Aug 16, 2006

engaging the church

Speaking of a post from last week, I've been thinking quite a bit over the past year regarding the church.

A month or so ago I was speaking with someone whose story echoed mine in that we have both experienced amazing joy and gut-wrenching hurt through the various congregations we've been a part of. We recognized that the catch to navigating through it is in remembering that the hurt that can come from other Christians isn't the ultimate way God intends us to live nor the way the church is supposed to operate. In ironic contrast, though, any joy we experience is a taste of what heaven is all about.

There's the "church," and then there's the "Church." Both are God's "plan A," with the former being the imperfect representation of the perfect latter in a broken world. At times it functions in the way it was designed, while on other occasions it may seem a bit off base (kind of like each of us). This is the product of of flawed people connecting with a flawless God.

That's what the church is, by the way... a redeemed and supernatural union of the Creator and his creation. Church is not something you attend, go to, or pencil in (i.e. "See you at church on Sunday!"). Rather, the church is intended to be who we are.

That doesn't discount the hurt it can sometime cause or make its faults any less real, though. Instead, it creates an interesting tension of theology: Why did Jesus entrust the church into the hands of his disciples (including us) when he knew how wacked we are and can be?

Then again... the church is not really in our hands alone. Jesus said that He would build the church upon the foundation of people like us. Our part is to care for it and its people, whether they are inside or outside the four walls of a building we've designated as sacred space.

Sometimes, though, we end up messing up on our end.

It's not an easy task to wrestle with this due to the subjective way we see ourselves when compared to others. When we are wounded we might begin to compare our better points with the worst points of those who have hurt us, slamming their "lack of spirituality" while we believe we have been the "model example." We may not ever articulate this out loud or even in our brains, and yet in our discouragement we often forget our contribution to the chaos that exists. As Brian McClaren put it, "We should stop comparing our best with their worst and feeling smug about it."

The church is messy, made up of a union of the divine with the warped... the infinite with the finite... the perfect with the imperfect. As such, the church has great days and hard days with it many times being a mixture of both. Often we get it wrong and start to build personal castles instead of investing in the unseen Kingdom. Consequently, people walk away, pastors get burnt out, and agonostics find one more reason to keep on asking their questions.

Then again, there is no such thing as the perfect marriage, either. The 12-year union my wife and I share as husband and wife has had great days and hard days - and sometimes a mixture of both. Yet we press on... building what we can, and addressing the issues as they arise in a spirit of grace.

Maybe there's a reason Jesus calls the Church His Bride.

Like healthy dating and courting, maybe it's less about "finding the right one" and more about "becoming the right one." If we want the union to be a healthy one, a large share of that rests on our shoulders. The other part rests on God's, and he is constantly doing more than we expect him, too.

If you've been hurt by the church, don't give up. If you haven't been hurt by the church, be sure you're not unintentionally wounding another. The crazy thing about all of this is that Jesus Christ knew how messed up we'd make things and yet he still chose to pass the baton our way. If he has faith in the church (and each of us), maybe we should, too.

Hope you choose the "engagement."

(I hear the Bride will one day look pretty awesome.)
One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, "Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb." And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. (Revelation 21:9-11)


DJG said...

Good thoughts. I think the church becomes most hurtful when it decides it "knows" a better way than the way of Jesus..

Anonymous said...

re: "Our part is to care for it and its people, whether they are inside or outside the four walls of a building we've designated as sacred space."

When discussing the topic of "church/Church", the question has recently be asked- what is the difference between "it" and "it's people". Aren't they one and the same? The Acts 2 church wasn't about places or programs, denominations, disciplines, bylaws, or non-profit status. Isn't what we have made of the church today; how we define and conceptualize it in our minds so far from how God defines it?

I like your thoughts, but wonder sometimes if we define "church" improperly. My personal experience with denominations does not leave me with the feeling that we do fully understand that building the church ultimately is something that God controls. Formulas, programs, proven strategic growth tools and human charisma seem to rule the day in MANY settings. That's where I'm at these days.

Crissi said...

A lot of good insight here.....

Jim and Jaena said...

I may be clueless, but what does (snaps, snaps, snaps) mean? Can't figure it out...

And, I like this post (as well as the Bill Hybels one). Actually, they are the only two I read, so maybe I would like all of your posts. :)

Tony Myles said...

It's a reference to coffee house poetry readings where people snap instead of clap.

Jim and Jaena said...

Cool - thanks!

Anonymous said...

I really appricate the input on the "Church". I agree with D-Fresh that sometimes programs and such can build the church BUT that is just building numbers on sunday. GOD will change hearts and life's and when he comes back HE will choose HIS Church. The church was given to us by God. This is HIS plan not our plan. Just like when he choose the Disciples he did not take the "A" team he took the "B" team becuase he knew there hearts would be changed and the people would be able to see the changes in their hearts.

Matthew 22:42-44
Then Jesus asked them, "Didn't you ever read this in the Scriptures?
'The stone rejected by the builders
has now become the cornerstone.
This is the Lord's doing, and it is
marvelous to see.'
What I mean is that the Kindom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit. Anyone who stubles over that ston will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.

Kate said...

Hey, thanks for stopping by my blog. Yours looks pretty interesting, too.

Carolanne said...

"We should stop comparing our best with their worst and feeling smug about it"
That comment hits home.. well the whole post is since we're hurting from a church that gave us both beauty and pain.
Today, I revisited that church and revisited the "hurt".
Forgiveness is such an on-going process!

Phil Hoover, Chicago said...

Oh yes, this hits home--and very close to home for me.

I can relate to much of what carolanne said...but sometimes the pain has overshadowed the beauty.

That's the reason Jesus said, "I am the Good Shepherd."

Carolanne said...

I agree Phil. I am still trying to dig out the beauty that's hidden behind the pain. I see glimpses of it every now and again, but it was the pain I felt again yesterday - nearly 2 years after we've left that church.

Tony Myles said...

Sometimes the only way to allow those wounds to turn into healed scars is to attack them with grace.

I don't mean that to sound cliche-ish, because I know it can. From my own experiences with those who have hurt me I have found that when I seek to bless them with the Good News by being forgiving and trying to bless their lives through random acts of kindness it drains the poison out of me.

The problem with this, though, is if at some point you don't allow yourself the freedom to grieve, cry, or rant a little you will become superficial in this approach. The only remedy I've found that helps is to direct those sighs, tears, and fists in God's direction.

After all, he knows a lot about people who wrong him and yet he chooses to extend himself in their direction.

Tony Myles said...

"The power of the Church is not a parade of flawless people, but of a flawless Christ who embraces our flaws. The Church is not made up of the whole people, rather of the broken people who find wholeness in a Christ who was broken for us."
- Mike Yaconelli