Church . . . it’s complicated!
It only takes a few moments in the inner conversations about leaky roofs, staff issues, and an upset congregant to make even the most devout become doubter. It almost seems like those of us who have made a decision to live in the body have entered it in total denial of reality, or in hopefulness?
So recently I’ve been pondering life together . . . yes in a congregation. I’ve been thinking about all the dynamics and relationships at play when we gather together and when we live life in between gatherings. It came to me recently that in some real ways the dynamics should not surprise most of us, in fact it should not surprise any of us. The church, really the local congregation, is like a family! Our life together with its covenant to live our discipleship among this particular body of people, with its call upon the Holy Spirit to make us one, to unite us around the body and blood of Christ instead of kinship circles, is truly an intimate human institution.
Just like marriage and family it requires commitment, fidelity, and shared life. Just like marriage and family it can get messy!
I think the disappointment comes because for some reason we expect it to be neat. Like an engaged couple or a family welcoming children we tend to idealized life together. In the congregation is even more complicated by the fact that often we think of our spiritual lives as individualized experiences in a collective vs. a communal experience with a personal dimension. All of this humanity and human condition manifests itself in unhealthy ways as it should when you live life together.
Here is when the promise of the Holy Spirit to make us “one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world” comes in.
In spite of our differences, disappointments, and difficulties the Holy Spirit is continually shaping our souls into God’s own image, into a re-membered body, into a people with a common call. The Holy Spirit is sanctifying our assembly! Even before we recognize it and especially when God seems absent the work of God is there among us and the promise that the “the gates of Hades will not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18b, NRSV).
It is my prayer that we call one another to our identity as a body. To our shared identity, shared covenant, and shared call. That we encourage one another to mature in our common life, in our life with God, and that when it gets messy that we are reminded of our common need for divine grace.
So like marriage and family life we must be persistent in our love for one another, we must forgive one another as Christ has forgiven us, we must be patient with one another–especially when things are difficult–and we must put our whole trust in Christ who has called us by name and given us new life by water and the Spirit.
As I have said before in this space I too have a tendency to want to walk away. This has been the case in every congregation that I have lived life with since my teenage years. But time and time again God’s Spirit calls me back to my covenant of fidelity, of obedience, of life lived in community. Time and time again I am reminded that in the midst of life, of every day life, God makes us one, God sets us apart for God’s purposes, God calls us across time, space, culture, language, difference, God sends us empowered by the Spirit as agents of God’s kingdom . . . for the life of the world!
I would not want to live my life any other way!