When I was almost fourteen, I became part of what started as a home church with several other families. We had two pastors who traded off preaching every week. To me, it seemed like the perfect church with near-perfect leaders. I loved the atmosphere, my new friends, the sermons—everything.
Previously, church disasters seemed to haunt my family. Because of this, I was desperate to fit into our new church home. I set our leaders and their families on a pedestal and allowed myself to be swayed by their opinions. As our fellowship grew over the years, we moved from the living room of our pastor’s house to the basement of a library where we had more space. We were a church with unshakable foundations, a perfect mix of people, convictions, and personalities—or so I thought.
Before long, there were whispers of disagreements between the pastors. I didn’t worry about it, positive they’d sort out their differences eventually. When one of the pastors ended his sermon with a resignation, the entire congregation sat in stunned silence. Not even the co-pastor knew what was going on. My friends and I were on the verge of tears as the adults tried to make sense of what was happening.
The next few weeks were filled with meetings, letters, and phone calls as the church scrambled to patch what couldn’t be mended. The result was a tangled mess of slander, bitterness, and an ugly church split. The co-pastor sent out a series of nasty letters to the congregation, defaming the other pastor’s character. The people I thought were near perfect had let me down. Our wonderful leadership had made mistakes. The decisions made, words spoken, and actions committed during that time affected several lives for the worse. I couldn’t believe my perfect church had come to such an abrupt and imperfect end. I felt so confused. I didn’t know what to believe anymore as my pedestals came crashing down.
Our fellowship dissolved completely and my family was left stranded. For a while, we watched sermons on video every Sunday, not wanting to get involved with another church body. When we felt ready, we began searching for a new church home, only to watch it fall to pieces as well. My attitude towards the Church soured. How could this be the Body of Christ? How could the people sowing all these seeds of discord claim to be Christians? My family and I searched for a Bible-preaching church without real results. We were exhausted, disillusioned by the Church.
Many of you may have been through similar experiences. You’ve watched the “perfect church” crumble or have been stabbed in the back by people who claim to love God. Some of you have been afraid to become members of a church body lest you find yourselves burned once again. Still others migrate from church to church, refusing to become attached to any one body of Christians, while others neglect the gathering of the saints altogether. What should you do when things seem so hopeless for the Church?
What Should The Church Look Like?
THE BODY OF CHRIST
1 Corinthians 12 tells us that we are the “body of Christ”. In a body, there are many different parts like the arms, the legs, the fingers, the eyes, or the mouth. Each part is important and all parts together make the body functional. My younger brother is missing a foot. Though this foot has since been replaced by a prosthetic, he will never have the same flexibility or be capable of performing the same activities that people with a real foot have. The same can be said of the church. When certain members refuse to function as part of the body, the church is crippled.
THE BRIDE OF CHRIST
If you take a look at Ephesians 5:21-30, you’ll see Christ compares himself and the church to a married couple. The church is referred to as the bride of Christ, which He will one day present to Himself as holy and unblemished. In this passage it says, “Out of respect for Christ, be courteously reverent to one another. Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands.” (The Message) Grave responsibility is laid on both the wife and the husband. No less responsibility is laid on the church. The church is to be submissive to Christ, to be seeking His face. We are to be adorning ourselves with the fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22), just as a bride adorns herself for her wedding day.
THE SALT OF THE EARTH
Matthew 5:13 tells us disciples of Jesus are to be the “salt of the earth”. What is salt? Salt is a preservative. Before the time of freezers, salt was the means by which people preserved their food. If they didn’t have salt, they were in trouble; food would begin to rot. In the same way, Christians preserve moral standards and biblical principles as they apply them to their lives. Salt is also a flavoring. They add flavor to an otherwise flavorless and rebellious culture.
Part of the problem with churches today is that the individuals of the body don’t understand their responsibility and come with a “get” instead of a “give” attitude. Think about this for a minute: when we look for a church, we look to see what we can get. We check out the programs, the people, the activities, et cetera. We “try on” the church a few times to see if we like the people, the sermons, and the music. We are uncommitted and focused on ourselves and our needs and preferences. We aren’t looking for accountability; we want to be left alone to do our own thing and follow our own pursuits. In his book Stop Dating the Church, Josh Harris writes, “The plain fact is, when we resist passion and commitment in our relationship with the church, everyone gets cheated out of God’s best. You cheat yourself. You cheat a church community. You cheat your world.” (pg. 18)
In short, we cheat the body of Christ. The Bible instructs us that we are not to neglect the gathering of the saints. Biblically, the church is to equip, to instruct, to hold accountable, and to minister to every member. In turn, the members are to reach out to the lost, becoming the hands, mouth, eyes, and ears of Christ so that we might do His work. The members of Christ’s body come to serve, rather than be served, meeting together as a fully functional unit. It is a beautiful plan, designed by God and made to last.
If only every church could be described this way.
Imperfectly Doing Everything Correctly
Suppose we are doing what we’re required to do and more. We are committed, we serve, we are at the doors of our church every other minute. What’s our responsibility when our church starts falling away from the Biblical model? I believe that first, we need to make sure our own behavior is in line with Scripture. The church is full of bad apples and hypocrites who are more concerned with themselves and their agendas than they are about other people. However, our own attitudes are more important than these bad apples. We must be sure we aren’t contributing to the problem by our own lack of love and understanding.
To be honest, I’ve been through so many unpleasant church experiences that I can pinpoint almost immediately which kinds of people are bound to cause problems. There are some folks who make me grit my teeth and wish they would just leave. Is this the attitude Christ would have if He were in my shoes? Of course not. Jesus genuinely loved His persecutors. He loves you and me, even though we are the reason He had to be tortured and nailed to a cross. Does this mean we have to love all the nasty things people do? No. Does this mean we have to smile and nod our heads when someone says something contrary to the Bible? Absolutely not. Jesus had no tolerance for heretical theology, but He loved people so much He died for them.
You Are The Change
Once our own attitudes are in check, the next question we should be asking is this: Is my church hindering me from serving God? Recall that the church’s purpose is to equip and minister to the saints so they in turn can go out and preach the Gospel to those around them. Some people can best serve God by staying in a church that seems to be falling apart at the seams. Others feel they can serve God best by leaving. Only God can tell you whether you should leave or stay. There are no set answers for whether or not you should abandon a church. Sometimes, the answers will be black and white, while other times, solutions won’t be as clear. Prayer must play a major role in your decisions as you wait for the Holy Spirit to guide your steps.
You may answer by saying, “Well, I can serve God better by not being a part of a church body.” For a short period of time this may be true, but then again we were created for community. The Bible tells us we are not to neglect gathering together (1 Timothy 4:13-14). Accountability in the lives of believers is an important part of growing in Christ. Some are called to join a church while some are called to start churches. Either way, it is important that we belong to a body of believers and be committed to that body.
Acts 4:32-33 (NASB) says: “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonged to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all.”
This is how the church is supposed to be. This is the vision every Christian should have and strive for. We have to realize this kind of church begins with community; the gathered, corporate body that shapes us through our common purpose in Christ. It begins with us giving our lives over completely to Christ to do as He will with us. It means becoming functioning parts in the body of Christ and loving Him as His bride. We must bring the salt that preserves the church by being committed and add flavor to its existence by being involved. We must empty ourselves out in service to Christ, committing to ministering to others. When we do this, it is God who fills us back up and it will be His love that overflows in our lives. This is the type of Christian I long to be, and it is this kind of Christian who will revolutionize church as we know it now. It’s up to us whether or not we want to be a part.