It would be hard to find someone more predisposed to the Christian religion than I am. I grew up going to church every Sunday, and I didn’t hate it. In fact, by the time I was in my late teens, I was certain God had “called” me to devote my life to the service of the church and the gospel. That is what I have done. I have been ordained in three different denominations, and I have friends in virtually every major tradition of the church from the fundamentalist right to the progressive left.
I have looked at the church from almost every imaginable perspective. I’ve seen the best and the worst, things that make me proud and things that make me ashamed, things that make me smile broadly and things that make me weep uncontrollably. I’ve seen the church be a place where people experience joy and delight, and I’ve seen it cause intense pain and do grievous harm.
Through it all, I’ve tried to be fair in my assessment of the church irrespective of my personal circumstances. After all, it is made up of people, and people are a mixture of good and bad, consistent and inconsistent, kind and not so kind. When I felt that one expression of the church had lost its way, I looked for another that showed signs of life and hope. I have tried to give the church—and by that I mean the public and visible fellowship of people who identify in some way with Jesus Christ—the benefit of the doubt.
For the past four years, I’ve related to the church from a distance. After a lifetime of service to the institution, the questions, the pain, and the frustration became too great to bear, and I had to step back and rethink the whole enterprise.
I say again, nobody is more predisposed to offer a rationale for Christianity and the value of a public and organized fellowship of Christians that calls itself a church. That said, even I have had to ask in recent days, is it still worth it to cling to the hope of finding my way back to the fold.
I want to come back. I really do. But today, for some reason, my grasp onto that hope and my ties to the tradition seem unusually tenuous. I believe in God, although my perception of God is evolving. I love Jesus, and I so much want to emulate his character, his compassion, and his single-minded devotion to his purpose and task.
In my heart, I believe the church can be a fellowship of people who share those basic assumptions and love each other fiercely through all the rest. Today, however, I’m wondering how much longer I’m going to nurture that hope and keep up the search.
I struggle with this. I’m pastor to a small group that meets in my home, but one thing I’ve been learning lately is that regardless of the format we’re still people with common weaknesses and failures. I desire crazy, radical, unexplainable without the Spirit Christianity, and I want to give myself to it even if I don’t receive the validation of the church. But then I wonder, am I just elevating my desire over their lack in self righteous pride? Is that desire itself self righteousness? I feel like a paradox much of the time. It is hard to believe that there is hope when I rarely see disciple-like devotion in myself, let alone in others. What’s our problem?