Rumour has it that the renowned anthropologist Margaret Mead once commented that the church was a strange sociological miracle.
How could it be that people of such diverse cultures, languages and personalities could somehow find oneness, unity and purpose in a religious organisation? She must have seen “the church” on a good day. Anyone who hangs around the church and its meetings for long enough knows that there are special days when “the people of God” are a marvellous and life-giving mob. Every now and then there are glimpses of grace, showers of blessings and traces of the divine. I walked out of a worship service a few weeks ago and felt that I had been drawn into a community that was lost in wonder, love and praise.
It’s priceless. However, there are also moments for many Christ followers when they can be fed up with the church.
Tim Costello recently wrote that even though he has some breathtaking experiences of the church in many different continents and contexts in the world, he occasionally finds himself feeling annoyed at the church.
He describes his frustrations with fundamentalist at both ends of the theological spectrum. Those who at one end, see everything as black and white, seem anti-intellectual and have a judgmental tendency towards anyone who is not like them.
Equally disturbing are those who hang on the fringes of Christianity, denying the core doctrines of salvation, incarnation, Trinity and Resurrection, a kind of religious agnosticism where doubt constantly trumps faith.
Frustrations may however not be about belief or theology; there are also dark moments when one detects power struggles, self-seeking and a distinct lack of generosity towards others.
It would be easy to conclude, why bother with the church?
I haven’t given up on the church yet, because I haven’t given up on God.
I dare to believe that God hasn’t given up on the church yet either. For all her failings the church was God’s idea, it was founded on the saving work of Christ, through his death and resurrection. We may have become less fashionable, with our flaws more widely exposed.
We may have allowed the insidious and subtle influence of money, sex and power to at times lead us along the wrong path. But it still remains true that there are churches everywhere that are outposts of the Kingdom of God and beacons of hope.
Far from being perfect, churches are often communities where compassion, contemplation and courage are found in spades.
While in rare moments, I am fed up with the church, I am called to love it as Christ loves it. That is not a passive love, but a love that longs for the renewal and ongoing reformation of the church. It is a love where I ask God to show me the plank in my eye before I notice the specks in the eyes of others. (Matthew 7: 3).
If you are feeling frustrated with the church, may I encourage you not to give up.
Keep showing up at your local congregation, drop your anchor there, keep praying for the church, and look for ways of serving the church. Ask God to give you the gifts of patience and grace to overcome or positively redirect your negativities.
History would teach us that anger and frustration at the church can lead to new movements of the Spirit and new wines skins for the church. Church people are probably a bit like you and me, flawed and yet fragrant bearers of the image of God and if we are open to it, people who are being shaped by the love of Christ.
By the end of last season, I was fed up with my AFL team, the Dockers.
But hope springs eternal. I will be barracking again this year for the boys in purple and their coach.
I am not about to quit my footy team and I am certainly not about to quit God’s team, the church or Jesus our supremo coach. Hang in.