I am unabashedly hypocritical at times. And this is one of those times. So as you read further you’ll have to note my recognition of this fact and understand this post as both my external critique and internal struggle.
If you’d visited here much you probably know that I am not shy about critiquing the Church. I am strongly opinionated and my views on ministry are heavily influenced by problems I see or have experienced in the Church. I consider myself to be a progressive, looking toward the future of the Church and our needs to adapt in a changing society. I consider myself to be somewhat of a post-modern, refusing most times to accept “the rules” as the rules just because and constantly suspicious of institutions and forms of authority. I also consider myself to be somewhat of an emergent. Though I serve in a settled congregation in a modern-era environment I am aware that the forms and practices of the Christian faith which will carry our faith into the next century are considerably different than what we are accustomed to seeing.
But at the same time I love the Church. I love the community of the saints. I love the Church when it is healthy and beautiful and vibrant; when it is faithfully representing the nature of God and genuinely extending Christ’s love to all peoples.
But I love the Church when it is sick, too. I love the Church through all its faults, with all its baggage, even when I am the victim of its dysfunctional ways.
When I read old posts on my old blog or read those of friends and colleagues I often find a much-needed critique of the Church’s present forms and practices. After all, the faults are often the easiest to see. And it’s no secret that many of us in ministry today spend a great deal of our time undoing damage the Church (or congregations within) has done in people’s lives. I deal daily with people who’ve been hurt, abandoned, betrayed, or abused by the Church in some way shape or form through the years. And I want to stop it. I want to change it!
But I am not ready to give up on the church yet, either.
For each heartbreaking story of hurt at the churches hands I hear a story of renewal, or a story of compassionate grace given, or a testimony of unconditional life-changing acceptance. And it is these encounters that give me hope in the Church. These encounters give me encouragement that God still has big plans for us. These encounters testify to the transforming power of Jesus still at work in the Church in spite of our problems, in spite of our divisions, and in spite of our institutionalized stubbornness.
When I was a child the pastor of our church was caught having an extra-marital affair. Almost immediately people began jumping ship. Families were leaving the congregation left and right. On the way home one day I asked my father if we were going to start worshipping somewhere else. I’ll never forget his answer:
“The church is going through a hard time right now. And we’re not going to kick her while she’s down.”
My fellow emergents, my fellow progressives, my fellow radicals, my fellow post-moderns, the church is going through a very hard time right now. And while critique is necessary to spur on needed changes we must be careful that our critique is deeply rooted in a love for Christ Jesus and a deep love for his Church. It is too easy for us to focus on the ways the Church has let us down or let others down that we love and root our critiques in anger or self-righteousness. We must do the hard work of offering ourselves, our lives and our work, alongside our critique as we hope, quest, and dare to dream of brighter futures for the Christian faithful. It may be hard, but it is what we have to do. The church is going through a very hard time right now. Let’s not kick it while it’s down.