In my previous post, which initiated this series on the mystery of the church, I opened up a potentially deep and painful wound about how the church seems to be dysfunctional. It seems best to explore this a bit more before we take our exploration tour of various expressions of the Bride of Christ.
Why is the church so dysfunctional? (Let me be clear—that is a broad generalization. There are many healthy churches, as I will demonstrate in this series of blog posts!) At the risk of gross oversimplification, let me suggest a few thoughts:
First of all, the church is made up of sinful, dysfunctional people in relationship. We are all sinners saved by grace and are in process. Growth is painful, messy, and uneven. There are bound to be mistakes made along the way, which inevitably will hurt someone. What married person has not hurt their spouse? What parent has not disappointed and hurt their child? Where there is love and relationship, there will be pain. Period.
Secondly, and quite frankly, much of the pain we experience within the context of the church is at least partly of our own doing. We were deeply hurt just a few years into full time ministry. My leadership was rejected and we were told we shouldn’t even be in the pastorate. It hurt. Deeply. We nearly lost our house to foreclosure. There were physical ailments within our family because of the intense emotion. And so on. But in hindsight, I recognize that my leadership was pretty lousy—it was taking the church in the wrong direction, and the elders knew it. Granted, they handled it poorly. But don’t we all handle things poorly at one time or another? I handled leading the church poorly; they handled addressing the situation poorly. People got hurt. But Christ-like character developed in many lives. We were all the richer for it, and today my wife and I consider ourselves blessed to have suffered in this way early in ministry.
But even if the source of hurt is not of our doing, God has a purpose. The church by definition consists of followers of Jesus, and Jesus is in the business of making us more and more like Him. Scripture is clear that the process of spiritual growth includes pain and suffering—a lot of pain and suffering (see James 1:2-4; Hebrews 12:3-11; 2 Corinthians 11:16-12:10. Seriously, read these passages!). I am a better person, more mature, more ‘seasoned’, more Christlike, because of the hurts I have endured. And you are too, if you have allowed these seasons to train you in righteousness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:11). We need to be reminded that Jesus was misunderstood, rejected, betrayed, abandoned—all of which eventually led to His undeserved execution. He deserved none of it. Christlikeness, by definition, requires undeserved rejection and suffering.
But what of those churches that grieve us because they are missing the point. They are in-grown with a fortress mentality. Their entire existence is about sustaining their comfortable institution and familiar practices, rather than making disciples of all the world. Their battles are over music style and what color to paint the nursery, rather than fighting the good fight of faith. What of them? I don’t have a great answer to that one, except to reiterate: the church is made up of sinful, dysfunctional people. And sin and dysfunction rears its ugly head in many different forms, including self-serving fortress thinking.
So where do we land? These are a lot of random, rambling thoughts that hopefully strike a chord with some of you. But let’s get beyond the negative and quit viewing the glass as half-empty. Let’s change our perspective and see the glass as half-full. We acknowledge that the church is not perfect. But you know what? The church is the glorious bride of Christ, the bride for whom He died, shed His blood, offered salvation by grace, and loves unconditionally. God has entrusted to the church the task of taking the Good News to every ethnic group. The church is the only institution that God has ordained. He has given New Testament instruction to the church. We must see the church as primary to the plan of God. I can’t wait to show you some pretty cool ways that God is at work in the church—yes, churches that are imperfect and dysfunctional in some ways, but still infused with the Holy Spirit and doing good things for the Kingdom! Here we go!!