Has there ever been a more imperfect organization than the church? From the earliest accounts things were flawed in the church. Nothing has changed. Just read the headlines. From Catholics to Methodists to Evangelical Christians, we all have issues.
I’ve been a part of the church my whole life and have witnessed plenty of what I call the underbelly of the church. I’ve seen sexism, racism, exclusivity, meanness, politics, mistakes and even evil taking up residence there.
As a teen, I remember being on a church youth retreat and being accused by adults of something I most certainly did not do. It’s pretty amazing I didn’t quit right then and there. I’d brought an unchurched friend to the retreat and I still remember her standing up in front of everyone and saying basically, What in the world is going on here? I thought the church was supposed to be a place of grace and forgiveness? What’s up with all this lying, accusing and judging? Good questions to this day.
Instead of quitting I became a pastor. Instead of quitting I gave my life to a flawed institution. Why?
Because I can’t find a better place to be flawed and broken and still experience God’s grace, wonder and presence. I’m still hanging around the church because even on our worst days there is messy love and a community that seems to find its way through the murk and the mud into the light.
In Tish Harrison Warren’s book, Liturgy of the Ordinary, she put it into words for me. She writes that the reason we need the church, the whole universal church, is because God is so big that no one of us can know all of God by ourselves. When we confess in the Nicene Creed that we believe in “one holy, catholic, apostolic church,” we are confessing that we cannot know Christ on our own, or merely with a small cadre of our friends. Instead we rely on the global, historic church that Christ initiated and built. When we worship Jesus, we rely on millions of Christians over thousands of years whom God has used to bear witness….
The truth of God is so big that it requires the collective wisdom and experience of people across time, across cultures, across denominations and humanness and mess to come out even close to right.
God is so big I can’t experience or know God’s fullness on my own. I need the church, the whole church, to even come close.
So I keep showing up. I keep hanging around, trying to contribute. I keep trying to learn new things about God and myself.
Not too long ago, I spoke out in disappointment and heartbreak about the denomination where I spent most of my pastoral ministry (see “This Is My Brother”). I meant every word of it too. In spite of how I felt, I kept showing up to worship. Once again, I didn’t quit church altogether even though it seemed there were very good reasons to do just that.
Strangely, I received an email right after that from someone who just saw me in worship. He wrote, I know how disappointed you are in the denomination. I am too. It gave me hope just to see that you haven’t totally given up. Thanks for that.
In Jesus Calling Sarah Young wrote, imagining what God might say to us, I want My Body of believers to be radiant with the Light of My Presence. How I grieve when pockets of darkness increasingly dim the Love-Light. Sometimes, we need church just so we have a tag team of Light-bearers for those times when we’ve lost all hope. Maybe you need to show up just to bring someone else some Light.
Why church? Because in spite of its flaws, mistakes and missteps, it is still a very good place for God’s radiant Light to shine.
Dr. Cindy Ryan is a pastor, wife, mother of three, Mimosa/Mocha to Keller and Pace, breast cancer survivor and reluctant church person.