Many times when women come into our program and are required to attend church, they are squeamish. One had an absolutely horrible panic attack the first time she walked in with me, she said she was afraid she’d be struck dead by God for daring to set foot in a church. Some feel unworthy because of their past conduct. Others have been spurned by church leaders or other “Christians” and are deeply wounded. As it has been described….they feel relegated to the status of “snot rag in the laundry basket of the church”….not fit for continued washing and use, but only to be thrown away……like a disposable tissue instead of a lace-edge hanky. I profoundly love Christ’s church….his people, the body of Christ…. I have had some disputes with church people through the years and been hurt, too, as I have no doubt hurt others. If not for the strength of Christ’s identity formed in me through his Word and godly people within the church who’ve spoken into my life at those times, I too might have left the church or become a “church shopper” as some have, moving from place to place when confronted with the brokenness of myself or others. But I feel in my heart and I know in my mind that I do not come to church for the people, although I truly love them. Many of them have their own issues and hurts, too, both as clergy and as lay persons. We (the church) after all, are not masterpiece exhibits in a holy museum. We are sinners with all kinds of “hurts, habits, and hang ups” as Celebrate Recovery describes it, coming for healing to a place where the Great Physician is equipping his people and from which he is deploying them to bring his healing to those who have not or would not come to the church on their own.
Clergy and laity need to stay grounded in the reality of the brokenness that exists within the Church to the same degree (or perhaps even a greater degree) than in the culture at large. After all, Christ said, “Come unto me, all who are weary and heavy laden.” We invite them to come into the Church in the name of Christ, then when they do, some are judged by a few who’ve mounted their self-righteous high horses as unworthy instead of given the hope, encouragement, and tools to begin or continue their own healing and be bearers of that healing hope to others.
I don’t remember reading that the original disciples (those who are called) or apostles (those who are “sent” ) were perfect in conduct or had no quirks and issues or won every person to whom they witnessed or succeeded in every place of ministry or even always were in unanimous agreement. They were told to not be afraid, to be obedient, and to seek perfection in love, and so should we. They were told to hunger and thirst for righteousness, which suggests ongoing need….. not to receive it once and never need more. To expect any of the rest of those whom God is calling and equipping to be perfected in love (and conduct) from day one and all the time is unrealistic and dis-graceful. That’s why we need one another…..for covenantal accountability, to grow in mercy and grace (and to know the difference between the two and how to give and receive both!)
When one is told that certain places of ministry are not worthy of the imprimatur of the Church, that one doesn’t need the Church’s equipping and “sending forth” function to do such work…..there seems to be a misunderstanding of the role of the Church and the “all the world” nature of the mission field of the Church/church. When the Church, with a capital “C”, becomes disconnected from the mission of the church, with a little “c”, creating a caste system of servants, protecting unity and order above all other values, and redefining the mission of leadership of the Church as gatekeepers instead of soul-nurturers and equippers, the Church is headed for difficult times and, in fact, appears to already be in the midst of them. When the task of applying stringent standards or pedigree to those who “can” and those who “can’t”, those whose work is worthy and those whose work is not worthy, those who are sufficiently “educated” and those who aren’t is commanding an inordinate amount of time and attention of the Church in the name of caution in order to protect the Church’s reputation or power in the world the Church is in trouble. As long as one has met the basic requirements for literacy and competency to bring the Gospel to the world and equip others to do the same, according to
God’s call on that person’s life, why should their work be dismissed as not befitting the endorsement of the Church? Are there some places not worth giving the full- force of the Church’s authority because it doesn’t fit the agenda of those in authority in the Church? If that is the case, then the Church will be set to the side or relegated to serve only their own, just as the Jews were at the time of Christ, and God will use the broader church to do the work, just as Saul and the Gentiles were called to do……incurring in the process the same suspicions, discrimination, and even assaults that Paul endured and people like the Samaritans and women whom Christ frequently commended through his parables and his actions. But God’s work will be done. Whether by the Church or by the church. I grieve for the Church (in all its denominational representations that are increasingly being deemed outmoded and irrelevant), but I am joyous for the church (in all the hearts of those who love and desire to serve the Lord!). Like John Wesley, I will not abandon the Church that has nurtured me, no matter how it or its leaders or members choose to treat some of those whom I love or me. But like John Wesley also, I will not withhold blessing from all of those who must move forward with the circumstances that exist to do the work of Christ that they have been called to do.
This journey to understanding the difference between the Church and the church and where my covenant is truly vested has been hard, but it has been necessary. It has helped me greatly to understand the choices of some who have left the Church to embrace and lead the church whom I previously had felt betrayed the Church. I had to be freed from the safety and security of the Church to trust God enough to discover the true calling to the church, but more importantly, to the One to leads the church, Jesus Christ . I am not the only one who has taken this journey or struggled with the difference between the two and which one really does the sending. “C” or “c”. While the lesser “c” always will claim the greater and pray for its success, the greater “C” seems at times to have unfortunately dissociated itself from the interests and call of the lesser. Jesus wept, then he laughed. He knew the truth……those who put themselves among the lesser will prevail and be given honor by God. Those who seek and grasp the greater position will be moved to the end of the line. This is the truth of how I see what is happening in the larger realm of “Church” versus “church”. Where is your heart? To what do you cling and why?