We live at a time when there is a deep mistrust of anything institutional or corporate. Here in the Republic of Ireland where I live and minister, the last 30 years have seen seismic shifts in terms of respect for authority, morality, the influence of religion and the role of the church in daily life. The recent vote for same-sex marriage was not so much, I believe, a vote for “equality” as it was a vote against the influence of the church. It was as if the young people of Ireland were sticking two fingers up at institutionalised religion and saying: “You have lost all right to tell us how to live.”
And in one sense they were right. The church has failed them. The corruption, abuse and subsequent cover-ups have caused even the most devout to question the authority of the church. So when asked: ‘Why should young adults have confidence in the church?’ – my response is one which is entirely sympathetic to those who have lost all confidence in religious institutions.
I have been an ordained minister within the established church for the past 10 years. They say that the closer you are to something or someone, the more you see the good, bad and ugly. This is definitely true of the church. It has too many flaws, faults and failings to mention. Church people can be the most nasty, negative and narrow-minded people on the planet. Christians sometimes totally misrepresent the one whose name they bear. There have been times when I have wanted to quit ministry and do something less pressured and stressful – mostly on a Monday morning! I call the church “brutiful’. It is brutal and beautiful all at the same time.
And yet, here I sit, a follower of Jesus for 26 years, working full-time within the church for 10 years, and I can honestly say that I love the church and am absolutely and unreservedly passionate about it becoming all that Christ intended her to be.
Why do I love the church? I’m glad you asked.
First of all, I love the church simply because Jesus loves the church. Jesus died for the church. When Jesus returned to heaven He left only one group of people to continue his mission here on earth – his church. Jesus said He would build his church. He calls the church his ‘bride’ for whom he will one day return. Paul describes the church as Jesus’ ‘body’. The church exists solely and simply because Jesus decided that it was the best means of continuing his kingdom ministry in a broken, sinful, chaotic world. There was no plan B.
Secondly, I love the church because to grow fully human, I need to be around people who are as messed up as I am. When I was younger my Gran used to come home from the supermarket with boxes of broken biscuits. The box actually said “Broken Biscuits”. When I opened them I was never shocked to find that the biscuits were-you guessed it-broken. It said so clearly on the outside. The mission was to find one that wasn’t broken.
Church is full of broken people, just like you and I. People broken by sins committed by them and against them; broken by abuse and addiction; broken by debt and despair; broken by sex and singleness; broken by sickness and sadness. The only difference is that our brokenness is hidden beneath the surface. We don’t walk in with T-shirts printed with a description of how we feel: “angry”, “bitter”, “guilt”, “depressed”, “struggling with pornography”, “hopeless”. Instead, most of the time, we come in with our best Christian smile pretending that all is well. Then we get up close to one another and scratch beneath the surface only to discover the reality of what is going on and it shocks us. We find out that everyone else is just as messed up as we are! Some of us just hide it better than others. It used to shock me to be surrounded by people with so many problems. Now however, I have to say that I find it extremely comforting to know that I’m not alone in this struggle to live the Jesus life.
Thirdly and finally, I love the church because, when she is at her best, there is nothing more stunning. The church has been entrusted with the gospel and there is nothing in this world that has transformed more lives for 2000 years than the good news of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. The gospel has the unique power to save, heal, restore, renew and revive individuals and communities. No program, self-help book, spiritual teaching or religion comes anywhere close to the radical transformational power of the gospel of Jesus. When you see it at work, it takes your breath away. Just in the last few months I have seen it in the life of a taxi driver who I invited to church. The previous month he had spent €6,000 on cocaine. Then he experienced the presence of Jesus among the community of the church, and his life could not be more different. He even looks different. It made such an impact that the following week his mother came along and committed her life to Jesus too.
So yes, at times it would be easier at times to drop out of church. We have great worship on YouTube and inspiring sermon podcasts to listen to. And yet there is nothing to compare to meeting with God’s people for worship, mutual encouragement, friendship, prayer and teaching. When you read the New Testament, belonging to Christ and belonging to his church always go together. Jesus is coming back for his church. It is not an optional extra-it is the community of God’s people in every place, showing God’s love and demonstrating his kingdom.
Love the church, because in spite of all her flaws, Jesus loves her.