If you are not, or have never, been part of a church family, I would love to clarify what they are like. Often, I find people who don’t go to church regularly have very skewed ideas. They expect to go to a place where everyone is like Jesus, has only the divine goals in mind, and will be accepting and open to all who walk through the doors.
Now for the reality.
1. We are all the same. That is, we are all saved by grace. GRACE. That means that our actions sure as heck didn’t do it. It was by GRACE. We are walking examples that GRACE is the reason we have hope. Yes, we read the Bible, raise our hands to our Maker, fall on our knees to Jesus, put our tithes in the plate, volunteer, help out, try our best, but we know that it is by GRACE! We are well aware of our inadequacies. And if we aren’t, we are suffering from pride, and you should pray for us.
2. There is no roll call at church. No one checks attendance. Sometimes, if people are newer (like six months to a year) they don’t know who’s “new” or born into the church. It can often be awkward to introduce yourself to someone that’s new, only to find out it’s an elder or someone that you have never noticed before. So, it holds people back. If you don’t know someone, just introduce your self already. It will be even more awkward next week, so just get it over with now.
3. People still carry their personalities when they walk in. People are shy, people are distant, people are busy, people have little kids that require attention, people are afraid to be the initiators, people are afraid to offend, the list goes on for as many people as the Lord has made. In the end, they are all people. We are all working through stuff, we are all human, we are all saved by GRACE (see #1). It would be wonderful if we turned into mindless robots when we walked through the door, unafraid to give out a hearty hug to a stranger. And some people do just that! Some people are trying. Some people are coming to church today because they need to be filled up by Jesus, desperately, and cannot handle any small talk. If only we had GRACE for each other, as Jesus had GRACE for us.
4. The church was not intended to meet “needs” that are not spoken of in the Bible. See previous blog entry (Church: Ask not what your church can do for you.) The church was started to help each other grow in Jesus. To speak of His name. To learn of the things He is doing. To praise Him collectively, to beseech Him collectively. Acts is an amazing book to read for this matter. I don’t want to get too technical, I know too many Bible school students who know way more than me. But I do know this: I can read, and from what I understand, the church was a group of believers who got together for loooong services. They did not have a nursery, they did not have a gym. I think they did eat together, and I think they probably all contributed where they could. They did not have a ministry committee for every need that came up. I believe that they all filled needs as they came. If someone was hungry, they fed them. If someone was naked, they clothed them. It’s so great that are so many ministries that serve so many needs. . . but we shouldn’t “need” them. We cannot penalize a church for something it doesn’t have, when the Bible never says it has to have it in the first place. That is a totally modern, new philosophy, brought about by our gym industry, commercial industry, etc. Thirty years ago, no one would have jumped ship and started a new church because there was a lacking in the prison ministry, for example. If there is a need you have noticed in your church, FILL IT. God brought it to your attention in the first place, and for a great reason. You will do an awesome job.
5. Conflict is inevitable. That means, it will happen. It will happen with your pastor, it will happen with your friend, it will happen. I cannot make that clear enough. Just like it happens in your family. The Bible has clear directions of what to do in each situation. If it happens with a friend, or a “fellow believer who happens to go to the same church as you, because obviously a real friend would never do that,” check out Matthew 18:15. If you have an issue with a pastor or leader in the church, check out 1 Timothy 5:19-21. Is this all the Bible says about conflicts and fights? NO! Read the Bible; pray; He will tell you more. No matter what church you go to under the sun, there will be hurts, offenses, and problems. If there aren’t any at your church now, you aren’t going enough, or you just aren’t hearing about them. If you quit your family when your little brother read your diary, feel free to quit your church at any time. Otherwise, this is your church family, and we are to give them the same grace, forgiveness and love we give to the families we lived with. If someone enters your room without knocking, go to them and tell them. If someone doesn’t take their turn in clearing the table AGAIN, go to them and tell them. If someone leaves your bike in the driveway behind mom’s car, go to them and tell them. Speaking of myself here, I have NEVER gotten up in the morning, and thought, “I will not rest, until I hurt or offend my Christian sister deeply.” But I know I have often hurt people without meaning to. I’ve been a part of a church for 28 years, obviously I’ve hurt people. But I will never know unless someone tells me. And each time someone followed what the Bible says and told me my wrong, I have learned more about myself, my Creator, and His forgiveness. What a gift that is. To be completely candid here, recently someone brought to my attention an offense I had made at a church over 12 years ago. I had already asked God for forgiveness and done what I could to rectify the situation. However, I didn’t realize that I was still carrying guilt about it. To have someone bring it up to me, on social media, so far after the fact, gave me the chance to ask for forgiveness from them, too! I didn’t want to bring it up myself, because it felt “awkward.” Oh, do I hate awkward. But mercy, was it wonderful to simply be able to make things right. What a burden off my heart, that I didn’t even know was still there! I don’t think that Matthew mentions facebook, but man, to be able to keep in touch so easily, and find forgiveness in things from so long ago, so EASILY, at a click of a button.
6. Church is MESSY. It is messy on Sunday morning, when the lady across the aisle is sobbing her heart out, carrying burdens that were never meant for her to carry. It is messy in sickness, broken relationships, death. There will always be drama. There will always be pain. There will always be hurt. DO NOT DRAW AWAY FROM THAT. That is where the Lord is. When we listen to a sister crying about a broken friendship, or a problem on her heart, we have an opportunity to be Jesus, and see Jesus. When we are there in the messy, the nitty gritty, we are able to see God’s promises at work. I know my life: I see Jesus every day, and usually in the same things. A wise word from my child; a loving embrace from my husband; the gifts of the Holy Spirit, when I know I couldn’t do it alone. But to see how Jesus works in YOUR life, that shows me how BIG my God is. And that He is there for all generations, eternally. I will never face the same problems you do, but in watching you, I know that He is there no matter what, and that no problem is too big for my God. This is why we are all parts of the same body. You need every single one to work together, to be the whole. It’s a picture of Jesus. 1 Corinthians 12 says:
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 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, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. (NIV)
I am so blessed to be part of a family. An imperfect family, but one who has my back. And one that needs me. And if they forget they need me, I can show them to the Bible to remind them. You are needed, too. If you are not part of a church family, find one. Just know that it is as imperfect as you are. I love church: I love the inner workings of it, I love the book of Acts, and the epistles where Paul yells at the church. I think we need an Apostle Paul today to just write letters to churches and show them the things they need to work on. That’s why I have been writing about it. It is such a huge part of our family. Do I know everything about it? No, no, no. When I read the Bible and what it says about church, am I reading it with my own interpretation? YOU BET. I am speaking from my own experiences. When I read about the “church” in the news, does it hurt me? Oh, yeah. We are all part of a big family, and when one part suffers, we all suffer. I will tell you this: when you judge the church, you are judging God. You are judging His people. The church is not a building, a facility, a service. The church is a group of believers, of brothers and sisters. You cannot judge God’s people. Check out Matthew 7, Luke 6, look it up in the commentaries, there is SO MUCH in there. If you judge your brothers and sisters, best of luck to ya. It’s so easy to say, and hard to follow, I know. I think we all wrestle with this. The important part is we have to wrestle!
I would love to hear your replies! What do you think of church?