The body is one, but made of many parts.
Most believers buy into this, and yet, we forget that bodies only function well when all the parts are connected and work together. I believe that this is the best argument for why I should choose into a church. I need to join my body part with the other parts so that we can unite the body under the headship of Christ.
As I connect with the body, I am able to see more clearly a picture of Christ. I see the amazing work he is doing through the hands, and how amazing the hand is, even when it is not producing or creating something. I see the feet and their purpose in the body and their rugged toughness that keeps the Church moving. If the hands and feet refuse to connect with the rest of the body, then the body becomes stale and unproductive.
I am part of the crowd that longs to experience God. I mean, truly encounter him. I believe that a church gathering allows for a believer to possibly experience God on three levels: the Word, the worship, and the fellowship of believers (we are created in his image, and he is with us always; so, hopefully, we can find him within ourselves).
I think that I left church because someone finally told me that I should expect something more out of church, and that lifeless attendance did not really impress God. I should not go to church just so others can see me at church. Nor should I go just because I always have gone to church. What do you do on Sundays? You go to church.
This revelation led me to become an angry “new type of Protestant.” I was even protesting the Protestant Church. I found myself saying to the Church, “Hey, you are not what you proclaim to be; therefore, I will not subject myself to this lie. I need something authentic.” I turned my back on the Bride and left the building called a church and the institutional effort called Church.
I did not give up on the reality of church, though. My wife and I began our own “church” with a few others. We tried to avoid things we hated: bulletins, announcements, offering plates, set speakers, timed worship, and so on. We never knew if there would be a meeting the next week, because we did not make announcements. Sometimes, we would just stare at each other, because no one really wanted to speak, and no one had been assigned. We placed our offering plate, which was a cookie jar, in the bathroom. When you wanted to give your tithe or offering, you would excuse yourself and go to the bathroom. When someone in the group was in need, we would get the cookie jar and try to meet the need with its contents.
This church fell apart, because thirty percent of those attending got full-time jobs in other churches, leading worship or being pastors.
Twenty-five percent got called into full-time missions internationally.
And fifteen percent got jobs in faith-based non-profit work in the States.
It is now five years later, and I am ready to consider joining a church again.
My wife has been at this point for about six months. As usual, she is the trendsetter in this relationship and I am fumbling around trying to catch up to her. I love that. Over the past year, we have committed ourselves to living in community. It was not necessarily the kind where people live in the same house; though, that did happen. I am stronger than ever in my faith right now, because of the challenges and standards this community has set before me and allowed me to set before them.
I realize that my frustration is not directed toward the concept of church or the institution of the historical Church. Rather, it is directed toward a shortcoming in the Bride of Christ that has been represented by various churches I have attended over the years. I confess that every shortcoming I see in the Bride is represented within my own heart and body:
-For every time I have been frustrated with weak or irrelevant teaching or preaching, there has been a time that I either gave a sermon that was weak or irrelevant, or that I was not teachable.
-For every time I have been frustrated with lifeless worship or lack of reverence for God, there has been a time where my own fabricated reverence was obvious.
-For every time I have been frustrated by a lack in fellowship or attempts at community within a church, there has been a time that I chose not to love my brother or sister, or would not allow them to love me.
-For every time I have been frustrated with the lack of movement toward a purpose beyond the church building itself, there has been a time that I was all too willing to sit on my couch and stare at a television screen and forget the needs of the world.
Church, to me, is a place of freedom that embraces and calls out all the spiritual gifts for all people. It is a community of accountability, a place to encounter God on multple levels, a body that is missional, and a place of intentional fellowship that does not segregate on basis of race, ethnicity, economic status, style, or sin issue. All are welcome. It would be nice if it was also a place of creative expression, had a focus on social justice, and emphasized community gathering beyond the church service.
You might say that if I find such a place to please invite you. Should we gather in a random place somewhere and give this a try? Would bureaucracy and petty disputes derail us? Would we be another embarrassing attempt to try something different?
We need to keep taking baby steps toward unity in the body. The question I am asking myself is, “Do I see the Church as God’s instrument to unify the body and advance his kingdom?”
My final thought is really more of a confession: I am turning my search so that it leads me to a church again. The body needs to unite.
I don’t want to just be a foot flopping down the sidewalk.