My passion for the Church has not dimmed through covid-inspired deconstruction. It has not dimmed through tough moments in my own church’s history. It has not dimmed through countless personal crises of faith, especially at the point of my own capacity to lead. My passion for the Church has not dimmed even as I watch with disappointment the relentless uncivil conflict within the UM Church.
Any one of those factors should have dulled my spiritual senses but with each one, my resolve only digs deeper. I love the Church. I love my own church. I love the whole idea of a real community, and I know I need it. It is what holds me in, and I have seen it draw in countless others and hold them in, too and that inspires me. I stand in awe of the power of Spirit-driven community.
When someone tells me, “I need Jesus,” and when someone writes, “My whole life I have wanted to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. This weekend thanks to my church I was able to do that” … when I get the privilege of being in those conversations, I know why God doesn’t give up on the Church. And I know why I won’t, either. Authentic Christian community — flesh-and-blood community — is still the best hope for expressing the love and power of Jesus. No, it is not perfect, but it is better by far than the alternative. Disconnection and individualism and self-service don’t work for Christians any better than they work for the rest of the world. Those responses may be more comfortable in the short-term, but they don’t produce anything of lasting value.
I get that as a pastor, my world is dominated by the Church. But I hope I’m wise enough that I’d be able to say the same thing even if I wasn’t a pastor, even if I wasn’t in leadership in a local church. I hope I’d have the sense to know that the Church is still my best hope for maintaining spiritual health, still the best thing going among all the options. I hope I’d have more heart for Christ’s community than for my gym buddies, more heart for the people who actually live with and around me than for my favorite sports team. That’s not meant to be a veiled jab. I genuinely hope I wouldn’t devalue the church if I wasn’t getting a paycheck from it.
Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner …
I get how the world works. Not everyone is healthy. But I won’t toss stones at “the Church” because someone wasn’t raised right, or because someone found themselves in a leadership role they weren’t prepared for. I’m not shaken by bad examples of Christianity, any more than I’m moved by comparatively “good” examples of atheism. The outliers don’t change the color of my faith, don’t change the fact that God is good and his good story has always — always! — emphasized the gathered body.
From Abram’s call, to the formation of tribes, to the Israelite exodus, to the New Testament Church, to the Underground Church, to contemporary tribes, God’s story has always been told in community. Real community. Flesh-and-blood community.
The Church is not an abstract concept. By definition it is the gathering of real flesh, real people. The kind of flesh-and-blood that pulls together and leads Ukrainian refugees across the border. The kind of community that gets together to pray in big rooms and in attic spaces against the darkness. The kind of “real” that holds onto messed up people long past good sense, and gives its money to feed and house and diaper and rescue and teach and counsel and care.
There is something beautiful that happens when those things are done by people who do them together. The collection of them becomes greater than the parts. Within themselves they generate love. The Spirit hovers. Angels join in. Faith is stirred. The Kingdom comes near.
This is why God loves the Church. It is still the best option we have for the welcome and advance of His Kingdom. And because God loves the Church, I’m not discouraged when things go sideways. Irritated, yes. Disappointed … absolutely. But I won’t toss up my hands and give up. I will lean in and hope to be part of the solution. I will listen for the creative voice of God, and follow his trail toward renewal. This has always been his way. Even at our worst, God has always carved paths that lead his people to fresh expressions and renewed community.
I believe in the Church because I believe in the story of God. And I believe God will see us beyond these current bumps. He will prevail, not in spite of the Church, but because of it. And my passion is for seeing that organism, the Church, work in the way God intended when he passed the Body of Christ from the person of Jesus to the people of God. I don’t claim to know God’s whole vision for that kind of church, but I do believe God is crying out for the people of God to be the Body of Christ — the real, flesh-and-blood Body of Christ.
Yes, Lord. May it be so.
I will see you in church on Sunday.