And church news is little different: pastor so-and-so is embroiled in a moral failing; church such-and-such fired its pastor over leadership differences; and the seminary down the street let go a professor over theological issues. The list goes on and on.
Isn’t it time for something different?
How about a little good news? What about a viral campaign about churches doing well? Well, here is my modest attempt to say a good word about our church community.
Honoring My Church Community
Let me just say it loud and clear: I love my church. And when I pause to think about it much, it brings me to tears.
Last week our congregation gathered for an ordination and consecration service for myself and my wife, Cyd. You see, I managed to squeeze a 2-year ordination process into 10 years (Cyd did it in the allotted 2 years, so that tells you who is more on top of things).
During the service there was a time of affirmation so that people could say how much they love and appreciate Cyd and me as people and as pastors. And of course it was very nice (thank you all who were there).
At the end of the service I got up to say a word of thanks, because that is the good and proper thing to do. But I was so overcome by gratitude (more precisely, I was choking down tears) that I couldn’t get the words out (I know this is very hard to believe for those who know me, but there were witnesses I promise).
And why was I so choked up? Well, let me tell you.
My church community makes me forget that many pastors (and members) have been abused, neglected, and all around beat up by their communities. I forget that this is the reality for many people when they think of “church.” Over the years I have known many of these pastors in my emerging and missional church networks. And I have heard their heartache and frustration caused by their church communities. I have talked with them about their longings for a more holistic ministry and how they have been shut down by their leadership. But my church makes me forget this (in a good way).
Being let down, dominated, neglected, and controlled has not been my experience here at Life on the Vine. I have never felt overworked and underappreciated. I’ve never been shutdown or controlled aggressively by people that disagree with me. I have never felt like people were just putting a smiley face over a conversation in order to avoid conflict.
I know this might sound weird, but for the most part I have had such a positive experience as a pastor of this local church that I forget that many people have a very sour view of the church. If often shocks me that people hate and mistrust the “church” in general (often coming out of a specific bad “church” experience).
I’ve even been called a naïve idealist because I have such high hopes and beliefs about the church. But this is because my local church has been such a healthy experience for me. In fact I don’t believe I’m either naïve or an idealist. It is just that I haven’t been deeply wounded by my church (and I think that is just how God wants it to be). I have been nurtured by my church. And isn’t that how it is supposed to be?
Through my church community I remember God’s grace, God’s love, and God’s patience. I know that I’m loved and accepted for who I am and not what I do (for the most part, the identity issues I have come solidly from my own sin and not because of passive-aggressive tendencies from my community).
I remember through my church community that God really is making a new people here in the world, a peculiar people (strange and weird) for sure, but a new people out of the old. We don’t all act alike, believe alike, looks alike, or love alike. And yet here we are living our lives together.
For sure it hasn’t been easy. In fact, it has been hard work living into the reconciliation of God. But it has been worth it! I’m a totally different person because of it. And I wouldn’t trade those lessons learned for just about anything.
This is not to say our church is perfect. And certainly I’m not perfect. And that is the whole point! We aren’t perfect. No church is perfect.
But it is how we all deal with our imperfections that really matters. Or better, it is how we are all allowing God to deal with our imperfections that matter. We are all going to blow it. But can we live in patience and forgiveness? Can we live toward reconciliation and justice? Can we live toward love and faith?
I, for one, believe our church community is pretty good at being imperfect in these ways.
Therefore, I want to honor my church community in seeking God’s kingdom in the midst of all our messy imperfections, and somehow, for having put up with all my messy imperfections for the better part of 10 years.
What about you? Are you able to praise and honor your church? Let’s get some good headlines going out there.
Geoff Holsclaw is a native Californian who now calls Chicago home. He has served for over 10 years as a pastor at Life on the Vine, has recently co-authored, Prodigal Christianity, and is affiliate professor of theology at Northern Seminary. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube. This piece first appeared on his blog.
Image: Mark A Hewitt, oldtractortinshed.net.