Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Church

I have been in church since I was a baby. My father was a Methodist minister before I was born, and even though he got out of the ministry, church was a given in our family. We were there every time the church doors were open. Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, and any other nights my parents had meetings at the church.

Over the years I ahve been involved in many ministries in the church...children's ministry, choir, adult education, church librarian, counselor, board name it, I probably did it! For over four years I served on the staff of a large church as the Pastor of Adult Ministries and Counseling. Suffice it to say that I know how to do church. I know the joys of belonging and the weaknesses of the organization.

Lately I have been wondering about the state of the church in America. Maybe it is because the church I am currently attending seems to be blowing it in some pretty critical areas. But it is not just this church. As a counselor I talk to people about their deepest hurts, and unfortunately, some of those hurts are caused by churches.

Psychologist Larry Crabb receives letters every week that say, "You're talking about a kind of community where I can be nurtured. Is this a pipe dream? Is there any place where this is really happening?""People are aware as never before of their longing for community, for encounters with a supernatural God, for reality beneath the mess," he said. "They go to church thinking this is going to happen, but the deepest need of their soul is missed." The Church's Walking Wounded - Christianity Today

I remember teaching a Sunday School lesson one time about the need for community. I made the statement that "Churches can be the loneliest institutions in the world." The long time church members couldn't believe that I made that statement until I continued..."I could walk into a bar and tell the bartender that my life was falling apart, or my kid was on drugs, or that my husband walked out on me and he would say 'Let me get you a drink, and tell me all about it,' but in the church if I was honest enough to admit those things some would wonder why my relationship with God wasn't strong enough, or what kind of sin I had in my life."

There is a saying that "the church is the only army that shoots it's wounded." It is sad, but true in too many churches. I think part of the problem is that we expect churches to be better. We are not surprised that we can't trust people at our jobs or community, but we walk into church, hear all the messages about how trustworthy God is, and how Jesus longs for a relationship with us, and we mistakenly assume that the people of the church will be Jesus in skin to us.

The church is a microcosm of our community. There are good people, and bad people that make up our congregations. Some churches are like big dysfunctional families. We get into trouble when we look to people to meet our relational needs instead of God. Many times we put the leaders of our church on a pedastal and expect them to love us like God would, forgetting that they are human beings without the capability of loving unconditionally.

I guess I really don't have any answers...but I have had to reconcile my feelings of dissapointment about the church and decide to become part of the solution rather than give up on the church. We are all the church...and that includes me. I want my contribution to the church to be one of holding out the hope of Jesus Christ to a hurting world. I will start by being friendly in a church that seems unfriendly, and by being a blessing to those that God brings across my path.

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