A good friend recently asked a question I’d like to share with you. I can’t quote it exactly off the top of my head, but the gist of it was something like this: the church is an absolute disaster of silliness and dysfunction, and God often seems absent in the doings of His churches. Given that, why would we want to lead people into the church? Why bother?
Let that sink in a while before you read any further. Why do you bother with the church? Do you think it’s maybe not as bad as all that? Do you think it’s exactly that bad, but you still have good reasons for staying engaged? What are your reasons for staying engaged? It’s a question worth pondering.
I’d challenge you to take a few minutes and write down your reasons. Below, you’ll find mine.
It is a worthwhile question. Why bother?
I have two answers. Because God bothers, and because it’s the only game in town.
Because God bothers. Because He has not lost hope. How do I know? Because I watched the sun shine through the clouds today. Because feldspar is the commonest rock on earth, but when two kinds of it intergrow just right, you get moonstone, a frozen rainbow you can carry in your pocket, a portable parable to remind you of the glory that’s released when God unites the different. Because when I confessed my sin to Him at the worship service this evening, He spoke to me. (Yes, even in church.) Because He gave grace and glory to the Englewood churches to cancel their Sunday morning services and meet together on the high school baseball diamond on Pentecost Sunday. Because yesterday in a cafe in Littleton, He met my friend and opened her eyes to new dimensions of His love for her. Because a few months ago He spoke to my homeless friend Michael and helped him get off the street.
We’re badly broken, each and all. Every gathering we pull together, whether it’s a ragtag band of tie-dyed hippies in a park or a country-club demographic wearing suits under a pine-paneled ceiling, is broken. From ties to tie-dye, I have seen pathologies that stagger the mind. I have wondered how anything could possibly get done with so much brokenness. I have second-guessed inviting anybody into such a messy environment. But then, who am I to have higher standards than God?
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but God’s standards are appallingly low. The two most out-there broken groups I have ever experienced have also been two of the most faithful, directly productive for the kingdom. When we walk in the light–which just means not hiding, read 1 Jn. 1–we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin. I have seen Jesus cover amazing weakness with His strength, and give the gift of fellowship to people who, by all rights, should barely be capable of human speech, let alone friendship. He has not given up.
While it’s true that the Sons of Korah would be excommunicated in some churches for their “unChristlike” song lyrics…they exist. And they have a thriving ministry. As do a number of other people crazy enough to take the Bible seriously. Sure, they take a lot of flak, but they exist. God could have completely given His Church over to its silliness. Instead, He has given His Church these godly madmen. If He has not given up, then why should I?
And anyway, my second answer–it’s the only game in town. I have a friend who has worked in Iraq, Jordan and Israel building reconciliation between Christians, Jews and Muslims. He does it by introducing them all to Jesus–once they are united to Him, they find that they are also united to each other. It doesn’t erase their longstanding divisions, and the issues don’t simply evaporate. But they are united and they love one another, and they call on God together to give them the wisdom to resolve their differences. Through him and a few others I know of, there are literally thousands of Taliban and Hezbollah fighters (and many others) who are followers of Jesus seeking to live in the kingdom of God, seeking real solutions instead of just the momentary gratification of violence. Is there a better idea for peace in the Middle East? I haven’t seen one.
Here in Englewood, we’ve had a bunch of homeless folk who are busily destroying themselves and making certain parts of the city much less enjoyable in the process. Nothing that anybody tried worked. But we’ve got a dedicated corps of volunteers who have spent the last 3 years building relationships and loving our homeless people in Jesus’ name. Some of those hopeless folks have jobs and apartments now. And yeah, some of them are every bit as bad as they ever were. Some of the success stories have relapsed. One of the guys we baptized recently went back to jail for something stupid. It isn’t perfect. But it’s working, and it’s working better than anything else that anybody else has tried. It’s working so well that the mayors of the metro Denver area recently came down to see what these folks are doing–because it’s working better than any of their programs.
There are lots of days that are painful and confusing, when I don’t know what God is up to and the whole thing looks like nonsense. But even on those days, like Peter said on one painful and confusing day 2000 years ago, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of life.”
He does. That’s why I bother.