Eugene Peterson once said that churches are both mystery and messy. Church is a mystery because it is the Bride of Christ, in the mind of God from before creation (Ephesians 1). The church is messy because it is made up of people, like you and me. We know that when we get people together, two, ten, a hundred, three hundred, trouble is just around the corner. Its true with home owners associations, Little League boards, Rotary Clubs, churches. Get people together and pretty soon they will disappoint you, make you mad, and you will want to leave.
Nadia Bolz-Weber in her book Pastrix has a wonderful section on disappointment in the church. At the quarterly Welcome to House for All Sinners and Saints gathering, Nadia speaks tells them:
This community will disappoint them. It’s a matter of when, not if. We will let them down or I’ll say something stupid and hurt their feelings . I then invite them on this side of their inevitable disappointment to decide if they’ll stick around after it happens. If they choose to leave when we don’t meet their expectations, they won’t get to see how the grace of God can come in and fill the holes left by our community’s failure, and that’s just too beautiful and too real to miss. Welcome to House for All Sinners and Saints . We will disappoint you. Bolz-Weber, Nadia Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint (pp. 54-55). (BTW–Get this book! Read this book! It is fantastic! One of the best books I have read this year.)
We have gathered for family gatherings like Thanksgiving and been disappointed. The food wasn’t good or cold. Our favorite dish wasn’t served. That crazy relative drank too much again and starting saying inappropriate things. And on and on. We have all been there. Have we ever said: “I hear that the house down the street has a really good Thanksgiving.I think next year I will go to that house!”
No, we never say that…though we make think it! Why, because we are family. For good and for worse, we are family. When Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t go well we spring into action so that next year will be better. We own the problem; we work to solve it. We realize that family is more important than the meal, even that gathering. We we stick together, and next year, we do Thanksgiving again.
So it should be with the church.Its not always easy. Sometimes it is very tough. But we are the body of Christ, the family of God. We sacrifice for each other. We give up our rights for others. We love each other. We work to be the church that we should be.
We are the church–not some idealized, in the clouds church, but an actual on the ground, meeting in space and time, real people, messy people, people like you and me.
Paul said to the church in Philippi: I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God (Philippians 1).
An on the ground church is messy. It will disappoint. But it is also a wonderful mystery! God uses the church. God uses us. God uses me to fulfill his purposes.
Don’t run from the church that disappoints. Hang in there. Work to make it better. See God’s grace at work.