By Jim Tune
I love the local church. At times I’ve been one of its harshest critics, but these days I’m coming to peace with “church.” The church can be an easy target, and it’s tempting sometimes to just blast away. It’s harder—and a lot more character forming—to live in it day after day, bearing with one another and serving faithfully (and sometimes thanklessly). The disgruntled “church stinks” crowd needs to be careful lest their disillusionment becomes an idol that defines their identity.
Some have said, “The church is kind of like sausage—it’s better just to enjoy the thing and not look to see how it all comes together behind the scenes.” Well, I’ve been behind the scenes for more than 19 years now as a minister, church planter, and director of a church planting ministry. I’ve seen it all: lame programs, legalism, factions, power struggles, splits, and moral failure. But I’m still here, by choice. I understand now that while godly perfection is the goal, the church will be full of sin so long as she is full of sinners. There are plenty of sinners in the church where I preach. I am one of them.
It has always been this way. The New Testament church had her share of problems too. I’m not trying to proclaim an apologetic for the status quo. Many things need to change. We need to be more authentic; we need missional involvement in our neighborhoods; we need greater love for Christ; we need better discipleship. We will always have much to work on.
In my own church, we get some things wrong, but with God’s help we’ve been getting some things right too! We bring meals to single moms, help the homeless, buy groceries, and help with the bills when people lose their jobs. We go to hospitals to pray with the diseased and dying.
I’ve seen hurting people surrounded by a loving and praying church family. I’ve seen spontaneous, generous offerings collected to meet the needs of missionaries around the world and to care for the poor. I’ve seen newcomers received with open arms and invited into homes for dinner. I’ve heard the gospel preached unashamedly and lovingly Sunday after Sunday. When my wife’s mother died suddenly, the church was there, loving us through it. I love the silent uncelebrated servants who quietly do their work with little need for applause or praise, and little talk of changing the world, yet all the while making a huge difference.
In the next to last scene in Robert Bolt’s play A Man for All Seasons, Meg (also called Margaret), the daughter of the doomed Thomas More, comes to her father’s cell to try to convince him to say what he needs to say to free himself. Finally she says, “Then say the words of the oath and in your heart think otherwise.”
More responds “It isn’t a matter of reason; finally it’s a matter of love.”
We read in Ephesians 5:25 that, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Acts 20:28 reminds us, “Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” It’s a matter of love.