My wife and I broke up with our church in January. We had been there for three years, and it’s not what you think. We have never been church “attenders”. We have never been the people who demand that we be served with a product that is to our liking, or we will take our business elsewhere. We invest.
This was our second church in the past ten years. During that time, my wife started a MOPS group and served for two years as its director. I did a yearlong pastoral ministries internship. We both started and led small groups.
Here’s the problem. You have to believe in your church.
You have to believe in the gospel that they preach.
For me, there are two “must haves” that I used to assume all churches had: room for the Holy Spirit, and grace for one another.
Room for the Holy Spirit
We live in a secular age, and through the power of human effort we have accomplished a lot. It is tempting to “do church” the same way. We make a plan, we set a budget, we track our progress, we achieve our goal! God’s kingdom is advanced.
Here is the problem. In none of this are we experiencing God. Some religions work fine that way, because they consist of a list of dos and don’ts, principles to observe, rules to follow. Some people treat Christianity as one of those religions. But it is not.
“I am the vine and you are the branches,” says Christ, “so long as you remain in me, and I in you, you will bear much fruit. Apart from me, you can do nothing.” Christian faith is not a system, it is a relationship, a window into a larger world, and like Luke Skywalker vs. the training droid, you cannot connect to that larger world while remaining fully in control.
Grace for one another
All churches claim to have grace. Some even name themselves after it: a Google search for “grace church” comes back with over 100 million hits. It all sounds good, and you can go to those churches for a long time before you realize where the grace is limited.
Maybe grace is available to you…
- …as long as you are baptized the way that we baptize.
- …as long as you only live in freedom from the same parts of the law as we do.
- …as long as you judge whom we judge.
- …as long as you only honor whom we honor.
- …as long as you only sin the way that we sin.
To my mind, limited grace is no grace; it smacks strongly of loving only those who love you.
Last week at Starbucks, my wife and I ran into a dear old friend from two churches ago. We were delighted to see her, and all of us nearly made ourselves late catching up. Since we are “between churches” right now, we asked her where she is going. Turns out, she is also “between churches”, and I spent a few minutes sharing my vision of a Spirit-filled, grace-filled church. “I know, right?” she agreed, “I’m just not sure that a church like that exists anymore.”
Deep down in my heart, I believe it does. The word of God assures me that out there, somewhere, there are former pharisees and former “sinners” who have found true redemption. Somewhere there is a church of all of them.
Somewhere, meeting together, are those who have recognized their own imperfections too deeply to ever exclude others for languishing in imperfection; whose faith in their own power is limited by the memory of a time that only a power greater than themselves was able to restore them to sanity.
Somewhere on Earth, there is an echo of that great church, a multitude from every nation, tribe, people and language, praising God together.
I am praying to find that church. All I want in a church… is that.