The Messy Community We Call Church

By Trillia Newbellchurch

Today I asked my father in-law, “What is one piece of advice you’d like to give Thern (my husband, his son) and I?” I assumed his answer would be about educating our children or getting rid of debt. No. His one piece of advice shocked me. He said, “Keep going to church.” I looked slightly bewildered. He continued by sharing a few of the benefits of going to church and some of the hardships he’s seen of those who do not attend.

Church is messy. There was a time in my late teenage years that I hated church. As a matter of fact, after one tough experience I determined that I would never step foot in a church again. I was going to distance myself as much as humanly possible from church. But that was not God’s plan.

One day, the summer before college, in an odd- only God could ordain type -series of events, I ended up rooming with a Christian girl during a private cheer camp. I was the camp counselor and she was to assist me.  The night before our camp she opened her Bible and I quickly put my guard up. By the end of the night, we were crying and she shared the gospel with me. She became a friend and continually shared the gospel with me. I often imagine what it was like for her to return to her friends to share about this “chance” meeting.  How many of them were praying for me as I resisted God’s call.  God heard their prayers and a few years later I became a Christian.

Returning to church was difficult at first. It took a while to fully trust people; but once I did I plugged in and gave my time, finances and services fully to it. I treasured my church. But just like a newly married couple, after a few years the honeymoon wore off. I began to really get to know people and people began to really get to know me. Being real and open generally leads to two things: greater affection and greater chance for conflict.

At times I would wonder why I go to any church at all. Why do I go, knowing that at some point someone is going to say something that is going to offend me and I will surely offend someone? Why do I go, knowing that there isn’t a perfect church? If there isn’t a perfect church, then what’s the point? Why do I ever step inside a building, called church?

God Loves the Church

“Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (Ephesians 5:25 ESV)

I go to church because God loves the church and I want to love what God loves. God loves the church universal, God loves the church on a local level, and God loves the mega church and the little church that meets in a school. God loves the church because the church is made up of people. God displays his love for man through His Son. Christ died and bore wrath and separation from his Father because He loved the world and to establish his church (Matthew 16:18 ESV). This is easy to see, isn’t it? But sometimes, it’s hard to live.

God loves the church and shows His undoubtable love through His Son. But am I really called to love something that hurts at times? Yes. I am. We are to be imitators of God and walk in love (Ephesians 5:1-2 ESV). God’s call to love is radical. He calls us to love those who hate us, love those who persecute us, love those who sin against us. And he says to do it all without any expectation of love back (Luke 6:32-36 ESV)!

That’s just hard. I know it. But, God calls us to that type of sacrificial love because he first loved us. God can give me, us, the grace to love His church.

God Wants Me in Church

I realize that this can be controversial. Not everyone believes that God literally desires them to be in a church building. I’m convinced though, that God does want us to be with a body of believers. I’m not convinced about how that must look, but it seems clear in Scripture that God calls us to be in fellowship with others. He values the body and encourages us to function as one body with many parts (1 Corinthians 12:18-20).  Even in the midst of hardship-most definitely in the midst of hardship- we can come together to encourage one another (Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV).

But it’s during those hard times when I desire most to run. I don’t want to deal with another conflict, another insecurity, another sinful leader, another facing my own sin. I don’t want to wait and work through the pain. And, honestly, I don’t have to.  We aren’t necessarily called to endure and persevere through every situation as Trevin Wax shared recently. There are times when separation is the best option.

But if I’m searching for the church that I can be real in, that I can share my life with others and others share their lives with me and then expect bliss at all times, I need not bother going. Yet I believe God has called me, us, to go. To go and be real and messy and honest. To go and learn how to endure in love.  To go even when it hurts because Jesus died for the Church and there was no greater pain than the pain He endured on our behalf on the Cross.

My prayer is that we’d endure with one another as Christ endured for us.

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