There probably isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t ask myself:
is this really all worth it?
And similarly, I ask: is there a better way to be the people of God than the church today? For me, as an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, these questions are intertwined, enmeshed, forever fused. For most folks, these are two different questions. But for me, these thoughts will never be untangled, and every day, I ask them quietly, to myself:
- Is this work, my leadership in the human-institution called the church … worth it?; and
- Is there a better way to be the people of God than the church today?
Well, obviously … yes and yes … are the answers to both of those questions. Every day. Every single day.
I do need to share that framing my answers is the reality that every human institution is fraught with a history somewhere of evil and abuse. Every human institution has some past or present story of deep pain, poor choice, dysfunction or corruption. And? The church is no innocent in this. No, even worse, the church enacts such abuse in the very name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. So, I think to myself again and again and again: why am I part of this work, this mess of an institution called the church? why?
But, each day I ask these questions, the same answer arises in my heart: these are the people of God, Melinda. The church is human (institutionally formed or no). And we humans (make no mistake that I own my own flawed, broken part in the church), we are broken and wounded and hurting. And we often (consciously and unconsciously both) act from that terrified small space of woundedness — and — of brokenness.
We form the church + We are broken = The church is formed by, of and with God’s broken people. … ergo … we act from that place of broken …
So, if the church … if this human gathering of the wounded is marred from the outset, if we are destined to get it wrong, to injure one another and those we will never know, if we inherit a far too long and far too painful history of harm, then why bother … because there must be a better way.
Well, of course, there is a better way. But, here we find ourselves in the conundrum of the ages: the better way is the way of Christ, and we gather as the church to be about the way of Christ. The way of Christ is the way that bears the “fruits of the Spirit” that we learn about in Paul’s letter to the Galatians: “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Gal. 5:22-23)
The better way is to be the church and follow Christ together. It is as simple and complex, as clear and difficult as that. But, this is the work that we must be about; we must be the church and follow Christ together even, despite and IN our brokenness. We must be the church — in the COVID-19 pandemic — in the ever-growing secularization of our cultures — in the deepening political polarity of our country — in our racist, anti-black structures — in our ageist and ableist ways —
And still, yet, ever more … yearn to follow Christ together on his path.
There is an endless list (now that I have started it) to why we should not be the church, to why we should walk away or just go seek God in the sunset and leave it all at that. But all of those reasons and that sunset won’t stop the hurt or the pain being inflicted now or to come. In the name of anyone’s Lord or Savior.
The church today. This is the work that we must be about; we must be the church and follow Christ together even, despite and IN our brokenness.
Because Church: we have been given a clear mission from God. And I learned this all. over.again.this.summer. There is nothing like running a church daycamp in a global pandemic to teach me this lesson … again and again.
At our best? We are the world’s best tool for community. The church.
At our best? We are the healthy way to bring people together. The church.
At our best? We teach the tools of compassion, empathy, patience. The church.
At our best? We teach grace, and we live grace. We teach and we live and we practice forgiveness.
At our best? We live in joy and hope.
We teach, preach and put into daily practice: every soul has its worth.
At our best? We bring people together (or at least we should be), and we teach both the value of and the tools to …. build community.
And that? This? This building up of community; the teaching of how to do it and the valuing of it? … It is this … healthy community … that changes the world because it is in this coming together, this forming the heart of God, as God’s people that hearts are changed, that lives are transformed.
We must be about this work. We are born to it, and called to it.
Join me, please. Teach me about you. Allow me to make a mistake in your presence, and give me the change to ask for your grace. Together, let us walk a path of less pain and hurt than our ancestors of the faith.
Let us be about the work of Christ – let us be the church and be the beloved community.
Pastor of Community & Connection
Being the Church Movement, Long Beach