I recently filled in teaching Sunday School (the usual guy was on mission in India). The topic for the weekend was the church – its role, its record, and how indispensable it is for the believer.
Suffice it to say I was blown away. The high school students in that group had solid, practical ideas about what a church should look like, how to evaluate one, and how much urgency we should place upon settling down in one.
Blown away because while these students knew the right answers, a lot of people my age find them hard to execute.
“I love Jesus, but not organized religion” has become millennial-code for rejection of the church. It’s not hard to see why. I could blame the media for doing its best to blackball the church by accentuating its faults. But I don’t have to. A lot of us have our own wounds to sport. We might have been judged. We might have been extorted. We might just be sick of gaudy sanctuaries, sermons resembling TED talks, and iPads handed out to retain newcomers. Or we might just feel that this or that church doesn’t “feed us” well.
But permit me to challenge. What if we shifted our view of the church from a service to an opportunity?
Dragging ourselves weekly to a building full of contention, finger-pointing, careless words, apathy, and poor priorities is the last thing we want. Some of us do it for the benefits, or the people we know. Some of us will do it just to avoid church-shopping (urgh). And there are certainly circumstances in which leaving a church is warranted.
But what if you could be part of the solution?
There. I just exposed the lie you’ve unconsciously swallowed about being useless and powerless in the face of church imperfection.
But I’ll probably need more than one swing to topple it. Stand back.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable. (1 Corinthians 12:21-22)
We usually hear this verse as a curt “You need the church. Get back in there.” But the reverse is also true – the church needs you.
When that verse speaks of feet and hands, it’s speaking of you. It’s not talking about the aggregate congregation already there, or the folks with talent and training you lack. It’s speaking of you. You are a foot and a hand; you vital, irreplaceable role in the kingdom of God. You were meant to play such a part, from before creation (Ephesians 2:10).
Sure, it’s common to stand staring up at a massive, well-entrenched spire and wonder what you can accomplish. But God is without that fear. He gave us the stories of David and Gideon for a reason. He works through individuals as much as groups; in fact, he prefers to side with underdogs to demonstrate his power (1 Corinthians 1:27).
Another lie to ignore is that you’re just another hand or foot, lost in the crowd. If that were the case, I wouldn’t be blogging. Plenty of bloggers out there…what do I have to offer? (besides knowing what a paragraph is…). But God revealed to me that my unique experiences and influences give me a flavor on the same truths. God’s human kaleidoscope has a lot of shades.
As valid as our “church checklist” might be, we give it too much power to stop us. Church-hunting should less resemble the search for the right internet company and more resemble a lost soldier looking for the nearest friendly outpost.
That can be hard to do when church itself feels like war.
But God designed the church to serve as an anti-selfishness measure for our lives. It’s easy to live as spiritual hermits, embracing the Holy Spirit but avoiding the spines of fallen brothers. But that isn’t God’s intention. He calls us to be sanctified.
And nothing sanctifies like people.
If a church has an issue (and it will), ask God how you can be part of the solution. If a vital ministry is missing, start it. If the church isn’t getting much done in the community, lend a hand or foot, since you are one. If an important Biblical emphasis is lacking, talk to the pastor and see if he is open and willing to listen.
You might find that he is intractable, or that other elements are barring the church from effectiveness. In that case, keep searching.
But don’t let it stop you. The church isn’t a waitress; it’s the bride of Christ. And in the end, she’s the sole carrier of his gospel. That’s a mission worth taking some spines for.