Doing church

A pastor once told me that if you gave a man who had never seen a church a Bible, told him to go away, read it, and report back later, he would describe a church unlike what any of us have known. First of all, my pastor friend knows a purely biblical church is a concept open to some interpretation, and any interpretation will have its variations and flaws.

This pastor also understands that there is no ideal church. Some things they do in his particular congregation he might do differently if it were only up to him, but as he says, “It’s not all about me.” He continues to be a pastor in this denomination because he feels nothing they are doing is unbiblical per se, and there are many opportunities to serve God and others there. I must admit that I admire his selflessness, steadfastness, and contentment.

On the other hand, I am not such a good man and question why we need buildings with rooms that get used maybe once a week and cost a lot of money, and I have an aversion to committees, boards, many things labeled as “programs,” and  other trappings of institutional churches.

Regardless, even the churches I have committed myself to that were non-denominational and didn’t own buildings were institutions in the making. It seems we’re always trying to engineer some kind of organization out of an organism born of the Spirit and too often strip it of authentic vitality.

Some people may wonder why I even bother with church at all if I feel this way. I could disavow “church” and claim to embrace Christ, as some people do, but I am part of a congregation because it is utterly unbiblical to do otherwise.

The Body of Christ is the universal church, and He places the members in various places within local gatherings. My duty is not to sit in judgment, but to humbly allow the Spirit of Christ within to lead me to a congregation where I can worship, enjoy the company of good Christian folks, serve others, and be served myself.

I’ve given up on finding a perfect church, because all churches are made up of people, and being one myself, I know we tend to be fairly screwed-up creatures. When I was younger, I used to see the church as a city on the hill, a place radiant with the perfection and character of Christ. Yeah, it should be that way, I suppose, but now I see it more as the place where I learn to forgive others.

Paul exhorted the Ephesians, “Forgive each other as Christ has forgiven you” (4:32). If we all could wrap ourselves around that idea and start living it out, a whole lot of problems in churches would simply work themselves out. This is especially true if we could be like my pastor friend who says, “It’s not about me.”

He is an example to me in the way he lives out the truth of Philippians 2:4: “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” Most of our church problems begin and end with our own individual arrogance and self-centeredness, which distorts our perceptions of our brothers and sisters in Christ and keeps us from truly loving and serving them and our Lord. It doesn’t have to be that way.