The Problem with Church

church clip

I have been in church most of my life. I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly. If you’ve been around church people long enough, I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “I’ve been hurt by the church” or “I’ve been hurt in church” at least once. It’s almost epidemic. The church, the place where people should flock to feel loved and welcomed, appreciated, needed, and safe, often times has become a source of pain or contention. This was never God’s intention. Yet , we are mere mortals and churches, though good intentioned, cease to be perfect the moment we walk through the door. Church was never intended to be a showroom full of the perfect and sinless. Church is a gathering place for the wounded. Church is a hospital for the broken. Fallible, imperfect men and women, join together as one body, with one united purpose, to glorify the Lord and draw closer to Him.

This morning I was thinking about King Josiah. His story is recorded in the Bible in the book of II Chronicles and also in II Kings. Josiah was 8 years old when he became king and at that young age he began to seek after the Lord. The real turning point for him happened 18 years later when one of the priests found the Book of the Law and read it to him. He saw himself there in the words. He realized the only hope for his nation and his people was change and he decided to act. Here’s the thing, Josiah had faithfully been serving God for 18 years by this time. Our current system of belief so often states that we are to follow after God ourselves and let others deal with themselves. Up to this point, that’s pretty much what Josiah had been doing. We cannot change anyone and we shouldn’t butt into anyone’s business. It sounds so good. But we are missing the point entirely. Our faith isn’t just about us. It never has been. Our faith is about serving others and helping them to reach the fullness of the life that God intended for them as well. In our self-absorbed culture, this seems so contrary but I contend that it’s just fundamental.

Josiah “set the priests in their duties and encouraged them for the service of the house of the Lord.” (II Chron. 35:2. Then later in verse 6 he tells the priests to “prepare them [the Passover offerings] for your brethren that they may do the according to the word of the Lord.” After they had served each other, they were encouraged to prepare for themselves. Verse 7 says that his leaders gave willingly to the people. You see, Josiah found that the key to leadership was equipping and encouraging others to operate in the fullness of their calling. In Verse 16, the Bible says the singers were in their places. So here they all were, in their place of utility ready to serve each other: a gathering of people focused on the person next to them rather than on themselves.

Maybe if we as a church would spend more time focusing on the person next to us than we do on our own problems or even on what we think we have to offer, things might be different. Maybe if we quit waiting on the Pastor or church leadership to do all the work and instead we step up and fill in the gaps, the ministry would be more effective.

Josiah found himself in the book of the law that day and it changed him. It caused him to realize his utility was not just as a ruler, but as an encourager. He led a nation to repentance through service. Perhaps it’s time we follow his example. So often, we’ve looked at all of the things we think exclude others from ministry rather than finding their gifting and encouraging them in it. As we encourage and equip them, they draw closer to Christ and the negatives often fall away.

We all have rough edges that need to be sanded down over time. Let’s stop focusing on the edges so much and start advocating for the heart. Let’s stop condoning sinfulness in church while casting stones at the folks outside. Let’s restore true worship again where we lose ourselves in wonder at a God who sees us, broken and fallible, and adores us anyway. Let’s follow his lead and radically love those we deem despicable. Maybe we can begin to see their hearts instead of their actions. Maybe we can find the person, whom God loves unconditionally, instead of focusing on the outside appearance. We believe God saves us through faith and not through our works, yet we judge the works of those who haven’t yet come to know Him and forget to love.

If you want to change the world, do it…one word of encouragement at a time.

Reinvented

In rural, southern Ohio somewhere there is a band of stuffed animals and baby dolls who were once taught the word of God. When I was a little girl, I was convinced that I would be a preacher and a singer. I would play church with my stuffed animals in the backyard. I would lead worship, then read my bible aloud to them, then expound and teach them everything a teddy bear and bunny could need to know about the kingdom of God. At the end, I’d have an altar call and pray for them and for everyone else I know.

I was at a Women of Faith conference last week and Brenda Warner said when she was five years old she stood up in front of her church and announced that when she grew up she wanted to be either a preacher or a stripper. I guess it’s not who we think we’ll be but who we end up being that matters.

There are moments, when I can’t help but look back over my life and see the good and the bad. I’ve made so many mistakes and I’ve wasted so much time. There were times, I was so far from that little girl with dreams of changing the world, one teddy bear at a time.

Still, here I stand, determined that today will mean more than yesterday. Tomorrow will be a new beginning with new mercies and new opportunities. We have a choice to look back and mourn for what could have been or to pick up and do what we can with today.

I know there are those who look back and think that the past somehow disqualifies them from doing something in the present. I used to be one of them. The truth is that the past molds us into the person we are now and we are the ones chosen to accomplish that which God put in us to do. Through the grace of God, I see things differently than others might because of my experiences. I can use that vision to propel me toward the goals and dreams God put in me.

One of the greatest tools of our enemy is the ability to convince us that we are too messed up to accomplish our dreams or that it’s too late or that we aren’t good enough. As I listen to the stories of others I realize more and more that I am not the only one whose overcome great odds to become something beautiful.

God enables the willing. He isn’t constrained by our ideas of what it means to be “good enough”. He not only loves us in spite of the rubble. He is a master craftsmen who builds us into His image using the pieces we thought were irreparable. He simply waits for us to present ourselves to Him. Now is our greatest opportunity.