These are some things I’ve thought about recently. They link into a great talk we heard at church about the future of our churches, and the Big Conversation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CqdM5GctatI (and subsequent links from there)
Here are some phrases that I hear a lot. “I’m not getting what I need from my church” and “my spiritual needs aren’t being met by my church”. The problem with these phrases, is that they are making ‘church’ a thing. A thing that is separate from us. Church isn’t a thing, church is us.
So that’s my first point.
Church is not a thing, it’s us. We make a church by being in the same room as another like-minded person. Let’s call these people ‘bricks’.
‘Church’ isn’t a special place that we go to where we magically come away feeling happy every time we’re there. No one hands us a lovely present of spiritual uplift. If we do happen to feel uplifted after meeting with fellow Christians, then GREAT! But it’s not a defining factor of our churches. And each individual is in charge of their own uplifted feeling. We don’t need to have that feeling, for it to be worth us being there, in the same room as the other brick. It isn’t essential to us being a Christian.
Are you happy all the time away from church? Of course not – we need to have the full range of emotions in life. And we need the full range with our other bricks too. What if someone was crying at church? We all cry with them. We don’t come away and say, well what a disappointing Church session because that person made us all so sad.
Church (by the above definition) doesn’t hand out spiritual presents every Sunday.
So, here’s a scenario: some fellow Christians stumble into each other one day in a building. “Oh!” they say. “We’ve made a church, hurrah!”. Fantastic. What next? They all sit down and have a think. “Let’s wait for something to happen!” cries one. “Good plan!” They sit and wait. It becomes awkward. “Anyone feeling spiritually better yet?”
It’s easy to blame our feelings on other people. Let’s say for example that we have started avoiding church because we don’t come away feeling ‘spiritually uplifted’ – we are blaming our ‘church’ for not meeting those needs.
Our ‘spiritual needs'(whatever they are!) are not someone else’s responsibility.
If we never meet up with the other bricks, then clearly our ‘needs’ will never be met. What does Jesus list as the two most important commandments? Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself. We should attempt to go to church to show mercy to our other bricks, and to meet their spiritual needs as a priority – not our own. Luke 10:27
Bad times at Church are essential.
When I had my first baby, I had post-natal depression, was miserable, and consequently whinged about church all the time. I could find fault with a huge range of things. It was all wrong, it wasn’t ‘meeting my needs’. I persevered in a ‘church’ I didn’t like, with bricks I didn’t like. But looking back, I can see I was impressively self-important. All I could see was my own misery. Since then, I have learned some of the best lessons of my life about love – specifically, loving people that I don’t like. So all that miserable time spent chuntering at the back about how awful my church was, was essential to the development of my character (sorry, my long-suffering husband-ear!)
Think of a time when your church struggled with an issue – people got hurt, people left, people were too angry to come along. But that time has made you grow as a Christian. Maybe it forced you to look at a difficult issue. Maybe it showed you a different side to someones character, maybe you had to shrug your shoulders and say ‘whatever, I don’t agree but whatever’. All good stuff.
There’s no such thing as a perfect church. All churches have problems – purely because of our first definition of ‘Church’ listed above. It’s because it’s made of people – some of whom we don’t like. Hands up anyone who is a member of a church where they like every single person there? (If you’re smugly saying yes then you’ve just ruined my point but you’re in a great church so hey ho swings and roundabouts)
So I guess i’m saying keep being a brick, even if you’re a miserable brick, otherwise all the other bricks fall down.
p.s my better half told me not to use the phrase ‘people that I don’t like’, but instead to say ‘people I find it difficult to like’. Probably sensible – if you feel strongly about it, please mentally alter the above.