My church is pretty dysfunctional, but I love it—I think. Over a year ago, it came out that our senior pastor had been having an affair with our programming director. Chaos ensued as we came to understand the amazing damage this man had inflicted over years of ego-driven leadership. He’d tried to build a church with himself at the center and created all sorts of blurred boundaries that we later discovered would have huge ramifications for us down the road. We trudged through the best we could, and it was incredibly painful. Lots of people left the church for one reason or another. Four months ago it came out that our new programming director had been having an affair with our worship leader. More people left the church over this. Throughout both of these situations, people were cruel—vilifying the elder board, writing scathing, hurtful e-mails and lashing out at people in horrible ways.
Through all of this, I can’t remember seriously considering leaving. Sure, I haven’t always agreed with how things have been done, but I haven’t left, and I’m trying to figure out why. I’ve watched our church’s attendance dwindle to a fraction of what it was, and I continue to see good friends leave. As I sat this morning journaling, the thought came to my mind that maybe I’m missing out by staying at my church. Maybe all of these people who’ve bolted over the past year and a half have it right, and I’m way off base. Maybe I’m the kid playing in the skanky lukewarm mud puddle, thinking, "It doesn’t get any better than this," while there’s a beautiful beach across the street that I’m missing out on. I don’t know.
I know that I love my church. I love that it’s full of people totally different than me, full of a bunch of broken, sinful people, just like me. We’re a church full of all sorts of recovering addicts, an ex-prostitute, an occasional ex-stripper, cheats, liars, thieves and adulterers. All sinners—just like me. I love that it’s a group of people who are pursuing God however they can. It’s a place that loves kids of all ages—my kids, junior high kids, high school kids. It’s a place where kids can come with tattoos and piercings and get a big hug from Joanne when they walk in the door. It’s a place where a 5-year-old can come in, and people like Shannon and Alyssa will hang with them, help connect them and show them by example what Jesus is all about. It’s a place filled with people like Linda who go into the inner city of Detroit every weekend to bring the poor food when they’re hungry and mittens and hats when they’re cold. It’s full of guys like Mark, Les and Mike who get up every Sunday morning and run the sound, video and light system. Their work is totally transparent to those around them, unless they screw up. Sometimes our music isn’t great, sometimes we have people teaching who are less than polished (me), and sometimes we’re just getting by.
I wonder how much easier it would be to leave and go to a church where I’m anonymous, where there are a whole bunch of people just like me, and I don’t have to deal with those who annoy me. I think it would be so much easier to go to a church where people only see the part of me that I want them to see and not the junk below the surface. I think about how nice it would be to be a part of a big church, where the ugliness that is the reality of church is hidden below the surface.
I stay, and I’m not always sure that’s the best way to go. Most of the time, I go to church on Sunday, see this group of misfits that I do church with, do life with, and I think to myself, "Where else would I go?" I’ve invested more than 10 years of myself in this place, these people, this vision, and I can’t see myself doing it any other way. I’ve seen people changed at such a core level, who turn around and impact others, who in turn do the same. I’ve seen people whose lives have been horribly lost find salvation. I’ve seen myself go from being a self-centered, egoistical, duplicitous jerk to being just an egotistical jerk. I’ve gone deeper in my life with people at my church than I ever thought was possible, found healing I never thought could happen and grown deeper in my relationship with God than I knew I could go. I love this place. But then again, I’m probably missing something.
I take solace in one of my heroes, Mike Yaconelli, who was pretty familiar with going to an imperfect church:
It’s no wonder that most of us feel completely inadequate to do anything other than cook breakfast, and even then we wonder if we shouldn’t check our menu with a dietician, a nutritionist, a vitamatician and a chef.
Then we go to church, and we leave completely demoralized by the expert insights into the nuances of the original Greek and Hebrew, which are obviously out of our intellectual reach as laypersons; the clear and obvious principles of godly living that everyone should know, but of course, we don’t know; the unending litany of success stories that make anything that has happened to us pale in comparison. The worship band is so polished, the choir is so professional, the drama is so theatrical, and the multimedia presentation so state-of-the-art that we leave reaffirmed in our own incompetence. It is no wonder that you and I, the ordinary people of God, go to bed each night with a dull uneasiness, a gnawing ineptitude that is present when we drift off to sleep and there to greet us when we awaken in the morning.
We constantly hear complaints about the lethargy of the Church, the apathy of the congregation, the inactivity of the majority. Could it be that the collective passiveness of the church is the direct consequence of the expertise of the leadership? Could it be that the unwillingness to perform by the many is a natural response to the flawless performance of the few? Could it be that the authority of the expert has robbed the non-expert of any authority at all? Could it be that the unending parade of "heroes" has made it impossible to find the real heroes hiding in the ordinary and commonplace?
The power of the Church is not in its super-preachers, or its mega-structures, or its large institutions. The power of the Church is in its individual people whose sacrifices throughout everyday life have an authority no expert can match.
My church is not perfect and it’s not full of heroes in the traditional church sense. It’s full of misfits who’ve been radically affected by a risen Savior and are just trying to get by with what they’ve been given. It’s a group of people who’ve been loved at the core and who can’t help but share that love, telling others about it in any way they can. I love my church.I think I’ll stick around for a while.