In many ways, we are “replanting” our church. We hope to not only find a sense of community, but really become a positive contributor to community life around us.
A difficult challenge in building community within the church these days is the transient nature of life. Solid relationships take time. Trust takes time. Yet in the meantime, people come and people go. Jobs change. Families change. People move. This reality make community building difficult. But these are not the only reasons people go.
“We just feel that the Lord is moving us on”.
There isn’t a pastor out there that doesn’t cringe inside when you hear these words coming. Of course, there are those precious few times it actually comes as a relief. Myself, I’ve only heard others talk about those instances.
Call me a conspiracy theorist but I’m not so convinced the Lord is moving as many people around as He gets credit for. Oh, there are some legitimate circumstances like those mentioned above. There is little doubt about that. But not all.
I think disappointment plays a much bigger role in our exits than we would like to admit. I’m sure we can agree that no church is perfect. No leader is perfect. If you think they are perfect you have a difficult moment ahead of you. Pastors, leaders and the guy sitting next to you this Sunday will let you down. Offense is inevitable. We don’t like it, nor should we. So then, can we really be that surprised when it happens?
But the church is supposed to be one of the safest places on the planet! It is a place where the hurting, the vulnerable and the disenfranchised should find refuge. It is a place where the healthy should be safe to grow in their faith, not be worried about friendly fire. Why is it then so many get hurt in the church? Answer: people. When people get involved, there are problems.
If only God equipped us with the capacity to handle offense when it comes.
Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13 NIV)
Oh that wasn’t fair.
But hold on! I suspect that the more we were a part of a genuine community of faith, we would be more inclined to live out this passage of scripture. It is all about value. Jesus told a series of parables about certain people who lost precious items. They dropped everything in order to find them again. Another man upon finding a treasure sold everything he had to buy the land where the treasure was discovered.
Consider this: where there is deep love, trust and care for one another, it would be too hard to exit stage left when things get tough. It would be worth it to fight through. And so I think this underscores just how insidious disappointment can affect church life.
Here is the nasty secret: If we leave disappointed, we don’t actually leave it behind us! We think we’re free from the issues that “drove us away”, but we aren’t. We take it with us to the next place. We rarely recognize it on its own, but it affects us.
We may choose to keep our distance. We may put up walls to keep us safer. We may wait longer to be involved, to make friends, or to open up. We may be quicker to criticize the new pastor’s preaching talents, the worship style or the decor. We don’t mean to, but we may.
If this cycle continues enough times, and if enough people act this way, you won’t have a community of faith. You’ll just have people attend a church. There is a subtle but significant difference. And if people are just attending church, it is easy to leave when things get disappointing. The sad reality is, unless we learn to forgive one another, the cycle will only continue and true biblical community becomes harder and harder to find.
It really has to start with us. I know I will let people down. I don’t mean to, but I will. I will also be hurt by other people in our church. I don’t want to, but I will. I just don’t want this to be the focus. What I do want is to be a part of a community of faith where holding onto love, care and trust means more to me than hanging onto my disappointment.
We’re not there yet, but we will.