“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.” – Colossians 3:12-15
What a beautiful picture of the church. It really doesn’t get much better than this in my mind. I wish I had spent more time in my past sitting with verses like this that focus on the kind of community Jesus wants to create. Rather, I was more concerned with how I thought he wanted to order Sunday services. Services are important and we should put some time into them, but as I grow older I’m thinking we should spend more time on the kind of people Christ is transforming us into.
I got to visit with one of my good friends and mentors this past weekend. He has been a minister for over 30 years now and preached at his current church for 17 years. 17 years! You don’t see that much anymore. But this guy loves his church. They have incredible Sunday services, but he loves his church because of a community of restoration that has been created. Every week, people confess sins, forgive others, and find paths out of addictive behaviors. They are truly embodying Colossians 3. So my friend and I are talking and he is telling me about a conversation he had with a preacher friend. They were discussing young ministers who graduate from seminaries and that hate the church. Truly, they do not like the church’s they go to work for. I think that’s why 17 years is such a rare thing for a preacher these days.
I’ve been reflecting on that thought and I think it is true. Many young people go to school and are taught that there is a perfect church and we can create that church by tweaking certain things. We can restore a church to a picture of an ideal church that really doesn’t exist. I went through a period of being angry and frustrated with the church. “If we would just do it this way.” “If we could just make these changes.” I could’ve gone on and on with how to “fix” the church. It never dawned on me that step one was to stop being cynical and to learn to love my church.
So, that is just one of the many reasons I love the MRE at Rochester College. From day one, Dr. Mark Love tells us we are not experts that go back and fix the church. He tells us we have to first love our churches. And then this gets supported with good study and theology where we learn that there is no perfect or ideal church. All church’s exist in a certain space and time and are made up of imperfect people. So we start there and we start by loving. I have learned to start there and over time have grown to see a community that strives to look like the one described in Colossians 3.
So, after talking to my friend, I’m reminded how much I love the church. I’ll be honest; this hasn’t always been the case. But through some good mentors and the Spirit of God working on me, I’ve learned to see the beauty of a broken people walking together, loving one another, and trying to extend that love to the world. Don’t be cynical. Don’t be negative. Don’t be the “expert” who can “fix” your church. Love them.
It is very easy to be cynical about the church. I have often been guilty of this myself. This is especially true when we think about the church only as the institution and program we see on Sunday mornings. Unfortunately, this is likely a common view for many Americans. So, we get into long and sometimes ridiculous discussions about what the Sunday morning meeting should look like. Don’t get me wrong, we should think, talk, and plan about that, but it shouldn’t consume us.
This morning I gathered in a hospital waiting room with a group of guys that I have the deepest respect for who shepherd our church. I was honored to come alongside them and lay hands on a sweet lady whose husband is lying in a hospital bed after suffering a massive stroke and pray with her. The gentleman lying in that bed is a hero of the faith. He is a legend in our church and has had an impact across the world. They have lived a long life together as husband and wife and now she is walking through the valley the psalmist speaks of in Psalm 23. It is a journey through a valley that some of us have not yet even experienced and some of us know all too well.
I love Psalm 23. It is likely one of the most well known passages in all of Scripture. I particularly like the part about how we have no fear when walking through that valley because the rod and staff of the Shepherd comfort us. I don’t think the comfort comes from an intellectual knowledge of the Shepherd. To me, the comfort is fully realized in the flesh through the Body of Christ, his church. I want so bad to do something for this precious lady walking through this dark valley, but the thing is, there is nothing I can do. Not because there isn’t anything to be done, but because she is surrounded by a group of people who are already showing her in the flesh the comfort of the Shepherd. Now that the time has come for her to journey through this dark valley, she isn’t walking alone. The church of Jesus Christ is walking with her, comforting her.
You can be cynical about church and have endless conversations about Sunday morning. You can think the church to be a waste, not worth your time and effort. I know this though; I am going to think twice about cynicism in the church. Because when the time comes, I want them walking through some of the darkest seasons of my life with me. I can’t do this journey alone. No one can. The church is so much more than a Sunday program. The church is the comfort of the Shepherd’s rod and staff being fleshed out in our lives.
And as a complete side note, I absolutely love my church. I saw today the giant footsteps that our current elders have to fill from some great men who have gone before them. I couldn’t be more proud of how well they are doing just that. We may not always look perfect on our Sunday mornings or in our programs. We will make mistakes. However, there isn’t another group of believers I would rather be on this journey with right now. I thank God for his church worldwide. Not the institution, but the people.