John Pavlovitz is the author of a provocative and popular blog called, “Stuff That Needs To Be Said.”

Pavlovitz is an astute observer of the church scene. His writing is often challenging; he is not afraid to hit hard at some of the sacred cows that are seldom questioned in many churches.

But Pavlovitz is not just an arm chair critic. He often also pauses to propose positive possibilities for the way forward in the church. His prescriptions are creative, positive and realistic… most of the time. (For the “most of the time” part see: “Why Are People Leaving Church? Pt.3” in a few days.)

In December 2015 John Pavlovitz wrote an open letter to the church, titled “Dear Church, Here’s Why People Are REALLY Leaving You.” He proposed five reasons people are leaving church.

Below are the first two of the five characteristics of church that Pavlovitz believed in 2015 were causing people to abandon the practice of church attendance (remaining three will follow). After each point, I have added my own reflection. But, if you are interested in things-church, you really should follow the link here and read the challenging reflections of the author himself:

  1. Your Sunday productions have worn thin.

Pavlovitz suggests people need more than entertainment on a Sunday morning. Life is difficult; we all struggle and when we come to church we need help dealing with what he calls “the awkward, messy, painful stuff in the trenches of life; the places where rock shows don’t help.”

I doubt “rocks shows” are the problem in most of the churches with which I am most closely associated. But, Pavlovitz is absolutely right that at times our “Sunday productions have worn thin.”

There are endless places to turn for distraction and entertainment. People come to church looking for wisdom, beauty and truth. They come longing to hear an authentic word. They want to find ways to live more deeply in the midst of the challenges and difficulties of life. They want to have their hearts softened to the beauty and light that in Christian tradition we believe we see embodied in the person of Jesus.

  1. You speak in a foreign tongue.

This is such a powerful and important point. We in the church so often speak in an echo-chamber. We believe that, because we think we know what we are talking about, everyone else understands our words. But, increasingly we have to do church among people who do not share our vocabulary and do not understand our language. They were not raised with the worldview we take for granted. When we fail to pay attention to the distance between our agreed upon vocabulary and the foreign sound it produces in so many of our hearers, we will never connect at any deep authentic level.

The truth is, most people outside the church do not care about our words. They are not interested in our theology, our piety, our little devotional practices, or our rituals of belonging. Our religious actions, like the words we speak, are all completely foreign to the lives of those for whom our familiar ways of doing things are profoundly strange and oddly eccentric.

If we are going to have any hope of connecting deeply with the actual realities of peoples’ lives, we are going to need to be willing to move beyond the familiar formulations that make us feel comfortable and listen carefully to the culture in which we seek to function. This does not mean abandoning the deep truth of our tradition or giving up the practices of our faith. On the contrary, speaking deeply and authentically, means holding firm to the traditions and practices that nurture our spiritual lives. But, at the same time, we need to hold lightly the container in which we seek to express the mystery of faith and in which we find strength to live in the face of  “the awkward, messy, painful stuff in the trenches of life.” Listening and holding light are necessary skills for doing church in a changing culture.