There is a movement in Christianity to hop churches or even abstain from worship attendance altogether. Aside from the fact that this practice ignores scripture, the problem with this phenomenon is that fickle belonging fails to teach the spiritual maturity that comes from becoming committed to a body of believers for an extended length of time.
As a member of the same church for almost three decades, I’ve experienced a myriad of different emotions. I’ve been elated, overjoyed, heart-broken, offended, annoyed, and embarrassed. I’ve celebrated change; I’ve complained about change. Living in community can be an emotional roller coaster.
However, one revelation has kept me steady along my journey. My church family is exactly that…a family. And families are complicated. However, families are also God’s design for love, protection, and growth, as well as providing a school for conflict resolution. Why is it that while we expect conflict and struggle within our home life that we expect perfection within the Body of Christ?
Brothers and sisters often don’t get along. Sibling relationships often root out selfishness and promote sharing when guided by the love and patience of a wise parent. Often, when working with the Body of Christ we can become agenda bearers. Certainly our agendas can be good, but when we exalt our own agenda above everyone else’s agenda, the outcome can be very much like dinnertime in a busy household. For instance, it’s 6:00 and the rush for dinner is on. Mom has an agenda to get something nutritious on the table, while toddler “Tim” has an agenda to open all of the kitchen cabinets. The preschooler decides this is a good time to shout the “ABC’s”, and the dog is just trying to get somebody to play with him. Dad walks through the door and his only agenda is to get some peace and quiet after a long day’s work. All of these agendas are good things, but when you put them all together one hears the cacophony of family. It can be loud, disturbing and several members are going to have to be patient and give way to the plans of another or there will be trouble! This doesn’t mean that one agenda is more important than another; it just means that in order to work together one must put aside one’s own agenda temporarily for the good all.
It is the same with the Body of Christ. Often the choir puts pressure on the budget committee for new robes, because after all, several of them are thread-bare! At the same time the missions committee is upset that there isn’t more money set aside for orphans and widows. Each ministry within a congregation is passionate about its own agenda, and it should be! However, dissension comes when they find it unnecessary to respect the work of other departments within the church. It is a God-given passion that each ministry leader has for their responsibilities; however, we all must remember that God has given that same passion to other brothers and sisters so that they can complete their calling. "Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others" (Philippians 2:4).
Local churches also resemble families where the pastors are concerned. Are you a perfect parent? Do you always lead your family in the way they should go? Have you ever said something you shouldn’t, lost your temper in front of the kids, or displayed a bad attitude in front of them? Yet, congregations are so very unforgiving with their pastors. They are not given the grace to figure things out or make a mistake. I am not talking a major moral failing here, I’m talking about perhaps choosing the wrong expression during a sermon. Or maybe the pastor’s wife doesn’t seem to fit the typical cookie cutter pattern.
The music style, sermon format, and personalities in a church are not worth arguing over. These things are merely the furniture in the living room of your church. You don’t see children threatening to leave the home over scheduling and decorating, do you? If you did, you would think that it was rather bizarre. We all have our own way of expressing our walk with God. Allow your pastors to use the personality they have been given to express themselves with their own flair. Never forget, sometimes, like with our spouses, it is the very thing that drew us to each other that annoys us in the end. It can also be true in churches. The very thing that drew you to your church can be the very thing that annoys you later. My pastor often says, “In matters of principle, never give in; in matters of taste, bend with the wind.” Be flexible. The church isn’t your possession! It is God’s. Pray for your pastor and congregation that they may bring glory to God from their existence.
Stephen Miller says, “Your imperfect church is God’s way of loving your idolatry out of you. He is showing you the fleeting, false hopes that are powerless to satisfy you. He is showing you all the things you are trusting in that will only let you down. And by his Holy Spirit, He is working to remove in you those things that are destroying your joy.”
The enemy wants us to focus on idiosyncrasies not unlike how (or if) we replace the toilet paper, rather than the joys of communion without family. It is my church family that married me, embraced my children, assisted me with their training, prayed with me, loved me, cried with me, laughed with me, and yes even argued with me. What a beautiful, big family we are! I wouldn’t trade them for the world!
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Dr. Robert Ritzema