Do We Need More Churches?

andrew-seaman-649001-unsplash.jpg

Photo by Andrew Seaman on Unsplash

On her first day of school, in a new town, in a new state, far away from friends she made in kindergarten and first grade, my daughter was playing a get-to-know-you game with her classmates. Their job was to introduce themselves to someone and share an interesting fact about their life.

My seven year old walked up to an adult (presumably a school employee) and gave her name followed by, “My family just moved here to start a new church.” The adult responded with a scrunched up face, “Ugh, don’t we have enough churches already?”

I’d like to set aside the rudeness this adult showed my child and address the question at hand: Don’t we have enough churches already?

As our family has begun a church planting adventure, we’ve heard this suggestion more than a few times. From friends, from pastors, from family, from strangers. From religious and non-religious people alike.

The consensus seems to be that we have enough churches in our community, and perhaps country, and there is no use for any more. While I disagree, I think there are some things we can find common ground on.

Do we have enough buildings that largely sit empty during the week? Yes.

Do we have enough inward facing groups only concerned about what’s in it for them? I’d say so.

Do we have enough congregations shuffling around the same members every few years? Definitely.

Do we have enough people whose only relationship with the world at large is to condemn it? Sadly, yes.

But do we have enough churches?

Can you ever have enough groups who actually (like seriously, for real) love their neighbors as much as they love themselves?

Can you ever have too many people who generously give their resources to help those in need?

Can you have too many groups who decide to set aside their differences to work together for the good of the entire community?

This is who the church is. We are not a building. We are not a franchise business competing for clientele. We are not a country club that exists only for the benefit of our members.

We are those charged with bringing light to dark places.

We make room for people who are messy and different and who don’t have all the answers.

We are people walking a journey together.

We are burden bearers, peacemakers, redemption seekers.

If we define church as a building where lots of dollars go to keeping the lights on, or as a group of grumpy people who gather out of fear that God will smite them otherwise, then I agree, we don’t need any more of those.

If we are intent on beating people with our bibles or becoming the mouthpieces for particular political parties, I agree again, no more of that. Add in no more legalism and no more generic, surface level self-help yuck and we have a deal.

We don’t need organizations that make people miserable and we don’t need groups that are seeking to be big and cool for the sake of being big and cool (and highly paid). We don’t need systems and structures that cover up (or cause) abuse or turn a blind eye to injustice.

But if we define church as people known for their love, well then, no we can’t have enough churches. If we are people who live purposely present in our workplaces and schools and grocery stores, seeking to bring goodness and mercy and kindness wherever we go, then no, we can’t have enough of that either.

If we are the people who will show up when no one else will, if we are those you feel safe with even when you are completely vulnerable, if we are those with whom you can finally find the ability to take a deep breath, then no, we can’t have too much of that.

The church feeds the hungry and clothes the naked, welcomes the stranger and cares for the sick. The church carries grace and truth. The church stands in the gap. The church lifts up. The church embodies hope.

The church is not a place, but a gathered people. People who are shaped and formed, then sent to bless the world. At our best the church is not a burden, but a gift.

When we forget who we are and our posture to the world, people will assume there are more than enough of us already. We will lose our children and our neighbors and maybe even consider throwing in the towel ourselves. We will become unnecessary and people will scrunch up their nose at the very thought of us. To borrow an idea from Jesus, we will have lost our usefulness and end up trampled underfoot.

I believe with all my heart that for the good of the world, we need local churches. Not necessarily churches of a particular type or style or size or even denomination, but of a humble faithfulness.

We need churches dedicated to the way of Jesus and the power of community and the reality of God’s desire for creation. We need churches who will be good news. Who will serve and bless their communities over and over again, not as a means to grow in numbers but as a way to grow in love.

And we need not shut down all our old churches and start again. We begin right where we are at with those imperfect people we’ve been surrounded by. Old churches, new churches, small churches, big churches, your church and my church. Christ’s Church.

May we remember who we are and to what we have been called. May we never lose our usefulness. And may we live in such a way that even those who don’t believe the same things we do get excited when we move into their neighborhood.

Advertisements

On Swimming with Alligators.


I once knew a young man who desperately wanted to go swimming. He found a little spot that seemed ideal. What he didn’t realize was that alligators infested the water. I tried to warn him that swimming in that particular pond was a bad idea.

He told me to stop being so judgmental.

This story never actually happened but illustrates a problem we have in our society: No one wants to be told anything that goes against what they have already set their mind on.

We have made up our minds. We have followed our hearts. We don’t care what you say. So stop judging me.

Now, do we have a judging problem in the world and in the church? Absolutely. Maybe we can address that in a future post. We must recognize that there is a difference between being judgmental and being concerned for a person’s welfare.

One is rooted in pride and/or self-righteousness. One is rooted in love.

If I told the young man who was swimming that he was an idiot for thinking he could swim in that pond, that would be judgmental. If I told him he was unwelcome at my church because we don’t like alligator swimmers, that would be judgmental. If I thought I was better than him because I don’t swim in ponds like that, that’d be judgmental.

Warning him that the water is full of legitimate danger is not judgmental.

We have somehow come to believe that whatever we want to do is a good idea because, well, we thought of it. We are seldom, if ever, wrong and we really don’t like being second guessed. “Follow your heart,” we hear. “Do whatever feels right.”

Except those sayings are terrible advice. They are not helpful, nor are they healthy. Thinking like this will just get us eaten by alligators.

Whether we care to admit it or not, sometimes we do things that are not in the best interest of ourselves or others. Sometimes we are shortsighted. Sometimes our priorities get out of alignment. Sometimes we are just ill-informed. Sometimes our heart leads us astray.

We have all been there. We have all done things that come back to bite us or cause us pain or wound others. None of us are immune. It has happened before and it will happen again.

We need people to help us when these things approach. We need people who can speak the truth into our lives. We need not be defensive. We need not feel judged.

Yes, warnings and concerns need to be spoken lovingly. And sure, we won’t always agree on which things are dangerous. But we need voices that we trust to speak into our lives when we can’t see clearly. Or when we don’t even realize we aren’t seeing clearly.

I have seen and experienced and caused destruction because I was unable to notice or too ignorant to care that the water I was swimming in was full of predators. I have seen marriages destroyed, futures derailed, fortunes lost, because what a heart wanted in one moment was the very thing that would devour it in the next.

Tim Keller says, “We would never imagine that getting our heart’s deepest desires might be the worst thing that can ever happen to us.”

We can do better. We can rely on each other. We can listen, even when we don’t agree. We can pause and take into account what the people who love us think. We can seek outside counsel. We can search for truth and knowledge. We can be okay with people calling out to us in warning.

We need each other to make it through this thing called life. We need each other’s stories and experiences and lessons learned. We need to hear, really hear, what others are saying to us. “I’ve tried to swim in that very pond and let me tell you, that is not the place you want to be swimming in.”

I won’t let my kids swim where there are actual alligators. It has nothing to do with controlling their behavior and everything to do with keeping them safe. Boundaries will help keep them from being eaten alive. And if the first few years of parenting have taught me anything, it is that they won’t always appreciate those boundaries.

What I hope they understand long after they are old enough to decide which ponds to swim in on their own, is that my intentions were for their good. I hope they will always come to me knowing that my advice or rebuke or encouragement comes from a place of love and not judgement.

I hope I am mature enough and self-aware enough to listen for those voices in my life. To not reject concern or write it off as judgement just because it goes against what I want in that moment. I hope the people around me love me enough to speak up when I go dipping my toes in gator infested water. I hope I can hear the love in their voices when they call out.

Let’s allow others to help us. Let’s reject the idea that we always know what is best for ourselves. Let’s give people permission to hold us accountable. Let’s stop learning lessons the hard way. Let’s listen when people warn us that we are swimming in dangerous waters. For when they do it’s not judgement, it’s love.