be ministers! Your comments led me to see that we may have made our churches so uncomfortable that we cannot be real inside them. Perhaps pastors are the most vunerable to this phenomenon. The fear of people seeing the real person behind the pulpit is not always comfortable. I think the reason people feel comfortable in the bar is that, as you have noted, no one is overly critical of them; people want to be with you because of who you are, not because of who you are pretending to be.

    My only question is how do we make the church comfortable enough for people to be real. In other words, how do we redeem the profitable characteristics of “bar life” and transfer them to the church. We can, I believe learn from the bar, or other secular social hang-outs that succeed, without throwing out the baby!


  19. Bob Braswell

    Good post, Rich.

    When I was a graduate student, I had a very good friend who wouldn’t discuss his relationship with God with me until I accepted his invitation to a bar. We shot some pool. He drank some beer and I drank some 7-up. We sat at a table and half-heartedly watched a Chuck Norris movie that was playing in a corner of the room. And then suddenly we were talking about God, and he opened up to me his greatest pain and greatest fears and why he was afraid to pray because of the terrible side effects of the one thing he prayed for and got.

    One quote in Swindoll’s article is wrong: people don’t go to bars to get alcohol instead of grace–they go for both.

    In a course in Social Work at the U of Tulsa a long time ago, I had to do a project, and one of the options was attending AA meetings. I had had some experience trying to help some addicts (not too successfully) so I chose that. And what I found there, what people find there in the best AA groups, is grace. Grace in the bar. Grace in the AA meeting. Grace in the church?

    In a bar, people are expected to be people.
    In a church, people are expected to be pious.

    One Sunday night I was sitting in church and looking out across the congregation, and realized: this is an AA meeting. We’re all addicts. Some of us to alcohol, some to drugs. Me? Self-righteousness. I was/am addicted to self-righteousness, and like most addicts, I was in denial. Raised in church, knew all the right answers and all the unwritten rules, and all my sins were dirty little secrets that were hidden away from everyone, especially me. Kind of like the post from Xtian Surfer–I was someone who believed the lie that I was somehow better than the person who had a different set of addictions. What was missing from my life was the same as what was missing from that writer’s comment: grace.

    Hi. My name is Bob, and I’m a Pharisee.

  20. DLE


    Even in our Christian accountability groups we can’t talk about these things. It’s sad. Steve Taylor sang that old song, “I Want to Be a Clone,” and I think that’s the mentality in the Church sometimes. That means that anyone who’s not a clone gets treated like an outsider–or worse, a “SINNER,” capital letters and all.

    God knows I’ve felt it and I’m a choir boy compared to a lot of other folks out there.

  21. carl

    @ Bob Braswell

    One Sunday night I was sitting in church and looking out across the congregation, and realized: this is an AA meeting. We’re all addicts. Some of us to alcohol, some to drugs. Me? Self-righteousness. I was/am addicted to self-righteousness, and like most addicts, I was in denial. Raised in church, knew all the right answers and all the unwritten rules, and all my sins were dirty little secrets that were hidden away from everyone, especially me. Kind of like the post from Xtian Surfer–I was someone who believed the lie that I was somehow better than the person who had a different set of addictions. What was missing from my life was the same as what was missing from that writer’s comment: grace.

    Hi. My name is Bob, and I’m a Pharisee.

    I hereby nominate this the comment of the year. For any blog, anywhere.

    Excellent observation Bob. Thanks for sharing.

  22. Jay C. Anger

    @ Rich –

    Swindoll wrote: “An old Marine Corps buddy of mine, to my pleasant surprise, came to know Christ after he was discharged. I say surprise because he cursed loudly, fought hard, chased women, drank heavily, loved war and weapons, and hated chapel services.”

    Having served Christ honorably in the United States Marine Corps, I can attest that this statement pretty well sums up the bulk of the men and women I served with. Now for an anecdote: While on an unaccompanied tour overseas, I was the senior Marine in a group of five enlisted men. One weekend I was faced with mutiny: These four Marines informed me that “this” weekend they were going to a bar in Hiroshima, and I could either come with them, or pick up the pieces when they returned. Keep in mind that I was a Central Bible College alumnus, a member of Central Assembly of God, Springfield, MO, and a former employee of the General Council’s Headquarters.

    Now, I was faced with a sheer dilemma: If I do not accompany them, and they get in trouble, yes, it will result in severe punishment for them . . . but even more so for me since I was the senior enlisted person in the group and walked away. If I do accompany them, I knew that I was flushing my “witness” right down the toilet. Now my heart belonged to Christ, but my butt belonged to the Corps, so there I sat – inside a “raunchy” Hiroshima bar – checking the door every five seconds because I KNEW the “local” A/G Missionary would walk in the door any second and drag me out!

    Now consider the logic that was going through my mind at that time, and then consider that the nearest A/G missionary was about 300km away. So, why they would walk into the bar in the first place, why would the missionary even know me, why would . . .

    Can you see the deep-rooted convictions I was dealing with at the time? These convictions were superseding logic! Did you notice that all of these convictions were focused on man instead of on God? I was living in utter bondage and extreme fear – not fear of God and His holiness, but in fear of what man would think!

    At once, the Holy Spirit’s awesome presence filled that bar, and I could all but hear the audible voice of Christ tell me, “Jay, this is what it means to eat with tax collectors and sinners, and this is why it is so offensive to those who don’t follow me.” I literally had to put my head down into my arms because I did not want my fellow Marines see me weep. It still brings chills to my spine and tears to my eyes today. That single event was a paradigm shift in my life. It was the first time I comprehended the “Missio Dei” and it was the first time I had experienced God in such a tangible way.

    CBC taught me how to be an excellent church babysitter. Through the USMC, the Holy Spirit taught me how to reach the lost . . . and He did it at a bar in Hiroshima.

  23. Todd

    Isn’t this what Jesus did ? Thank you for stepping out of your comfort zone and being Christ-like. I am not here to be divisive and can only applaud you. More Christians need to get off of their high horses and start ministering to the unsaved … building relationships … not just preaching to them. I have quite a few unsaved “friends” who usually look to me in times of trouble and I “gently” point them to Jesus. There are way too many people in our “churches” who don’t know any unsaved people and are doing nothing for the cause of Christ … Oh … I’m sorry … they pay tithes and warm a seat on sundays and maybe wednesdays too. I can’t see their heart and could be wrong. More often than not … actions speak louder than words.

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  25. Rich Post author


    You wrote:

    … maybe the church is to much like the bar. &helllip; If the church functioned as it should I believe the bars would be empty as its patrons would flock to the church and find all they have need of. Then someone would be writing how a bar should be like a church. …

    Larry, you’re absolutely correct in that when God’s presence is felt in a Church, it gets noised abroad — Jesus is quite attractive enough on his own. No “church growth” or “seeker sensitive” movement has ever improved on lives set on fire. When that happens, all the world comes to see you burn.

    That said, too many have used a variation of this idea to try to make the church more attractive with marketing principles and “seeker” sensitive strategies and have made the church a self-help marketplace, ministering to the felt needs of the secular culture. When that happens, the church is simply trying to “out-bar” the bar. And (I’m sure you would agree) this is the wrong approach. That’s not what you’re advocating, I know. Thanks for your insight.


    Thanks for your comment!

    I like your comment:

    … we are all important and should be ministers! …

    Amen! That’s the point of discipleship and the point of the Westminster Confession: Man’s chief end is to know God and to make him known. Truly knowing God, I believe, results in the drive to minister to the unbelief of others.

    And I also enjoyed your other insights about authenticity (being real) and your other comment:

    … people want to be with you because of who you are, not because of who you are pretending to be. …

    Indeed. I remember having read Walter Martin saying, in his book Kingdom of the Cults, that people join cults not because the doctrines make sense but because of how they feel when they are around the members and community of the cult. I think, for the same reason, people “join” bars and other kinds of clubs and — conversely, avoid church.

    Ironically, rank sinners loved Jesus. They still do, in fact. It was the hypocritical religious folk who felt distinctly uncomfortable around him. If our churches aren’t making us who are spiritual hypocrites uncomfortable, we’ve got something disturbingly backwards.

    You asked:

    My only question is how do we make the church comfortable enough for people to be real.

    Invite Jesus more often?

    (I’m joking, but only a little.)


    To do the asides like I did for “we drank the shots” and for the photos that I link to (go ahead, click on a thumbnail!) I use a handful of javascript files called “iBox” which you can get here. You set up the files in a directory on your site and you modify your template so the javascript is referenced in the HTML header of your page. Then, when you write a hyperlink, you can give it a rel=”ibox” attribute, and the javascript takes care of the rest!

    It’s very nice, actually.

    @Bob Braswell:

    Bob, thanks for dropping in again! (To all who read this, Bob is an old friend of mine who stood with me at my wedding and is now serving on the mission field in Africa. I miss him.)

    This sums up the idea I kept struggling with over and over as I watched the interactions in the bar and then observed how we all relate in church:

    In a bar, people are expected to be people.

    In a church, people are expected to be pious.

    That’s beautifully put, and damningly true.

    Bob, I can’t thank you enough for chiming in here with your excellent contribution. Thanks, Buddy.

    By the way, when I told Jennifer you had posted a comment here, she asked, “What, are you in trouble again?” Apparently, she thinks you’re smarter than me (she’s right) and knew that I probably needed correction on some point or another (again, usually right).

    Which reminds me, I need to respond to your post on my Spider-Man thing some day…


    Thanks for reminding me of the Steve Taylor song. Man, that brings back memories. I sure wish Steve Taylor was producing CDs. I guess he got tired of being a CCM whipping-boy. I fancy Steve would enjoy a few rounds of pool at the local bar, too.

    I am a sinner. I’m daily confronted with it. I want to be holy, I desire purity. I don’t want to be a clone. I also don’t really want the scars that come with being made into the image of Christ, and that makes it hard to stay on the altar and be the living sacrifice I’m called to be. Clones, of course, don’t bother.


    I second your nomination!


    I can’t say enough. I want to nominate your comment right up there with Bob’s.

    “Jay, this is what it means to eat with tax collectors and sinners, and this is why it is so offensive to those who don’t follow me.”

    I am pole-axed.

    Your anecdote brought tears to my eyes too, because I can hear the heart-beat of Jesus in those words. Yes, I’ve thought that, and tried to say this, but just reading the words you wrote here, well, they resonate very deeply with me.


    Thanks for the anecdote.


    Thanks for stopping by! And thanks for following my blog from time to time (everybody, say hi to my favorite uncle!)


    Thanks for joining in, I agree with you 100%, and I appreciate your support.

    Sorry for the long comment, but I wanted to at least say hi to everybody and thank you all for chiming in. I’m always surprised at which posts provoke a response. This one not only surprises me, but your responses have humbled and touched me as well.

    Thank you.


  26. Common Swift

    Before you all start hitting the bars, why not help your next door gay neighbor clean his yard? Or is the Holy Spirit found only in “straight” bars?

  27. Pingback: wildoxgib.com » Comparing a church to a bar

  28. Bob Braswell

    @Common Swift —

    There was a certain man who made his living selling light bulbs over the phone. He would call a home or business and try to sell the listener a year’s worth of light bulbs at only twice the going rate (plus shipping and handling). When the callee invariably asked why s/he should do that rather than going to the store and buying cheap light bulbs as needed, the caller said he was blind, and claimed that all he wanted was a chance to earn a living like everyone else. He expertly played on the guilt of his victims, who were made to feel that if they refused to buy, they were discriminating against the salesman just cause he was blind.

    Of course, it was a con job. They caller wasn’t blind. And even if he had been, the irony is that over the phone, nobody could have known it until he told them. His goal was not to break down discrimination, to be treated like everyone else, but to use discrimination and the guilt that goes with it as a tool to put everyone else in a one-down position so that he could more easily manipulate them.

    I was reminded of this (true) story by the way you wandered into this thread and began to judge others for the way they (we) treat gays. Based on what? We haven’t mentioned whether the people in our anecdotes are gay or straight (and in some cases, we frankly don’t know). Sexual orientation wasn’t mentioned until you brought it up, and you only brought it up as a con job: a way to make others feel guilty, one-down, manipulated, helpless targets of your anti-Christian bigotry.

    I want to answer you, Common Swift, as a person, but how can I get past your bigotry? If I tell you about the times I’ve taken junkies, young guys who were surviving as male prostitutes, into my home to help them get cleaned up, either you won’t believe it, or you’ll suspect I did it to take advantage of them in some way. If I tell you about my struggles in adolescence with having a close friend who was gay, and what it cost me not to abandon that friendship while refusing to get sexually involved with him, more than likely you’ll react the way the NAACP reacts to a white Republican who claims his best friends are people of color. What can you possibly hear that can’t be explained away by your preconceived notions of what Christians are like?

    While some of us in this thread are discovering there are real people in those bars, not just stereotypical “sinners,” I hope you will discover there are real people in churches, too, not just stereotypical homophobes. We struggle to do the right thing. We “come out” to each other when we aren’t sure what is right. We need grace. Feel free to jump in, maybe you need some grace, too. But please, think about cutting us some slack, at least until you get to know us.


  29. DLE


    I’m not seeing how Common Swift asked an illegitimate question regardless of any agenda behind it or not.

    I used to volunteer in a ministry that went into gay bars. That was a tough, tough ministry. But the love of Christ compels us.

    And why not help the homosexual neighbor clean his yard? Is God not concerned about the eternal fate of everyone?

  30. Common Swift

    Thank you DLE, and God Bless you for that.


    Quotes from you:

    “…you only brought it up as a con job: a way to make others feel guilty, one-down, manipulated, helpless targets of your anti-Christian bigotry.”

    “…more than likely you’ll react the way the NAACP reacts to a white Republican who claims his best friends are people of color. What can you possibly hear that can’t be explained away by your preconceived notions of what Christians are like?”

    Wow! Who has pre-conceived notions again Bob? Your not a martyr, so stop with the melodramatics. Maybe i’m going by the long track record of posting on this site is why I wrote what I wrote, did you think of that? Thanks though, you just proved my point. Oh, I bet your a hoot with bedtime story’s too Bob.

  31. Carl


    I doubt Dan knows your history of commenting on this blog.

    But I may actually agree with you.

    I think it is really important that we reach out to people who have chosen a gay lifestyle so that they can be saved from hell for their choice.


  32. Common Swift

    I can’t help but love you Carl, cheap shots and all. Don’t presume Dan is going to show me the same nastiness you have so kindly displayed in the past. Is it a blessing your talking to me again???

  33. Bob Braswell


    Maybe I reacted too defensively? I’m sorry if I missed an opportunity to expand what was happening in this thread instead of just defending it.

    I agree with you, helping your neighbor (whether or not s/he is gay) is a good thing; ministry that will bring those in gay bars into contact with Jesus Christ is a good thing (and a very difficult thing).

    At the same time, there is a kind of question that isn’t really a question so much as an accusation with a question mark at the end. That’s the way I read Common Swift’s post.

    By the way, DLE, when are you going to stop beating your wife?

    Sorry, that empty accusation with a question mark at the end was for demonstration purposes only.

    Of course, it is a good thing to stop beating your wife, and it is for precisely that reason that it is an ugly and unjust thing to be falsely accused of beating her in the first place.

    Even if Common Swift’s question was loaded, did I answer it in the right way? As a recovering Pharisee, I can’t be 100% sure I did. There is a time for a blunt application of Truth:

    Mat 23:27 (ESV) “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.

    But there is also a time for bearing accusations silently:

    Mar 14:61a (ESV) But he remained silent and made no answer.

    In this instance I thought something good and important was happening in this thread that shouldn’t get lost because someone lobbed in an accusatory question: Christians were confronting the difference between Jesus’ example and our church subculture. So I tried to answer. Maybe Common Swift will take it well. If not, I’ll get another chance to try the other response.


  34. Carl

    Thanks Swift!

    The Bible tells that some will not love me when I bring the truth but I guess you are open to change.

    Bless you in your baby steps.

  35. Jay C. Anger

    @Common Swift:

    I would remind you that Christ taught us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Jesus said, “This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Notice that Jesus did not put any qualifiers on “the neighbor” and he did not say, “love the neighbor that is like yourself.”

    In context, I would also remind you that this was Jesus’ response after, “the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question.” Now, I am not calling you a Pharisee, but perhaps your “inquiry” was a bit too short and a bit too curt to elicit any other type of response. I have been praying about this all day, and I too sense in my spirit (as Bob obviously has) that this was an agenda driven post rather than a legitimate question. I does pain me that your only point (as you seem to have admitted to) was to bring out the worst in individuals here, rather than to edify and to teach them how to better fulfill the two commandments above. I fear at this point that this post will now spiral out of control and we will forget where we were headed.

    So I would ask you:

    Why the “gay” neighbor? Why not the “white-trash-redneck” neighbor? Why not the ““ neighbor? Why not the “economically disadvantaged” neighbor? Why not the “Muslim” neighbor? (From my perspective, this one would probably be a tougher one for most to respond to.) The fact is that ANY neighbor that is not “like us” can be perceived as a “threat” of sorts, and especially a threat to the immature believer. Had you asked the question and merely left “gay” out of it and then later followed up with the question, “What if this “neighbor” were an openly gay, male couple?” I could then accept it as being a thoughtful inquiry rather than an agenda driven post, and I think you would not only have found more of the “grace” that Bob speaks of, but you would also have encouraged more thought-provoking dialogue – and all of us would have been well-served by it.

    Finally, I would also remind you that the spirit of this entire post was one of communicating how we as Christians have been trapped for years in a Pharisaical mindset; one that said, “Lord, I thank you that I am not like those wretched sinners down at that bar,” and I think that we as Pentecostal Christians probably have been the worst at this. It was a post that has rebuked the church for acting on our personal guilt and pushing our personal convictions upon others. Up to this point, I think it has been a beautiful discourse on how heart of Christ is focused on the lost and the dying. And, up to this point, I think it has been meant to be a wake up call to the Christian as to where their focus should be – centered inwardly in Christ and outwardly on the fulfillment of the Great Commission. It is in these two things and these two things alone that we fulfill both the first and the second greatest commandments.

    Paul reminded us again in Romans 13:

    Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

    And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.

    Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

  36. Common Swift


    The question is why is what I said illiciting such a strong negative response? The response should have been “You know? your right!” and it should have expanded the dialogue instead of the knee jerk reaction it got. I have debated people posting here against Xtian Surfer and his hard line with the Bible, they say one thing here, but these same people will turn around and apply that exact same legalism in regard to the homosexualy. Seeing the hypocricy here just got the better of me, and I do repent of that Jay.

    Grace and compassion are not, should not, be selective, but I have seen that “Christian ” compassion come to a screeching halt when homosexuals are brought up, look in your heart and tell me that isn’t true with the Church? Last I looked the Church didn’t go after “White-Trash-Rednecks” or the “Economically Disadvantaged,” but some “Christian” groups are hell bent on making my life miserable, including bareing false witness, because I did not decide who to love any more than you did.

    The Church needs to wake up and repent or Romans.2:24 will always stick.

  37. Jay C. Anger

    Common Swift said:

    Grace and compassion are not, should not, be selective, but I have seen that “Christian ” compassion come to a screeching halt when homosexuals are brought up, look in your heart and tell me that isn’t true with the Church?

    Now this is the point that we MUST return our focus to: Who here can charge that Christ himself did not die for the homosexual? If Christ did not die for the homosexual, then He did not die for Bob “the Pharisee” either. Furthermore, if the grace of God was not extended to the homosexual, then the Apostle Paul himself was a liar, and the Word of God is absolutely false; for it is written in I Corinthians 6:

    Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

    Yes, it is truly hard to love some “neighbors,” and even harder at times to accept that these “neighbors” can indeed come to a saving knowledge in Christ! But as it is written in I Timothy, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone — for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

    But, as Common Swift has alluded to, it is also the sad truth that men thwart the will of God. In the case of “all men being saved,” some men thwart the will of God through their own disbelief and others through walking away from that saving faith. However, sometimes it is the actions of others; others for not going and telling the lost of the saving knowledge of Christ, and worse yet, still others for driving the lost away from the saving knowledge of Christ. Could it be that we do not and cannot truly “love the Lord with all of our heart” until we indeed “love our neighbors as ourselves?”

    It’s a tough word, a tough teaching, and absolute impossible to apply in our lives outside of the power of the Holy Spirit. And Christ angered the Pharisees when he said it just as much as it angered them that he would sit in the local bar with the tax collectors and sinners.

  38. Clydene Chinetti

    It isn’t about models. It is about God.

    I have gone in a bar before, I went in a bar to “bring our new convert out”, so that he would be away from the lifestyle and people that were dragging him into the place he so desperately wanted out of.

    I remember being in a bar and thinking, “How very sad. These people really think this is a “fun” place, but it was a hollow, empty void when I compared it to my Christian friends and the good “fun” we had together. Real fun. At the coffeeshops on the streets at 3AM, you can see how much fun the place really was, when you sit on the sidewalks of streets where people have been left and the so called “fun” is over and they have been abandoned and realize the reality of it all, the booze and sex.

    We didn’t play the juke box, but our new “convert” did ask us to sing, “En La Cruz” (At the Cross, At the Cross, where I first saw the Light”) over and over again to him in the car, so he could hear the words. We took him and others home with us and prayed for them, we talked with them and loved them. We stayed up all night long praying with them to be delivered from drugs and alcohol and that their marriages would be healed. We cried around the altar with them and went to trailers where drugs were about to be delivered to drag them out, and empty out their alcohol and pray with them and answer questions for them about the rapture and see them go home to their wives. We visited places where guns lay out on the chairs and the situation was no good, and loved them and had young girls leave and go home to their sisters. We stopped kids alone on the streets at night and talked with them and invited them to our services.

    We all were family at the Church, we were the Family of God! We prayed with each other at the altars and cried and confessed our faults one to another. We sit and talked with young girls who were about to run away and had them stay home instead. We welcomed homosexuals and they left their lifestyle and embraced the Lord and were great blessings to us. I remember singing a special with one former homosexual who arrived with long painted nails and in drag, after he came to the Lord, and stopped his lifestyle, we sang, “I Saw the Lord”. I believe we did.

    We pioneered a Spanish Church and had people come who drove over 90 miles one way and reached out to the children and youth and people of all ages, and interpreted all our services. We held outdoor meetings and reached out to those held in bondage in the occult and astral travel and the goddess Diana. We evangelized, we supported missions, we started children churches and Royal Rangers and Missionettes and loved kids. We reached out to unwed Mothers, and those hurting and suicidal, even wrestling a gun from a young man’s hand to save his life one night. We saw demons speak from men and call us “stupid” and saw people delivered. We rebuked demons mid-sentence that cried out at us and saw them immediately stop and the woman go on speaking. We saw people delivered of tobacco and run go tell the Pastor the same night, as we walked away amazed at what God would do, even through us as yielded vessels. We were filled with the Holy Ghost. We prayed, we studied, welived the Word of God. We were led by the Spirit of God and yielded to Him and did not quench the Spirit of God, and all hell came against us……… and God STOOD with us.

    THIS is the CHURCH I know! The Blood bought Church of the Living God! The Body of which Christ is Head.

  39. Pingback: An interesting article on Bar vs. Church « Confessions of a TreeHouse Monastic

  40. Jeremy Farmer


    Great writing. I’m thankful that there are people like you who are progressive thinkers, and who don’t put God, church, or religion in a small tiny box.

    I’m praying a bold prayer today thanks to you: God, make my church more like a bar.


  41. Bethany Pledge Erickson


    Thanks for this post (and thanks to the comment-writers that struck my heart as well). And the Chuck Swindoll piece! It is such a comfort to read a man who has persevered in the faith make a statement like, “We’re the only outfit I know that shoots its wounded.” It’s a comfort to know I am not the only one with these kind of thoughts, and that the existence of such “cynicism” does not mean I am necessarily losing it. (It is okay to be cynical about things that are wrong.)

    When I was in high school, I had friends who never drank, smoked, swore, or watched rated-R movies. They also never prayed with me, and I wouldn’t care to see any of them now. I made friends at my (Christian) college who did all of the above — who were full of doubts, questions, and problems. Those people prayed with me. They were not afraid of those parts of me I could not talk about in church.

    Solidarity, brother. I was in a work bowling league last year. :)


  42. Pingback: Moral Outrage: Folsom Street Sinnage … er … Signage via BlogRodent

  43. Carissa

    As I read your post, I had to smile. I’m very happy to say that my church is a lot like a bar, at least the one you’re describing. I’ve attended church services as a single mother only to feel judged the whole time. Believe it or not the only place I felt welcome was at a Mennonite church, even though I wasn’t allowed to join, my daughter and I were still welcome there with open arms. We moved to a new area about 4 years ago and our church here has done the same, welcomed us with open arms and big smiles. Love unconditional as Christ loves us.


  44. Steven Hulbert

    The most effective ministry happens in bars, coffee shops, peoples homes, the workplace, and pretty much any location that functions as a social location.

    Why is Church not the most effective ministry?

    Well its actually quite simple. Church is to edify ‘the believers’, people who aready know Christ. But the church is not the mission. The mission exist outside its wall in every house, bar, street corner, laundry matt, local co-op, Restaurant, office, youth club, home, and so on and so on…

    We as believers go to church as another means of continuing our learning and fellowshipping with like minded people to recieve incouragement and support in the work God has called us to do.

    You see Jesus didn’t go to the church to reach the unbeliever. He simply went there to inform the believers “I’m Here”. The mission for Jesus existed outside the walls of the church (much to the horror of the believers).

    I go to church because I like being reminded by Jesus that he is here, but I also see the work of his hand changing the lives of people all around me. And while the 99 are well and safe in the pen (house) of the Lord, the real concern is for every single ‘one’ that is lost in the wilderness of this world on the brink of being consumed by the wolves of darkness.

    My prayer is that we come to realise that God is working ahead of us and we need to stop (as a church) judging, condemning, and provinding the cold shoulder. We need to realise that God is opening doors in the hearts of those around us, in front of our very eyes, in the most unlikely of people. God is waiting for us to see and to stop being blinded by our own self-righteousness.

    God Bless


  45. Pingback: How to Understand Your Pastor « Ryan Thomas Jones

  46. Julie Rysdam

    I have gone to church all of my life. Several different ones, as we moved a lot when I was a kid. A lot of times I went twice Sunday. I have been in Bible studies, church choir, small groups, couples club, attended Sunday school, led Sunday school, attended youth group, led youth group, I’m sure you get the point.

    About mid 2005, when I turned 45, I attended a 12 week Bible study. After it was over, I came to realize that after all of the churches I had attended, I really had no close friends. That day I quit! I quit and I waited for that call. Hey. Where did you go? Where have you been? We miss you? Guess what. It never came.

    A few months later, I started driving my son & his Marine friends around to the local bars, so they could drink and not get a DUI. Then, instead of driving all the way home, I started hanging out with them.

    Within a few weeks, I had new friends. Fun friends. Friends of all ages and all walks of life. They yelled out hello when I walked in, they laughed at my jokes, they cared about how my day went. I was invited me to barbecues, graduations and Christmas parties. My new firends loved me. They loved my wit and my spiritual knowledge. They loved my voice when I sang karaoke. They loved my innocence. They loved my ethics. They missed me when I was gone and hugged me when I came back.

    Easter Sunday. I became like thousands of Americans who wander back to church on that one special day, only I went back to my church. Guess what? Oh yeah, there were a few hello’s and how ya’ beens. The drummer from the Praise Team I’d sang in for three years made an attempt at a symbolance of conversation. I ate the little brunch they put on . . . I ate it alone. I ate it alone and I left alone, sobbing as my car left the parking lot.

    So why? Why did I find more warmth on a bar stool than I ever did on a church pew? Why? That was the question we wrestled over, me and God. Why did the church never love me? Really love me? Ever.

    I’m warm. Warm and open. I share things. I would never hide the fact that my marriage was in trouble or that my kid was on drugs . . . and that scares some Christains.

    I’m witty. Witty and slightly sarcastic. I can find humor in just about everything . . . and that scares some Christains.

    I’m inquisitive. I’m inquisitive and a little irreverant. I wonder about things like . . . what does it mean when Genesis said that the son’s of God lay down with the son’s of men? And . . . that scares some Christians.

    I’m daring. I dare to voice my opinion and I love a healthy debate and . . . that scared some Christians.

    I have ADD. I have ADD, but my Bible knowledge is extensive. That combination makes me easily bored. I got bored with the semi politically correct sermons about the same things over and over again. I got bored of the careful Bible studies where no one dared to stir things up and really talk about their relationship to God. I got bored with the new praise songs. I got bored … and that scared some people.

    I’m attractive. Usually this enables you to make more friends. Not if you’re a woman . . . in the church. The women skirted around me like ally cats and the men mistook my comraderie for sexuality.

    I’m hurt when I think about all the time I invested. I’m hurt that the gifts of my spirit were disregarded because I didn’t quite fit their mold.

    Now don’t you go worrying about my lost soul. God didn’t lose me, Jesus still loves me and the Holy Spirit and I still have great converstions together. He doesn’t bring up going to church to me at all anymore. It grieves His heart that I have now have Church PTSD.

    I know a lot of you will criticise what I have said. A lot of you will do what you did to the author of this fine article. You will focus on the external instead of the internal. You will make excuses. You will blame me. You would rather slam your foot down and damn me for a pagen than deal with the issue at hand.

    You know what? I don’t care. I don’t care what you think about me, but I do care about the church. I care because Jesus cares. His last prayer before he was crucified was about His church. I find that very telling by the way, I think He knew He had good reason to be worried.

    I found more warmth on a barstool than I ever did in a church pew. I hope the truth of this comment doesn’t make your blood run cold. I hope it makes it run hot. I hope it makes you mad. I hope it makes you wanna change. I hope it makes you wanna be warm, accepting and refreshing.

    The women of my church were skeptical & skittish amy colorful personality. (Not trying to be vain here, just honest.)

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