They’re everywhere. The wrong kind of churches.
They don’t dress like we do. They’re too worldly, too judgmental, too focused on traditions of men, or too – something.
Every church I’ve been in, I thought we were right. When I saw a church that did things differently, I often assumed that what they did differently was wrong.
Some of you will read this article (or maybe not really read this article) and remind me that there are indeed the wrong kind of churches, and that we ought to warn people about them. Some may point out that we have more people attending church than ever before, but with less impact on culture than ever before. And that’s proof that most churches need changing.
I don’t doubt either of those.
Still, there has to come a point where I shift my focus from “fixing” the other churches (or complaining about them) and begin to just play the part in my own church that God has called me to play.
Here are a few isolated thoughts that have been simmering in my head recently. None of them is particularly profound or insightful, but taken together they’re leading me to something I hadn’t considered before.
- Just like no Christian is perfect, neither is any church. Pointing out their flaws is less helpful than addressing my own. My church’s problems are likely just as obvious to them as theirs are to me.
- Because of the lens effect, our tendency is to magnify even small differences. We can be quick to apply “legalistic” or “seeker-friendly” or any of a number of other labels. And it doesn’t take much evidence for us to apply that label – along with all of the baggage we associate with it.
(Note: After I first typed up this point, I had to delete a Facebook share about an article I had read. The author talked about what our debate says about us. The comments on my Facebook share quickly turned into that very debate. One commenter read someone’s short phrase and quickly assured me that he knew the other person’s mindset, attitudes and a wide range of his unstated, implicit beliefs. This was the first time I’ve ever had to delete a Facebook post because of its comments.)
- There are many things where Scripture is silent in the details, and good Christians can interpret/apply principles differently. Differences in culture or background are even good reasons to apply the same principles differently.
- Some new Christians grow very quickly and are ready for more intense training and higher expectations of growth and change. Others grow more slowly, or not at all.
- Many people are intimidated, not inspired, by those who are visibly much farther along on the journey. New Christians can be discouraged by how hard it is to “measure up” to perceived expectations. Others find those same examples to be motivating and empowering.
Here’s where these thoughts are starting to lead me. First – I understand that I Corinthians 12:15-25 is speaking directly about individual Christians in a church being different kinds of members of the body. The context of individual gifts in the preceding verses (4-12) and following verses (27-31) make the application to individuals quite clear.
Still, I’d like to propose a thought – a question, if you will.
Is it possible that – like individuals in a local church – God has different types and flavors of churches deliberately positioned to help different types of people come to Him and grow? Could it be that each true, biblical local church functions like a different body part in the worldwide body of Christ?
Maybe that church with the dark ceiling and colored lights is an artery, and that church across town where everyone still wears suits and ties is a highly-functioning pancreas. (I have no idea what put that organ into my mind!)
Maybe the church that seems so tough and uninviting is a fingernail. Maybe that church that seems to be so unstable and unpredictable is actually a hair.
Please understand. When I see a problem in my church or in my own life, I certainly want to fix it. That’s a good thing. The trouble comes when my focus is on pointing out the problems in other people or churches. Maybe God has each of our imperfect churches right where He wants us. Maybe there’s someone right here that needs an imperfect church like mine to help them take their next step of Spiritual growth.
Maybe Christ really does build His Church, using us in spite of our problems to accomplish a perfect plan.
It’s how He uses us imperfect Christians, isn’t it?
Next time you’re tempted to criticize how some other church runs their ministry, thank God for His grace in your own church instead.