I read this week a reminder about the nature of truth and love it said this:
Love without truth is hypocrisy
Truth without love is brutality
The church is messed up. We can be inward focused, selfish, push personal agendas, and generally be mean to each other and judgemental (or worse) of the world. I get that. I get that many people have been hurt by the 'church', which is really just a nice way of saying that other people, other Christians have hurt you. Sometimes that comes through deliberate actions and sometimes it's because something was left undealt with or was never seen.
That sucks. It's more than likely I have even hurt people. My choices or lack of making a choice has hurt people. Sometimes you know that a choice you make is not only going to be unpopular, but difficult for someone. Sometimes you have no idea. Sometimes hindsight tells you that the way something worked out hurt people, even though you didn't mean it.
So what am I trying to say really?
Leaving the church isn't the answer. There are times when you need to leave a particular church, but giving up on ALL church is not going to help anyone.
The question I then have, and it's a question I ask on a regular basis is this:
Well what should church look like then? Because in my mind it's easier to find things wrong then come up with solutions.
While I grew up in the church, at the end of it all I wasn't left with the same kind of 'traditional' feeling that some people get. I mean I remember poking fun at different parts of our church life or of some of the people who did things a certain way. People poked fun at me too, and my wife feels that was entirely appropriate as this was the era of the Doug Mullet. I have also been informed that I am in no way ever to have that kind of a hair cut again, or she'll go and cut my hair in my sleep with a rusty steak knife, but I digress. (If there are any people from my youth group days who can tell me which family's pool this photo was taken at, hit me in the comments)
The point is though that nothing ever really felt 'traditional' to me. There were things that I liked and things that bored me to tears. There were parts of church life that resonated with me and parts of it left me scratching my head.
I wanted to become a pastor because I felt like I had to give back a little of what others had given me. God used the work and effort of regular people to impact my life.
Sure over the years there are some people that don't understand me and rail against me at times, but not everyone. I remember pivotal points in my life where different people in my church(s) were used by God to break through my defences and teach me something. People like Jim, who taught a Sunday school class in Junior High, my quiz coaches pushing me to memorize (even though I only quizzed one year), Pastor Gerry who God used in big ways, Steve a youth sponsor who drove bus and prayed with me the night God rattled my cage in a big way at a Good Friday rally in Unionville. I remember the ladies who sang their hearts out and showed me that all kinds of music could be worship (I wasn't listening to anything like what they were singing on my walkman). I remember the encouragment people gave me the night I was baptized (Easter Sunday 1989). The people in the church I interned at who loved me and challenged me and showed me things. And many in the churches I've served as pastor. And as much as I remember I know that there were more things that God used to shape me.
I suppose I struggle with those who can walk away from church in general. Despite all the chaos that I've seen in churches (and likely I haven't seen as much hurt and chaos as many have) God still used it to impact me. For me being a pastor is a small way to serve the church that has prayed for me, challenged me, taught me and at times has hurt me.
Often though, I don't know what to do to make the church better. Often I don't know how to get people to change. Often I don't know how to bring depth to something that often is shallow. I struggle at length at times to find a way to communicate the immense gratitude I have inside for all the things that God has done.
It was twenty years ago that I was baptized on Easter Sunday, perhaps that's why I am writing this really long post. I'm still here. My intention is, that twenty years from this Easter I will still be in church; and twenty after that and... (although I'm not sure I'll be pastoring 40 years from now, but who knows, maybe I'll be the guy trying desperately to stay awake during the service and Tara will be jabbing me in the ribs with an elbow to keep me from snoring during the sermon).
May you find a new appreciation for our Lord Jesus this Easter weekend and find new ways to love the church.