The Church is Ugly, and I love it.
I was reminded this week on several occasions just how dirty, ugly, and messed up churches can become. Fortunately, each of these examples was closely followed by the powerful role that churches and ministers play in the lives of congregations across the world. The Church, more broadly, can be equally condemned. It’s no surprise that my peers often reject it, that large numbers of people who consider themselves followers of Jesus do not consider church as a part of their life. It’s no surprise that many families found attending church on Christmas day this year to be cumbersome, obligatory, or unnecessary. It’s not breaking news that the church has long lost it’s place of privilege in the world, and with that has disappeared the sanctity of the body of Christ and the believer’s likelihood of loving it.
Yes, churches fight, argue, split, and have some less than commendable people. As one of my mentors put it, “every church has some jerks.” So, why bother? I hold a very high view of the role of the local church in my own theology. As a minister in a local church, and a seminary student, I find myself inescapably tied to it. And let’s be honest, that isn’t always pretty. I don’t always like it. And sometimes I look around at the public perception of ministers and cringe. But the reality it is: No matter how ugly the church may be, I am called to love it.
I wonder how our churches might benefit if each seat was inhabited by a person who loved the church unceasingly, who loved the people of God unconditionally. I am not speaking of buildings, property, or denominations. I pause here to imagine a Church that was so fiercely committed to embodying the love of Jesus that they began to see that transform the church body itself.
This reflection is, in reality, partly a confession on my own part. Sure, I’d never walk away from the church, and I can count on one hand the number of times I haven’t found myself in one for weekly worship in the past 5 years. But I have found my vocational future and close link to the church to be a personal stumbling block. I’d rather not tell the lady cutting my hair that I work in one sometimes, because it just seems to be a step back. I hesitate to admit that I may very well spend the rest of my life serving in churches, even though I find great joy in that calling. Why?
Because church can be ugly. Because I’m not proud of how other ministers act. Because the baggage involved is often more than I can carry. Because I fear being chewed up and spit out. Because my pride takes a hit every time some one disrespects the validity of that calling and the importance of its purpose.
Today, I confess that I am okay with that. The church is ugly, and I love it in a way that I cannot express. I love it, because Christ has transformed my heart and empowered me to love his people unconditionally. He demands that we do, and chooses to use this Church for his kingdom.
The church can be so ugly, and I find it to be absolutely beautiful! It’s beautiful because God moves in spite of people. It’s beautiful because we see a glimpse of the kingdom of God. It is beautiful because God has chosen to work in it and through it. It is beautiful because it stands amidst a world that desperately needs it. No matter the state in which I find it, the tarnished reputation others give it, or the public’s perception of it, I love the church and always will.
I pray that you might as well.
By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.
– John 13:35, NASB
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
-Hebrews 10:24-35, NIV