As far as churches go, I’ve been lucky. The churches I’ve spent most of my time in have been filled with some of the the best people I know. Whenever I’ve been dissatisfied with church, for whatever reason, those people are the reason I’ve stayed.
They’re not perfect people, of course. Truth is, they can be a very mixed bag — of mixed nuts if we’re being honest– with myself often the nuttiest of all. But it’s the very diversity of these folks that reveals their greatness and keeps me coming to church. You see, these crazy, kind, messed-up, awesome, funny, imperfect people all put up with each other week after week. And they don’t stop at tolerance; they press on to acts of service and kindness.
When a family falls on hard times, who anonymously donates money to help them?
When a couple is engaged or is expecting a baby, who throws the shower?
When a new baby is born or a church member is ill, who brings casseroles and take-out to the family?
When an elderly member needs a ride to the hospital for a check up, who gives them one?
Answer: the church.
The church is where I’ve seen what love looks like in action when it’s not convenient to love. And in my own life, I’ve seen this love play out in small and large ways.
When I was a child, the church cared for me in nurseries and daycare. The church gave me music and stories and nurturing for my gifts. When I was a teenager, the church took me under its wing and give me a safe space to doubt and learn and grow. The church gave me friendships across generations. The church gave me a stage and a voice. And as I grew older, I learned to love the church back — to give of myself in service and teaching, to get up early on Sunday when I didn’t feel like it, to say hello to people when I was shy, and to give other people a stage and a voice and a safe space to grow and learn. Two years ago, when my brother died, it was church members who drove the long, grueling miles out to West Texas to attend the funeral even though they had never met him. And at that funeral, it was the local church who provided the service and the dishes upon steaming dishes of southern comfort food. I’ve seen our church care for the orphan and the widow, the abused and the poor — and that’s only counting the people inside our church walls — they’ve also done a lot of caring for people who need help outside our doors.
When I’ve questioned my place in a specific church because of a doctrinal quibble or superficial preference, the answer in my heart is always the same: love them. Love the church. Love because they’ve loved you, and more importantly, love because Christ loves you.
I know not everyone has been as lucky as I have been in finding churches filled with so many concrete examples of love. I also know that not everyone in the congregations I’ve been part of has experienced the same love I have. My heart breaks for those who have been hurt by the church, yet I can still say with confidence that the church, functioning rightly, is a shelter for the hurting. If we give up on the church because of its weaknesses, we can’t make the problem any better. But if we stay and love one another because Christ’s love compels us to, the church will become what it’s meant to be, one faithful person at a time.