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I was born into Christianity.
My parents identify as Christians and so by default I became one and found myself in Sunday School, Youth service and eventually the Main Service as the years progressed.
Some years back, a former workmate asked me if I thought I would still be a Christian then, if my parents were of a different religion or had no religious beliefs.
Admittedly, my family’s religious heritage directed me down a specific path from a very early age.
But as I got older and experienced more of a world and life that had me asking more questions than I had answers for, I had to find my own Christianity apart from that of my family.
I had to encounter Jesus for myself.
I have to encounter Jesus for myself daily.
A significant aspect of this encounter is being part of His Body – the Church.
When I started redefining what my Christianity meant to me, and began to understand God’s heart and mind for me, I had to journey with Him on what His purpose for having us in a Body was.
There’s a rather utopian view of what church can and should look like both from the world and even from believers. Amidst all the buzz of getting saved and joining a church, I don’t know how many believers go through an intentional journey of checking their expectations of the church and vice versa. I think a lot of assumptions and broad stroke conversations happen but eventually something crops up somewhere.
When our expectations are unmet, disappointment and doubt begin to creep in.
In extreme cases, some people leave their local church, the Body of Christ and/or the faith altogether.
Like many other Christians, I’ve been through seasons where like Gandhi, I like Christ but I’m not so sure about the Christians. Yet, I would be remiss not to even consider how many times in my Christian faith, I have been the one who doesn’t live up to the standards of Jesus.
There’s a sermon by Bishop T.D. Jakes where he mentions in passing how everyone remembers Thomas as the doubting disciple; hardly anyone remembers him for being the only one willing to die with Jesus. It’s funny how we can judge the entirety of a person’s life based on their words/deeds in a moment.
We need to move past this notion that church is a place of perfect people because it is a place where people are being perfected. Grace demands that we see each other beyond our worst moments because when God looks at us, He doesn’t just see everything wrong, He sees everything right as well.
Each one of us is far more than the sum of our weaknesses and mistakes. And as Christians and as a Body of Christ, we are all in an ongoing process of perfection by the Lord.
This means we’re getting better and better every day in His presence.
But it also means that mistakes can and will be made.
By church leaders.
By church members.
By believers in the Body that we are part of.
So at any given time, you’re either the iron God is using to sharpen a fellow church member or you are the metal being refined by the fiery furnace of someone else’s words and deeds. When we’re ignorant of the workings of the Lord to use us to perfect others and use others to perfect us, we make people the problem instead of addressing issues. We become self-made crusaders out to tarnish believers and ministries forgetting that the work of perfection is God’s, not ours.
Church is supposed to be a spiritual family that supports and encourages us as we grow in our faith but also keeps us accountable of our weaknesses and mistakes. Many want the former, few embrace the latter. Yet, we cannot have healthy relationships with one and not the other.
It’s unfortunate that so many of us as believers are raised in biological families where we don’t necessarily learn how to have healthy disagreements with one another and how to reconcile in the midst of conflict.
But we can’t throw our hands in the air and say we can’t do better because we don’t know better. Not when we have the Holy Spirit to teach us how to handle our thoughts and emotions as we relate with others. Not when we have church leaders and communities that are willing to journey with us to grow into wholeness not just spiritually but mentally and emotionally as well.
We need to learn how to have honest conversations. Where we voice our expectations to each other and come to an agreement on how we can and should meet each other’s needs. So we’re not holding it against people when they don’t meet needs they don’t even know we have.
We need to learn how to have tough conversations. Where we voice our disappointment, anger and frustration with each other in a healthy way that leads to reconciliation not an endless blame game. It is in the midst of conflict that we learn how to love and give grace better.
We need to learn how to the speak the truth IN LOVE. Not in anger that instantly tears down what has taken months and even years to build. Not in pride that presumes us to be better than the next when in fact we’re not. Not in frustration that causes us to lash out and say hurtful things we don’t mean. Not in envy that wants to bring another down so we can feel better about ourselves. Not with malice that makes enemies where there are none.
Speak the truth in love. Love that says I see you at your worst but I choose to stay and work things out. Love that draws healthy boundaries that need to be maintained. Love that will tell you when you’re acting a fool and stick around to help you get back on course. Love that will “honour who you are without stumbling over who you’re not” (Bill Johnson).
As we give and receive feedback in our relationships with one another as believers, the context must be love. Or else, everything we do is out of divine order and can bear no Godly fruit in our lives or in our churches.
Is it easy? Far from it. But for Jesus to say that we will be known by our love, means He saw something in us that we need to see in ourselves. That because we have received His unconditional love, we can give it to others with His help.
I’ve come full circle with my understanding of the Church. Yes, there are still things that will endlessly frustrate me till I die. Yet, I find myself growing in tenacious hope for our future. God isn’t done with us. He’s only just began. Just because the bad stuff gets more airtime doesn’t mean the good has ceased to exist. There’s plenty of good still left in the Church if you would only take time to look. There’s plenty of good still left if you would listen less to the world and more to Christ. I’d like to think He knows His Body better than anyone else. 😉
God is making us beautiful with time. And I am ever so grateful that I get to be part of it. Part of this. Part of us. We may be far from perfect. But we are ever increasingly breathtakingly beautiful.