Just because church people have the ability to match their clothes, facilitate killer book discussions or belt out on-key worship lyrics does not necessarily mean they have pure thought lives, a solid marriage or the ability to always—without fail—act like true representatives of God.
This should be obvious. Except, whenever I get around to remembering the church’s fallibility, its flawed nature always seems like a new revelation.
I expect Hollywood’s socialites to produce enough mistakes to keep the tabloids churning. But the church—the people who engage the world in the search for truth? I guess I expect less dysfunction in a group that represents something so compelling and pure.
Too often, when some Christian or some group of Christians—or even I—fail, my spiritual worldview is embarrassingly disrupted. How can this—this relational fallout, this hurtful behavior, this arrogance—happen in a group that is sourced by such a pure God?
My soul goes into code red, the same message flashing on the screen of my heart: Does Not Compute, Does Not Compute.
And when I finally get over my shock, I feel a little stupid. Like, wow, next time, when the 7,341st church-related failure goes down, I’m not going to be slowed by this immature cycle of disillusionment.
I’m going to remember the following mantra: Church people may not always care about some of the things that I value most, they may not always offer the kind of support I need when I need it, they may even turn my own mistakes into material for gossip.
As I engage the church again, maybe I’ll even seek help. Go to counseling. Pre-church counseling.
“So tell me why you want to commit to this congregation,” the counselor says.
Anxious to prove I really do love my church, I list off a few textbook right answers: interesting teaching, great music, the coffee in the lobby … oh wait, is that too superficial to mention?
The counselor nods and says uncomfortably, “Now tell me some of the church’s flaws.”
I swallow nervously. I don’t want to seem like I’m keeping a list of flaws in my back pocket to vent on just such occasions. But I also don’t want to seem so hypnotized by the church that I can’t produce one single flaw. I throw out a few annoyances. Small things. Like the occasional microphone feedback or that one usher who is a little too huggy.
The counselor cuts me off. “But what if one day the sermons get boring?” he demands. “Let’s say the church’s cleaning team walks all over you, calling you every single day because they know you don’t have the ability to say no. Let’s say not only does the lobby run out of coffee, but the lady who used to hand you the coffee has an affair with one of the worship team members.”
The counselor stops and stares at me, silent tension settling around the room.
“Do you believe in the ideal of church enough to stick with it through all that? Do you love your fellow believers enough to keep loving them and keep committing to them even when your emotions run low and the feelings of excitement have worn out?”
When I leave the counselor’s office, my head is spinning.
I am shaking at the weight of this decision: living and being church with all these other flawed humans seems like a risky endeavor. And I know that even if I want to commit now, there are going to be days when I wake up and wonder, “What was I thinking? Why did I ever say I’d align myself with this group?”
But hopefully that is when I’ll remember God. The mystery of him, the craziness of exploring everything he is and everything he made the world to be. And I’ll remember God’s ideals—his philosophy of living—the route that leads to such amazing fullness. And I’ll breathe in and I’ll breathe out, and I’ll let the latest human failure and the sick-to-my-stomach feeling pass by.
In one wise moment I’ll conclude, “Knowing God is so life-changing that I would do anything—ANYTHING—in the world to help my peers experience this level of purpose and peace.” And as I say it, I’ll see the obvious: I can’t do it alone. There is too much need, too much dysfunction, too much absence of vision in this world for me to engage this task alone. And I’ll start searching for a group of like-minded people to be teamed with in this cause.
And that’s where I’ll find it again right where I left it … the church. And I’ll remember why I ever got involved with this group to begin with.
It was God.