In the past four months, two men on senior staff at my church have resigned. By all accounts, these men love the Lord, His Word, and His Church with their whole beings. Yet, on separate occasions, each man stood before the congregation and announced his decision to step down, but neither man said why. Both times the congregation was left to draw its own conclusions. And people rarely conclude anything positive in these situations. In fact, most of us assume the worst and lack the discipline to not contribute to the various conspiracy theories that are circulating.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I respond to these kinds of sudden, mysterious changes in leadership at my church with anger, bitterness, and skepticism. I don’t like tangible proof that forces me to acknowledge that the Church is messy. My church. Your church. The Church universal. I like to operate as if the Church can and should be perfect and blameless. I hold the Church to a higher standard. If a problem arises, mature Christians ought to solve them lovingly each and every time. It doesn’t matter what the issue is, if the people love the Lord and are submitted to Him, my heart says there should never be division.
The problem with that perspective, though, is it fails to take into account that Christians are just as fallen as everybody else. We are just as prone to giving in to our sinful tendencies as the rest of the world. We don’t always see the truth; we don’t always act lovingly; we don’t always choose to obey the Lord in every situation. We rebel. We choose self over Christ. We dig our heels in when we think we are right, no matter the cost. We also often misunderstand the Scriptures and unintentionally misinterpret the Lord’s will. Our imperfect thinking and our naturally unruly hearts result in pain and strife more often than Christians want to admit.
It is no wonder, then, that the Church is messy. As much as I want the Church to be perfect, it never will be this side of Heaven. So what are we to do with that? I am thinking we have to find a way to live that shows an unbelieving world that, despite our screw ups, we still have something they desperately need.
We have to highlight the fact that when Church is messy, it’s not because the God of that Church slacked off or made a mistake or isn’t as good/powerful as the people of the Church claim. Church is messy because it is full of broken people. Just like the world. The world is messy because it is full of broken people. When churches fight, divide, collapse, or otherwise stumble, they are illustrating in bright, bold colors how desperately they need a savior! After all, if the Church, full of God’s people, can’t get it right, for crying out loud, who can?
The answer is no one. The Bible says, “There is no one who is righteous…All have turned away, and they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good” (Romans 3:10-12). But, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly [read: all of us!]…God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” reconciling us to Himself, saving us from the mess we insist on creating (Romans 5:6-8).
It doesn’t matter who is right and who is wrong in my church’s situation. What matters is that we remember this truth: WE NEED THE LORD! We are fully incapable of “doing church well” without Him. He is our source of truth, peace, and power. Without Him, all our works are rubbish (Philippians 3:8-9). If we want to overcome our sinful selves, we need, “Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Philippians 3:20).
He can do more than I can imagine…. I am imagining a Church that isn’t messy. He can do more… He can make a Church that is clean (Revelation 21:1-4).