I am back from vacation–which was great, by the way, except for the overnight cross-Canada flight home. Sleeping on airplanes is something I find myself less and less able to do. It likely has something to do with the changes in airline seats over the years because I am certainly tired enough to sleep during the flight–I just can’t get comfortable enough to sleep for any more than a cat nap or two.
Anyway, while on vacation, I actually was on vacation, which means that I spend very little time thinking about work, theology, churches and so on. I did attend one worship service while we were away with our son and daughter-in-law for our newest grandson’s dedication but that was family and fun rather than work.
But I have been spending a lot of time these days thinking about the church–not specific churches but the church in general. This comes as a result of a lot of stuff I have been reading and hearing. It seems to me that for many these days, church as an organized, structured institution has become something of a negative. Several blogs that I read regularly have recently been talking about the number of bad experiences they have with churches and the difficulties they see in churches. Others have been writing about how they are working hard to change churches around and get them back on track.
But perhaps the most common thing I am seeing and hearing is the lack of interest in the church. It seems that many believers are deciding to go it alone. They envision their faith as a deep and important relationship between them and God and the presence of other people along with the associated rules and structures and regulations that go with them are something that gets in the way of this relationship.
That is something I understand. I have spend most of my adult life working in and with churches and the Church. I wish I could say that I have seen the Church at its best and its worst but to be honest, I would have to say that most of the time, I have seen the church at its worst and its less than worst to maybe not too bad. By that, I mean I have seen and been part of congregations that are doing good things which they proceed to undercut by some of their habits and traditions. They might get involved in some powerful ministry to meet a serious need in their community or the world but at the same time be involved in a nasty major internal dispute over the colour of the new door or whether to use KJV or NIV pulpit Bibles. The ministry is great, the dispute is terrible so on the whole, the congregation is probably average.
I confess that I approach the church somewhat like Linus approaches people in one of the Charles Schultz cartoons. He proclaims, “I love humanity”, gets knocked over by Lucy and them proclaims, “I love humanity but hate some people”. Well, I love the Church–what it is supposed to be, what it stands for, what it was established for, how God uses us and all the rest. But when faced with the realities of the average local congregation, I find myself shaking my head and wondering why God would choose such a flawed vehicle as his chosen instrument in the world.
There have been times when I have understood completely why people of faith would try to go it alone, ignoring the church. Because I have been the pastor and therefore privy to more information than many people have, I often know more about the congregation and its problems than anyone else in the church–and because of a lot of factors, I often have that kind of deep knowledge about many other congregations. I know the pain and hurt and betrayal that the church at its worst can and does produce. I know it both from the perspective of a pastor who tries to help others deal with their wounds and from the perspective of one who have been deeply wounded by the church.
But I still love the church and still take part in the church and still have committed my life and work to making the church work. I do that mostly because for all of its flaws and problems, there really isn’t anything with the potential that the church has. I will try to explain some of that in the next post.
May the peace of God be with you.