I endured a more than difficult week that reached a painful climax. My position and responsibility caused me to make an excruciating choice that was, to say the least, gut wrenching. The thing about wounds is that they leave scar tissue behind whether or not the original cut remains visible, and generally the knife cuts both ways. We may take great care to appear unscathed, but in reality most of us are both the walking wounded and source of someone else’s hurt.
In the aftermath of the ordeal, one of my supervisors remarked, “It would be a perfect job if it wasn’t for having to deal with people.” I instantly felt a pang of guilt because I’ve heard myself say the same thing in the past about churches, as if any number of people haven’t thought or said the same thing about me: “Church would be a great place if it wasn’t for the preacher.” What is it that turns church into a cruel joke or worse, a harmless cliche? I love the Church, it’s certain churches I have a problem with; yet, I’ve spent my life serving these imperfect organisms. I’ll admit that she is frequently her own worst enemy, and refuse to blame anyone for rejecting her dark side. I’ve fantasized about walking away myself, never again to darken her gothic doors, or sit another Sunday in light diffused by stained glass, or homilize another Lord’s Day from behind a well oiled oaken pulpit; however, I always return because I need her. More to the point, I need you. You are able to see God at work in me when I can’t feel or hear or see him hanging around, and grace means that I return the favor. Like it or not, we need one another.
Granted, there are issues. The proliferation of both government services and parachurch organizations are an indictment against the Church; they flourish because she has failed. Many high profile churches have become big business in the effort to lure large crowds, as if attendance is the reason for her existence. Concert Christianity trumps discipleship at every turn and we aren’t even aware that we’re skating on thin ice; spiritual DNA is forfeited for cheap imitations. From my own experience, I grieve for those who survive a lifetime of Sunday services and Wednesday night ‘prayer meetings’ with nothing more to show for it than being stirred sporadically but never altered on account of another’s narrative. Having admitted we have a dark side, I hasten to remind myself that the disciple’s life is always intended as dialogue, never monologue. In many ways, some I’m proud of and others that I’m not, I am the product of churches I’ve known and been a part of, and I am different in a good way because of the church I now consider home. We’re imperfect because human beings never are, but I will bite my tongue the next time I’m tempted to say it would be a perfect place if it wasn’t for the people.