Years ago I started an identity series titled I Am. The rest of this year will be dedicated to more posts from that series:
My parents are Christians. As such, I can’t remember a time when God and church weren’t part of my life in some shape or form. But as the years have gone by I’ve had to find my own identity as a Christian. As with all things life, my identity is ever evolving. In this season, loving the Church is at the centre of being Christian for me. Starting with my local church community where I fellowship and serve.
I’ve heard people make arguments for not belonging to a church because of all the issues they’ve experienced personally or come across from a distance. There seems to be this unspoken expectation to find perfection in local churches. Now I’ve had the privilege of experiencing church from two fronts – as a member in the pews and in leadership. The local church has never been and will never be perfect. Looking for a perfect church is like looking for a unicorn. You won’t find it. So instead of looking for a perfect church, why not look for a faithful church?
Leaders who are faithful to their call are not perfect leaders. Believers are quick to praise biblical heroes and heroines who had their fair share of weaknesses. Ironically, they’re even quicker to lambast their local church leaders for not meeting all their expectations. Never mind if their expectations of their leaders are congruent with what God has called them to be.
Leading in a church is hard on a good day. If you were given the responsibilities your church leaders have for a week, I guarantee you’d be running to hand them back before the week was over. I’m yet to find a church where pew warmers and side line critics have made things better.
It takes the grace of God to function in ministry. Give your leaders the benefit of doubt and continually extend your love, grace and prayers to them. They need it far more than you realise. If you see an area in your church that could use some attention or improvement, roll up your sleeves and offer to help make it better. While the buck stops with the church leadership, it takes the contribution of every member of the church to have a thriving church community.
Even then, church members who are faithful to their local church are not perfect members either. Somewhere along the way some of us collapsed being right with God with being right with us. We place a demand on our fellow church members to fit the boxes and labels we have for them and when they fail to meet our expectations we write them off.
It’s not right. Their obligation is first and foremost to God – to walk in the path He has designated for them. A path that will likely not look like yours. Just because it doesn’t fit what you know or have experienced, doesn’t mean it can’t be God at work in their lives.
We have to allow each other to be as God created us. To grow at the pace that God has designated for us. To learn from our mistakes and have the chance to do better. The template for our Christianity must be Christ not people.
We also have to make the decision to belong to a church community. To celebrate the good and work through the hard. Consider for a moment that any church is made up of people from all sorts of backgrounds, who’ve had various experiences and have all kinds of hopes and aspirations. We’re not going to agree on everything. We can disagree and still maintain our love and honour for each other.
Over the years I have come to appreciate that God is far too vast to be wholly revealed by one individual, one church or one denomination. We’re all carrying fragments of revelation that we need to piece together to better comprehend God. For me, being a Christian also means loving the global Church without which I am incomplete.
One tragic pattern I’ve increasingly seen online is how believers are quick to attack fellow believers in the name of standing for what’s right. Again, we’ve collapsed what’s right to us with what’s right to God.
When you think your tiny corner of the room constitutes the whole world, you’ll be foolhardy enough to believe that the description someone is giving of another corner of the same room is faulty.
Yes, there’s a lot of waywardness and deception in the days we’re living in. It shouldn’t surprise us because the Bible clearly prophesies it. Indeed, we must be Berean but even in our pursuit of truth there is wisdom to be followed.
When in doubt, I fall back on what I think of as the Gamaliel principle. Gamaliel was Pharisee but unlike many of his peers he acknowledged that the rise of the apostles and the early church could be God moving in a way none of them had seen.
We must be careful lest we find ourselves where Saul did before his conversion to Paul – persecuting Jesus in the form of our brothers and sisters in Christ all the while shouting allegiance to His name.
The Body of Christ is the sum of many parts including you and me. To disregard you is to disregard a vital part of myself. I cannot fully represent Christ without your support and vice versa. We have to trust God to help us make things work in our local churches and in the global Church.
Local church communities thrive when their leadership and congregations faithfully pursue Christ. Yes, there will be mishaps and mistakes along the way. We are being perfected in Christ. It’s an ongoing process not a complete one. But how we handle our differences in opinion, doctrine, culture, expression and configuration determines whether we stand or we fall.
You cannot be Christian without the Body. You have to stay planted to remain grounded in faith. If you keep uprooting yourself from community and church every time things get hard, you won’t get far in your salvation. That’s why I’m committed to loving the Church. Not because it’s always easy. But because she’s always worth it.