Home > Unlikely Teachers of Spirituality > Unlikely Teachers of Spirituality: Bars

Unlikely Teachers of Spirituality: Bars

A lot of things happen at bars which destroy spirituality, are antithetical to the gospel, break people, and perpetuate evil. With that said, I believe we, as the church, can learn from bar communities.

Bars are full of hope. A large percentage of people who go to a bar go there because they are hoping for something. Some people go to the bar because they are hoping for a little relaxation after a long day. Some go because they are hoping to fill their felt needs for intimacy and attention from the opposite sex (and others from the same sex). Some go out of a hope for a sports team. Some go because they hope to find some alleviation of their despair. Some go because they hope to be where they can see our troubles are all the same, they want to go where everyone knows their name. There’s a lot of hope in bar communities.

Bars provide a largely nonjudgmental community.* Part of the reason bars are such an attractive community is their provision of a sense of universal acceptance. It doesn’t matter what your character flaws are, what sins are in your life, how you dress, or what words you use, you’re welcome to be there. The lack of a fear of social condemnation (surely in conjunction with alcohol), creates an environment where people feel more free to do things that they wouldn’t otherwise do.** The nonjudgmental nature of the bar community also helps people to be themselves and talk about aspects of their life and character that they may not talk about in any other circumstances. Others feel more free to respond honestly because they trust that even if they come across negative, they will still be accepted.

My experiences at and interpretations of bars resulted in questions about church. Certainly some people come to church because they have hope, but a lot of people also attend church because they feel guilty, socially compelled, morally obligated, and the like. How does the Jesus-centered community be a beacon of hope that outshines the alcohol-centered community? When life is stressful, the future looks bleak, people are lonely, or people are broken, why are they so much more likely to consider going to a bar than going to a church? Why does it sometimes feel like there is more hope there than where the presence of God dwells?

I don’t think it is as simple as saying that those people don’t want to change or they don’t believe in God. I think people are very willing to change if they had hope for healing. I believe the majority of people, whether or not they claim any deity as Lord, believe there is hope in God, Jesus, or a higher spiritual power. The most repellant aspect of church is the fear of judgment and rejection. The outsider fears condemnation, being looked down on for sin, and being unaccepted or accepted as a lesser member of the community.

There are many cases where the inside member of the church community feels the same. Despite best intentions, church environments are frequently still places where people are conscious about what they’re wearing, concerned about screwing up or admitting to screwing up, fearful of doing something out of the ordinary and being condemned for it, and worried about someone else seeing their character flaws. The perception of church environments is not that they are nonjudgmental communities centered around Jesus, but that they are condemnatory communities where people come together to show each other how nice their facades look. I believe for church to shine to the world, it is vital that we find areas where our communities are creating an environment of fear rather than love and replace the fear with unconditional acceptance.
*I have been criticized on a few occasions for my aberrant bar behavior. Talking about Jesus usually is just dandy, but not always.

** Admittedly, many times what people do in bars that they wouldn’t normally do elsewhere is spiritually counterproductive.

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