As I’ve reflected on my post from last Friday, I feel that I may need to do a little clarifying of what I am hoping as well as what I am not hoping to accomplish through this exercise. I might need to post a few words on church and my approach to it’s past, present, and future.
Jesus once told a story about a man who was throwing a party. The man invited various people who for some reason or another didn’t show. Then, so as to be able to throw the party since none of the invited guests came, the man proceeded to invite anyone and everyone (all those that did not make the initial invitation aka the rejects) from the area. He scrounged up anyone he could find that was willing to come. This among many things is a parable about the church.
Jesus’ followers weren’t the Pharisees and Sadducees, the religious who should have been following him. No, he called the working people, the ones who were not good enough to be rabbi’s. In his parable about the church, it’s the losers and rejects that get in. This is what explains why I am in. I’m not supposed to be in, according to the old way I shouldn’t be accepted (I like bar-b-que too much), but Jesus’ grace is bigger than that. It includes me. The problem is that this causes problems, because we all know that followers represent to non-followers who the person is they are following. I personally don’t live up to that. I try, I strive, and hopefully I’m making progress, but as anyone who knows me can tell you, I’m definitely no Jesus. So, first off, I need to apologize because I’m part of the church, I’m what you’re stuck with. In my opinion, anyone who claims to follow Jesus or calls themselves a Christian should have no superiority complex whatsoever, because according to the parable Jesus told, we shouldn’t be in. We’re only in because of grace.
But, if I’m in with all of my shortcomings, brokenness, and questions and the church is full of other people with shortcomings, brokenness’, and struggles then this is going to make for a church full of issues. I realize there is more that I don’t know than I do when it comes to this. But when it comes to this subject, the way I see it we’ve got several options.
First, we can become cynical. We can focus all our attention and energy on the negative, ignore the positive, and throw the baby out with the bath water. We can walk away from church and maybe even our faith. We can claim that religion has done nothing but produce fighting and war. We can become angry and bitter, less and less the type of person we want to become.
(I in no way want to become or produce cynics. My intentions with these parables is in no way to try and make people cynical or angry with any church. I have no wish to be a source of division, and no comments during any of my blogs are intended to reflect any local church, denomination, etc).
Another option is the opposite extreme. We can focus only on the good of the church, but completely ignore the bad, disavow the problems. There is this toxic thing in many “Christian” circles that tells us we have to have a super faith that we don’t really have, that no matter what is going on in life we can’t question God or be honest about what’s really going on inside of us. It reminds me of Job’s friends who have the easy answers and tell Job he can’t question God (however in the end it’s Job, the one who was honest and sincere, who challenged and questioned, he was the one that God honored). God is big enough to handle our questions, our doubts, our fears, our struggles, and our lack of faith. This super faith where we’re supposed to convince people that everything is always alright with us regardless of circumstances bleeds over into the church. We feel like we have to pretend that the church is perfect and the answer to anyone’s problems. But, I believe this is why when people ranging in age from the late teens to the early thirties were polled about the first words that come to mind when they hear the word Christianity at the top of the responses were judgmental and hypocritical (for more info see Kinnamen and Lyons book UnChristian). I believe that this sweep problems under the rug and pretend like they’re not there, that everything is always awesome mentality is part of what is driving younger generations away from the church. Why? Because it’s not honest and they see through it. In the end, it doesn’t actually take us forward, it doesn’t make us better. Things that lie inside of us are stuffed only to explode when we can no longer contain it. Because if we don’t let it out in positive, constructive ways, it’s still in there, and it will usually come out at the least opportune time in some of the most destructive ways. But, there is a third option.
The third option is what I call an honest, hopeful humility. This option does not say, hey there are all these problems with the church, so we all need to leave. It’s not cynical. Neither does it pretend like those problems aren’t there, it doesn’t become oblivious. This approach has the humility to recognize that I am flawed and broken, but I am invited to be a part of this thing nonetheless. It recognizes that since I’m part of the church, the church is going to have some things that are messed up. I’m messed up. It’s honest, it recognizes things that are wrong and apologizes (especially to those it has hurt or alienated). But, it also has faith that God is continuing to work in us, that God is continuing to take us somewhere. So, it not only recognizes the bad and apologizes, but it also celebrates the good, when the church rally’s around it’s hurting, all the good ways it is making the world more what God longs for it to be, the orphanages and wells built, the starving fed, the healthcare provided in the third world (the list goes on further than I could type).
This approach is hopeful, because it doesn’t simply see the flaws and walk away. Instead it recognizes the good and the bad. It celebrates and repents, and through the process moves forward, becomes better, helps more, hurts less. This, I believe is the direction this whole thing has been going over the course of human history and I have faith and hope that it is the direction we are continuing to move.
My intentions for this series are not to hurt the church in any way. Rather, it is to take part in the conversation of who we are and what we could be and in so doing honor the work of Jesus making all things new (including the church).
But, there is another danger. Even when having these conversations from the third point of view we can lose the plot. We can get so wrapped up in conversations about the church that we can begin to think that the church is the point. The church is not the point. Connecting with God, following in the ways of Jesus, and making the world more like God longs for it to be is the point. Praying and living out “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” is the point. Love is the point. Because God is Love. And the great thing is, in the end Love Wins!
So, hopefully that helps give insight into my intentionality. Again, there may be better ways to look at it that are more constructive and helpful. If you disagree with me, I welcome the conversation. It seems like the more I learn the more I realize I have yet to learn. However, I do ask that you be respectful, not attack me, anyone else who makes comments, or any specific local church by name. In my experience that doesn’t take anyone anywhere.