I am one of those people who basically spends the equivalent of a part time job doing church stuff – either attending, getting ready for things, doing admin work, meetings, other events, or whatever else that week has. I’m also one of those people who grew up seeing their parents do the same thing – which means I’m one of those annoying people who just don’t understand why you wouldn’t do that and did not realize that it was an abnormal thing until a few years ago…
Conversely, I am also one of those many people who has been hurt very deeply by the church. I have felt betrayed, hurt, ignored, and insignificant within her walls – which is ironic because I have also felt loved, healed, seen, and important within those same walls. I’ve spent all of my 25 years attending various churches and seeing joy and pain in so many ways – seeing the good, the bad, and (sadly) the ugly of what can go on when you throw a whole bunch of messy people together.
So why, if I have been hurt and continue to be hurt by the people of the church, do I keep going and giving of my many resources to see her continue to thrive? Because I love her – and because I have hope for her – hope that as we continue on and persevere, she will achieve her potential and that she will become all that I know she can be.
As Christians, when we talk about marriage we talk about commitment forever, divorce is not really something we go into a marriage considering, and when we talk about conflicts or issues, we emphasize working things out. In fact, we highly recommend marriage counselling BEFORE you get married and we are some of the only people I know of who regularly talk about things like love and sacrificially loving without even breaching the context of a romantic relationship – we are the people who look at the story of David and Jonathan and say wow that was a great friendship where their souls were knitted together. We emphasize vulnerability, sharing your burdens with other people,
Interestingly, in the same passages about marriage and husbands & wives, we get little glimpses of how God views the church — as the bride of Christ. Additionally, the Bible uses similar language when talking about husband-to-wife relations as they when talking about all believers when we are supposed to “submit” to each other. Elsewhere we are told to love our neighbours as ourselves( Mark 12:31), to pray for each other (James 5:16/1 Timothy 2:1), to seek to solve conflicts & correct each other (Matthew 18:15-17/Galatians 6:1), to give what we have so that no one is in need (Acts 2:42-47, ), to encourage/build each other up (1 Thessalonians 5:11/Hebrews 3:13), do all things in love (1 Corinthians 16:14), and, clearly, I could go on.
So if the church is a super important body, and we are supposed to honour and care a lot about the people inside of her, why, when we talk about church today, do we suddenly decide that this relationship is all about me and what I can get, it is one where I should come in with barriers and walls, that there are very small boxes you must fit into to attend and serve in the church, and that only certain people are fit to attend?
One of the most positive experiences I’ve had is starting to go to the gym – and I don’t mean positive in the now I’m more fit than I used to be way or the now endorphins got me high way, I mean in the way that the environment I started putting myself into was open, accepting, and positive towards where I was and where I was going. never once was I made to feel un-fit, un-beautiful, or un-worthy to be there. I was just another person on a journey of fitness and I would get told as such every time I would mention small feelings of doubt. It’s not that no one recognizes the need to lose weight, eat healthy, and drink water – it’s more that the journey we are on involves one thing at a time and we all have “been there” so we support others in their journey, wherever either of us may be.
It’s almost like at church, we become so caught up in what we think we need to be and ought to be and what we “need to do” to reach people with programming that we’ve forgotten the important parts. Crossfit gyms are unique because they’re literally warehouses with barbells. and like a rower. and a bike. but that’s about it. (ok also ropes and a few other weight things but you catch my drift). You go into a Crossfit gym to do a workout, sweat a lot, lift heavy stuff and move fast. Not many people do individual workouts, and there are 0 mirrors in the gym (except for like, the bathroom). So, when did churches become defined by their additional “services” to the public (do you have women, men, children, families, young adult, single older adult, babies, youth, tweens, older women, older men, married couples, newly married, single women, single men, ministries? and a Christmas and Easter kids pageant. And also a kid’s choir. And a hymn service, a modern service, a Gregorian chant service, a fire-and-brimstone message and a contemporary message?) No. No you don’t. Not to say that some of those ministries aren’t important and don’t have their place, but the point of the church was never to actively only serve those inside of it – it was to serve those outside of it. Jesus came to heal the sick not to tend to the already-taking-the-meds-and-on-the-mend ones.
People call it a family. The Crossfit box, I mean. Multi-generational people, you miss your friends when you don’t go for a while, they see you go through life ups and downs. They hold you when you cry after an emotional release after a hard workout. We sometimes call church our family – but usually in a cliché-from-the-front-stage kind of way. We keep lots of people at an arms distance, and we often leave when something doesn’t go the way we think it should or if another place down the street has a sparklier better-spoken pastor/worship leader/building, or when we have a conflict. Not that the auxiliary things aren’t factors, but perhaps they should not be our driving factors. When in doubt, I refer to this article. (I agree there are reasons to leave a church, I just find we often use bad ones)
When I went to Europe last year, one of my favourite things was visiting other churches while I was there. I don’t even know how to explain to you the warmth and joy I had at seeing people on the other side of the world (ok not quite the other side but close enough) worshiping the same God in similar and different ways, and seeing people I don’t even know get baptized into the larger church body. She is beautiful – the global church – and our local expressions get to be a part of that wonderful overarching story that we may never know all the parts of.
As beautiful as the church is, she is not perfect. I think she still needs a lot of work – globally and locally. She is a beautiful piece of art, but she is also a messy glob of wet paint on a canvas that you were trying to paint a landscape on that somehow now has dirt and grass stuck to it even though you did not set out intending for a mixed media piece. Also you did not mean to put that glob on either…
But the only way she gets better and thrives is when all the people within her try. Trying to be open and working towards things when other people aren’t. Being vulnerable knowing that those around you may not receive it well. Working towards what we know God has commanded we do as a group of believers even if other people don’t agree and get hung up on things. Caring for the people we may not really like a ton but we love unconditionally. Choosing to see past our theological differences. Forgiving. Seeking reconciliation. It’s not easy – it takes work just like everything else and every other friendship and every other community we engage in in our lives.