Are you excited about life? Your church? Your community and the things God is doing all around you? Do you ever get frustrated? Tired? Worn out from pouring into people, ministries and efforts that seem to just fizzle and die?
I love change. Even though I am an introvert by disposition and need to have some quiet time to recharge, I love meeting new people, I love going new places, trying new things and experiencing life. I love to move. Just like most who share my disposition, I see the best in people up front and am excited to engage in new communities. However I find it difficult to see potential and I often resign myself to consider situations to be how they will be forever, thus once things are broken it feels impossible to make them right.
In my Spiritual immaturity and involvement in a vastly superficial youth group, this disposition led me to a level of disdain for the Church. God radically changed my life and disposition through the tragic loss of a non-believing friend and a year at a Christian university twenty miles from any outside influence. He simply ingrained the truth in my heart that He loves His Church, and if I want to be His follower I must love the Church as well.
In my adulthood, this disposition has led me to despair when I see the gross failures of our leadership and members: those people we love and respect abandoning the faith, giving in to unthinkable moral failures and leading the body into Spiritual inactivity and uselessness. But walking through these trials God has simply affirmed me that nothing is outside of His control and He loves His Church more than I ever could. He is not surprised by our circumstances, in fact He ordains them for the growth and maturity of His Church.
In short, God loves the Church and will work everything out for her best and her holiness. He love the Church more than you or I ever could, and He has a perfect plan for her, even when things look grim. God will work all things together such that He can present the Church – the bride of Christ – to Jesus on that final day as perfect. She (we) will be spotless and without wrinkle in our wedding dress, holy and blameless, and that because He died for us to wash away our sins and is continually washing us and purifying us through the Word:
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.”
– Eph 5.25-27
In Scripture the Church is often called Christ’s body. We are taught clearly that Jesus Himself is the head of that body and we all have roles to fill in the local body where we meet. No one is the head of the local or universal church, not the pope, not a pastor, not a team of elders, no one. Only Jesus is the head. He is in charge, He makes the final decisions, and He has a sovereign plan over all of our endeavors and will sanctify us and make us holy.
“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
– Phil 1.6
“…for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”
– Phil 2.13
Jesus loves His own body, just as we love our own bodies.
“…for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body.”
– Eph 5.29-30
It is important to function as a part of the body. We have been commanded to and if we do not serve the body with our gifting and skills that God has given us, the body will suffer.
“For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.”
– 1 Cor 12.12
“For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot says, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear says, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body.”
– 1 Cor 12.14-20
“For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”
– Rom 12.4-5
Jesus died for His body. He gave Himself up for her (us) so that she might be saved and made holy. He knows what is best for her (us) and He will work all things out together for His glory, for her good and for or the best of the Church (Rom 8.28). If you are struggling with frustration towards the Church, remember that this is God’s chosen instrument of bringing His love and the Gospel to the world. He loves her, and therefore you must too. If you are discouraged by tensions within the church, by failures of leadership, by the type of music or color of the carpet, remember that God loves the Church infinitely more than you ever will, and He is working these situations out both for your maturity and sanctification as well as for hers. It is His Church, not ours.
Yes, there are times that churches die. This happens because sin creeps in and goes unchecked. Thankfully Jesus has commanded us clearly how to handle sin and push one another on to holiness and maturity. There are times that a church becomes so inward focused and neglects the commands of Scripture that God removes His hand from that congregation and they dwindle. Take note of these trends as you work through your feelings towards and about a Church, and always pray. Ask God if He is at work in this place. Ask God if this is your body where you should serve. As God if this is a branch that is alive and bearing fruit or one that has withered and will be cut off. And let’s get busy loving that which Jesus loves, pushing through the hard times and rejoicing in the sweet times. And let us commit to invest as long as God continues to lead, not giving up when the going gets rough.