Why I Haven’t Given Up on the Church

by Andy Wood on January 30, 2009

in Allocating Your Resources, Consumers, Life Currency, Love, LV Alter-egos, LV Cycle, Tense Truths

xmma-00145News Flash!  This just in…  In a shocking reversal of public opinion, somebody thinks something’s wrong with the church.

Here’s a blast from the past from an old B.C. Cartoon.  Picture the anthill, and the Dad ant poking his head out the top.  His teenaged son is coming back from the movies.

Dad:  “How was the disaster movie, son?”

Son:  “A disaster.”

Son:  “Why do they make so many disaster movies, Dad?”

Dad:  “So when Armageddon comes, we can all go back to sleep and say we’ve seen it already.”

I can see a 2009 update:

Dad:  “How was the disaster movie, son?”

Son:  “A disaster.”

Son:  “I thought we’d see a bunch of explosions, death and mayhem.”

Dad:  “Let me guess – you saw the Ted Haggard documentary instead.”

Pick your spot – inside the church or outside.  Mainline, sideline, or no-line.  House churches and megachurches.  Political and “news” organizations.  Cultural elitists and preachers.  Gay rights advocates and Fred Phelps.  Everybody seems to converge on one common opinion:

The church sucks.

Church people suck.  Church denominations suck.  Church leaders suck.  Your church sucks.  My church sucks.

Nobody’s Immune

Your church is part of a mainline denomination? You’re a jackleg, bleeding heart liberal who has rewritten the Bible to suit your lifeless liturgies and politically correct theology.

wtn154007You’re a Baptist?  Need I say more?

Charismatic/Pentecostal?  You live in a feel-good, emotional world, driven by send-me-your-money evangelists and name-it, claim-it theology.

Megachurch?  You’re probably led by a media-star control freak who preaches a watered-down message sold by gimmicky advertising and containing pop-psych life “principles” disguised as Bible verses.

Contemporary?  You’ve abandoned the rich heritage of hymnody and have equated loudness with godliness.

Traditional?  You’re boring and irrelevant.

Conservative?  You’re filled with hypocrites who are harsh and judgmental, ready to fire away at somebody else’s sins (especially gays), but rarely honest enough to face your own.

Progressive?  You search for relevance with a lot of meaningless jargon about postmodernism, culture-making, and being missional.  But you’re twentysomething age snobs, unaware of the scads of ways you’re setting yourself up for your own crash and burn when you and the world discover you aren’t as wonderful as you’re mommies led you to believe.

Roman Catholic?  You pray to Mary and dishonor all the other women in the world by insisting that sucking an unborn life from their wombs is somehow murderous evil.  Oh, and your priesthood is a boys-only club, in more ways than one.

Small?  Something must be wrong.  If your church can’t attract dozens of unbelievers or hordes of church-hopping nomads, something is awry with your pastor or your worship service (“the show.”)

Big?  Something must be wrong.  Anybody who would spend millions of dollars to feed their “edifice complex” has their priorities out of place.  You don’t care about the poor, the weak, the disenfranchised.  You just want to build buildings and gather big crowds.

The church is too judgmental.  The church is too loose with sin.  The church is too political.  The church is too isolated.  The church is too loud ‘n’ rowdy.  The church is too quiet and somber.

I could go on, but I’m getting angry and it makes my feet itch.

This is nothing new.  It’s just more universally accepted.  The church is fair game to be shot at for anything ¬– anything – it does or fails to do.  It’s just a matter of time before it’s standard fare in church world:

“Jess, could you come and lead us in a word of criticism?”

The Church Wound

Okay, now let’s pause for a moment of silence for those teeming masses who carry the most insidious wound of all – the church wound.

(Amen.)

Hey, I get it.  Really.  I’ve been fired by churches.  Told never to come back by a church.  Repeatedly disappointed by a church and the people in it.  Lied to by church people.  Betrayed by church leaders.  Yada, yada, yada.  Whaaah!  But guess where I found the healing and the hope necessary to move forward, stronger from the experience?

Yesterday I started my day in one of those moods.  I made a list of all the present reasons that life in church world just stinks.  Then I asked myself, “Self, why, then, do you stay?  Why don’t you just pack it in and become a consultant or professional blogger or something?

And I rested on three critical truths:

1.  Divine Ownership

It isn’t my church.  Yours, either.  And while nobody should pretend the church has no problems, it’s good to remember from time to time that the risen Lord Jesus established the church.  In all our love for all-things-kingdom, Jesus never claimed to build the kingdom of God – He just announced it.  He did say, however, “I will build My church.”  So until you can say you’ve shed your innocent blood for it, I would suggest you hold it loosely, and criticize it reverently.  He is fully capable of taking care of its purity, its pastors, its people.  He may use you to address its lamentable weaknesses and colossal failures.  But He will never honor anybody who arrogantly hurls pot-shots at His bride.

2.  Set-apart Membership

I still marvel at the way Paul address a pack of immature spiritual babies in Corinth.  This crowd had it all – the grossest of immorality, public drunkness, taking each other to court, arguing theology, and using their gifts to divide rather than unite the body.  Sound familiar?  And yet Paul addresses them as saints.   Holy ones.  Set apart by God to be a redemptive community.  And however else he addresses their problems and counsels them, he never gives them permission to walk out.  He just calls them to grow up – and to do so together.

3.  Christ-centered Fellowship

tgr00523

My brothers in Christ, somewhere in New Guinea

You have an identity with everyone who calls on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ on the basis of His death and resurrection, repentance from sin and faith in Him.

Guess what?  Most of them don’t drive to church!  Many are uneducated.  Nearly all have arrived by way of some pretty horrific sin, and they’re still working their way through healing from it.  Nearly all are products of some culture that’s starkly different from yours.  And they come to this Fellowship of the Redeemed, most of them knowing they somehow stain it just by being there.  But they come anyway.

They’re led by men (mostly) who think they’re more important than they are, who take themselves way too seriously, but who are willing to be called to a higher accountability in order to serve the Lord’s church.  And since Jesus ascended into heaven, this global fellowship has found its greatest identity – not in how popular or wealthy it can become, but in how it serves and loves and bands together when the whole world hates it.

Be really careful how you respond the next time a problem is exposed in a church somewhere.  That’s your family.  That’s a part of youAnd NOBODY ever solved a problem in the church by criticizing it. As John Donne has so eloquently reminded us, you are not an island.  And when the bell tolls for a church – any church –  it tolls for thee.

This weekend, if you’re looking for me, you’ll find me in one of those all-too-human churches.  I’d be there even if I wasn’t preaching.  And for one more Sunday, we’ll seek to be a healing place, a growing place, a sincerely helpful place that passionately loves Jesus by trying to be faithful to Him.  We’ll do so woefully imperfectly.  And we will publicly respect and pray for any other fellowship who seeks to do the same.

Why don’t you join us?  Even if you live half a world away?

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Cassie January 30, 2009 at 6:32 pm

Well, I think you pretty much covered it. Well said…or written, I suppose.

will hapeman January 31, 2009 at 8:24 pm

Hey my church doesn’t suck, much. It is too young and small to suck. It just kinda suckles. I have church wounds also. they still sting and It has been years, but I really think you hit it over at the Monk’s site, a lot of christians aren’t Christians. i mean how could they be, they are fruitless fruitless, like a fig tree out of season fruitless. not christians. My only excuse. let me cling to it.

will hapemans last blog post..Image is Everything

Andy Wood January 31, 2009 at 10:45 pm

Suckles! That’s hilarious, Will. Just give it some time, a few decidedly human people, and a vocal somebody who doesn’t get their way.

Thanks for the encouragement. Let’s be part of the solution.

will hapeman January 31, 2009 at 10:53 pm

Arm in arm for the cause of Christ! If you get a chance see what you think of my blog, I am a newbie. advise welcomed.

will hapemans last blog post..Image is Everything

steve martin February 1, 2009 at 6:22 pm

The Church doesn’t suck.

The world, the flesh, and the devil suck.

Luther said that when God built His Church, the devil built a chapel right next door.

The Church is the only place to hear the gospel. You sure as heck aren’t going to hear it at the mall or the ballgame or at the movies (99.98% of the time).

People may suck, some churches may suck, but the Church…never sucks.

steve martins last blog post..‘Cry Baby’ Christians

Andy Wood February 1, 2009 at 11:22 pm

@Steve – I’m with you – that’s my point exactly. The Church, with all its imperfect people, is still the greatest thing that’s ever happened to this world other than Jesus Himself.

steve martin February 2, 2009 at 3:15 am

“The Church, with all its imperfect people, is still the greatest thing that’s ever happened to this world other than Jesus Himself.”

You’re a good man, Andy!!

steve martins last blog post..‘Cry Baby’ Christians

Lisa @ *Fields of Grace* March 28, 2009 at 7:20 pm

Hey there Professor ~

Long time no visit … I still peek in and enjoy your blogs, but I went back and looked this one up tonight for a good reminder. Thanks for putting forth your effort to share your insights; they’ve been a blessing to my day for quite some time! Have a great weekend =)

Lisa @ *Fields of Grace*s last blog post..Weekend Thought

click July 6, 2014 at 11:33 am

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