Thursday, December 23, 2010

Churches Fail

Churches fail. Problematic as it is, since the Church is indeed the Body of Christ, churches do fail.

A couple of months ago, our church hosted a missionary whom we have been supporting for some years (Dayo Obeweya), a missionary, with whom we are all incredibly impressed, working with the poor and the marginalized in West Africa. He came and, as usual, he shared with us the incredible ministry of which he is a part. He shared the incredible things that he's been doing. And after sharing this magnificent testimony, we proudly offered our supportive donation... and lets just say, it wasn't much. I think that many of us shared a sense of embarrassment at how little we were able to offer him (perhaps just enough to cover the amount he needed to come and share with us). Was it because we were unprepared? Was it because we were honestly broke? Whatever the case, I think we failed him.

Well, in order to try and cover our mistake, we decided to offer more money to him from our Christmas Eve offering of which half will go to our missionary friend and half will remain local. Well, with our focus so fixed on the half to be sent to Africa, we miss-communicated where the other half is going. Some thought the money would go to one local charity and some thought it would go to another and now, either way we go, someone will be or will feel failed...

Churches fail.

Some people, some whole families, travel from one church to the next, looking for the one that won't fail them... And that's why they're still searching. Some churches fancy themselves to be safe haves for people who've been burned by churches in the past--safe places without judgment or persecution--but they're only such until they're the one that does the burning... and they will be eventually because churches fail.

This isn't meant to be a message of pessimism, cynicism, or even realism. I think that we can find great hope and, dare I say it, optimism in the fact that churches fail. It can free us from the pressure to be perfect and it can free us from the guilt (which is to be distinguished from conviction) that comes with believing that we need to be perfect.

Church is community. Theologically, church is community because God is community (i.e. the Trinity). And within authentic community, as long as we live in a world which conditions us toward self-centeredness and distrust (both products of the curse), there is pain and there is suffering. There is failure. As long as community works in opposition to the patterns of this world, we're going to experience friction from without as well as from within. It's painful to put yourself on the line for another, it's painful to be so vulnerable to another, it's painful when our trust gets lost within the complexity and chaos of a world in need. It's painful when all we want is to be for others but the need is greater than our ability to meet it. We must remember that a church is a reflection of the God whose kingdom was ushered into the world through the failure of is body on a cross. Somehow, within this failure, we are part of what God is doing in the world. If our work was small enough for us to accomplish it successfully, I'm sure it would be something other than the dominion of God.

God gives us the freedom to offer our failure to God... even as our contribution to the work in which God has invited us to participate. If you really believe that God has called you to tasks and projects and programs, then yes, failure will burn you and yes, you'll be church shopping forever. But if you can embrace the truth that God has invited you to be and not just to do, even with all your failures and even with the failures of others, then I think you might find freedom even in the struggle.

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