“Marry the church.” – Brian Seay (DiscipleMakers Staff)
My heart sank as I looked over my lawn. It had grown for nearly three months without much maintenance, and resembled more of a wild field than a lawn of a homeowner. It was one of what seemed like an endless list of things I had to get done, without an end in sight. Yet, the day we moved back into our home, a number of people rushed to our home to help. In fact, with the yard alone, we had three people who took shifts to mow it. After numerous hours, we finished, and it, along with nearly every other task, was done.
“It's amazing how belonging to the church brings much help, I can't imagine what it's like for someone who isn't in it,” one of the people remarked. It was a staggering comment, and one I haven't forgotten. It reminded me that there are benefits to being an active member of the local church, and it's this: you're a part of a family. And healthy families involve each member seeking to love each other.
That's not to say that church members shouldn't love non-church members, rather, there is a different love that can only exist within the church, and that's for many reasons. One, we are unified by the Holy Spirit which dwells within us. Two, our love for Jesus trumps all other objects of worship. That includes people, possessions, and more. That's why Jesus says in John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The church is a family. And not just any family, it's the family of God. And the family of God loves one another.
Now, you might be asking, “why don't I feel the love?”
It's a good question, and one I've asked often. As I've gone through the past year, let me give five reasons why you may not feel the love of the church.
1. You expect more from the church than Christ himself: I often expect that people should know how to care for me, and when they don't, I distance myself. I too often believe that I should be perfectly understood, and if I'm not, they don't care. This is not only untrue, it's not fair. The church, while meant to care for one another, is not meant to be Jesus. Jesus understands perfectly. Jesus cares perfectly. And Jesus is sufficient in his care. Part of that care is him working through the church. The church, however, is not Jesus. We must not put our hope that people will care for us perfectly, because people are both sinners and limited in their abilities.
2. Your local church is struggling in the areas that you need to flourish: Speaking of limitations, it's very possible the local church you are a part of struggles in areas that you need care in. That's hard. The temptation is to blame, to grow bitter, or to abandon. Depending on the care you need, it might mean leaving that local body to go to another that can better fit your needs. Or, it might mean stepping up to help it flourish in its areas of weakness. If it's a matter of care where you are in deep depression or anxiety, it might be good to find help in a place that might be better suited to help at that current time.
3. You're fearful to let people walk with you based on past experience: I'll speak more on this in a future post, but people make mistakes in caring for people. This cultivates fear and bitterness if it goes unaddressed and, for many of us, leads to isolation. Don't fall into that trap. Isolation is a great way for the flesh, the world, and Satan to bring more destruction. Open up to one or two people, and then more over time. And have grace for people when they make mistakes in caring for you.
4. You're there to be fed, not to serve: Too often, I think of the church as an institution to meet all my needs. But that's not what the church is. The church is a family, not an institution. And families serve one another. Ask yourself, “am I here to be solely a consumer?” If the answer is yes, then there's an opportunity to repent, and move towards your spiritual family with the heart of a servant. (As an aside, sometimes there are seasons where you might need more care, and you're not in much of a position to serve. That's ok. You can serve by helping people know how to better care for you, which in turn will strengthen you for future service.)
5. You're there to serve, not to be fed: On the other side, it's easy to become the savior. I'll do all the ministry, and all the work, and I'll meet with all these people. But we forget that this family has one savior, and it's not me, nor is it you. Remember that as we serve, we also must allow Christ to serve us through the church. If you are in need of love and care, it's not bad or wrong to ask. In fact, it's good and right for us to share our weakness, so that we can bear one another's burdens.
As the quote above states, we should be compelled to “marry the church.” To marry means that we enter into a covenant. It's not a contractual agreement, but rather a commitment. We commit to being part of the body of Christ, both in it's joys and sorrows, in its strengths and its weaknesses. We are to be a part of it, to serve in it, and to rejoice in it's building through the work and power of the Gospel. And as we do that, not only do we see its beauty, but we, and the church, will flourish. We see that God is wise to bring unique people, with unique gifts, with unique passions, together to band as one family serving one another in hopes that we might bring more in the fold, and bring God glory. Do you see it? Do you see its beauty? Are you in awe of what God is building?
Before you critique or distance yourself from the church, ask yourself this question: am I missing out on how God is establishing and building his church because I'm over-focused on its faults?
Don't miss the messy flourishing of God's church. Don't miss the opportunity to flourish within it.