There is this article by Perry Noble that seems to show up in my networks every few months. In it, he compares a customer service experience at Chick-Fil-A to how some people treat the Church – one bad experience and they’re done. People share this message like gospel truth.
Every time I see it, though, it infuriates me. You see, it displays an attitude that the issues people (especially my generation, Millennials) have with the Church are almost strictly the result of consumerism mindsets. Frankly, I don’t think that’s the issue at all in most cases – it certainly isn’t true of my situation.
Not that I’m done with the Church; sometimes, I just feel the urge to withdraw.
This Church thing?
Can we all just take a few moments and let that settle?
Being part of the Church is hard.
I don’t mean that accepting Christ and becoming a part of this Christian family is hard. I mean the day-to-day relating to and loving and being involved with our brothers and sisters in Christ is hard.
Being part of the Church is hard.
And being part of the Church is not hard because I have certain preferences regarding the way things should be done or handled that may or may not conflict with others’ preferences. To explain away my struggle (or anyone else’s struggle) with Church involvement in such a way is not only an oversimplification, but a disservice.
First of all, the Church is a body – it functions organically. Thus, it doesn’t play by the rules and strategies secular institutions and organizations use, nor does it need such structure to stay afloat. There is a lot of freedom in the Church, functionally speaking. Yet, every believer in Christ is going to come to the Church with different ideas of how things should be – can’t get away from that, it’s a human thing. We all tend to hold tightly to those ideas, and most of us are scary good at making the Bible conform to our own ideas. Rather than embracing freedom for others and ourselves, we bludgeon people until they see things our way. That makes being a part of the Church hard.
The Church doesn’t seem to know what to do about sin. I mean, we all sin, and it’s obviously serious business, but we can’t seem to reconcile seeking justice and loving mercy. The circles I run in (and I run in a number of vastly different circles) might deal with sin in a spectrum ranging from a shunning-like response to sweeping it under the carpet. And naturally, everyone is judging everyone else for how they’re handling it, each convinced s/he has the best response. As someone who deals with abusers and manipulators (sometimes in very close proximity), it’s critical to my spiritual and emotional well-being to know how to relate to them justly and mercifully. While I have received good counsel from the Church regarding personal sin issues, the advice I’ve received regarding sins against me often leaves me feeling confused and alone, ill-equipped to cope. That makes being a part of the Church hard.
Finally, because the Church has become so service-focused, we lose any sense of value apart from our service to the Church. I’ll be honest: this has been my biggest struggle in the Church. From five years ago up until around two years ago, I would take on ministry and giving opportunities because that’s how I would earn approval. On a deeper level, it’s how I ensured I would be missed. (That is not as sinister as it sounds, I promise. Five years ago, I left the church I had grown up in, and at the very least, I did not feel missed. I think I believed on some level that if I had been more involved, things would have played out very differently. It’s a long, complicated story, but that’s the heart of it). My problem is (and always has been), I take on way too much, and I end up crashing and burning. Rather than admitting I’m gravely overextended, I withdraw, and pop up somewhere else when I’m ready. So about two years ago, God told me I had to stop using ministry to make me attractive, and I’m sorry to say I only half-way listened, because I ended up in the same place I always do. I gave it another shot this past year, and I can’t remember a time when I’ve attended a church and been so uninvolved. I’ve discovered I don’t know how to build relationships in the Church apart from serving, and I’ll be honest, I don’t know if that’s me, or if it’s just how churches operate now. Either way, that makes being a part of the Church hard.
In my case, just because it’s hard, doesn’t mean it’s not worth endeavoring to be a part of anyway. So, unless I’m sick or, as in yesterday’s case, just too overwhelmed by my schedule, I make it a point to be with a local gathering of the Church on a consistent basis. I serve in a way I know I can handle during this season, and try not to feel bad about not taking on more. And I try not to worry to much what people will think of my lack of involvement, or the fact that I have no idea how to build relationships with people when I have nothing to offer them.
It IS hard.
And it is so much more complex than a bad customer service experience.
I think it’s good, though, too, when you begin to realize all that the Church is. When you have dinner with old friends, and that is the Church, even if it’s been years since you shared a pew (or row of chairs). When friends call you up for prayer and support, and that is the Church, even if you are the only Church they have or know. When a complete stranger somehow knows your gifts and calling and speaks life over you and them, and that is the Church, even though you’ve never met and aren’t likely to meet again.
The Church is not contained to four walls or even a local body.
Maybe that’s where the consumerism mindset originates – thinking that we must be in a certain place, with certain people, who all believe certain things in order to be a part of the Church.
In reality, though, we are the Church, and the Church is all around us. There are opportunities to be the Church and be a part of the Church wherever we happen to be.
And so, however hard, it’s also beautiful, and maybe that’s why I’m compelled to keep trying.