Church, done well, is a glorious mess.
A few years ago, our church community endured a particularly difficult season. A handful of challenging, but unrelated, situations grew in strength and intensity like dark clouds joining forces to create the perfect storm. After months of navigating the resulting downpour, we emerged battered and tired. And confused. From behind the clouds peeped the warm sun of normalcy, but the air hung thick with questions. About community. About our own motivation. And about the ultimate purpose of church.
In an effort to wrestle with and work through those questions, I penned the following “Letter to My Church”:
We met when I was just a child. I stumbled through your doors, a young girl who had become both a bride and a parent only months before. New city, new job, new marriage, new family—my feeble knees attempting to carry more weight than was humanly possible. You offered truth, friendly smiles, a destination for my weekly pilgrimage in search of hope. Week after week, we greeted one another warmly. We became acquaintances.
You asked small, cordial questions. The first crossroad was approached. I offered a slight glimpse of my wounded heart. I answered you in riddles, both hoping and fearing you would pursue more. You asked the next question. You listened. You didn’t minimize. You didn’t try to manage the chaos or despair. You didn’t turn away. Week after week, we spoke briefly, yet with greater intention. We became friends.
Weeks rolled into months tumbled into years. We watched first graders receive Bibles and high-school students launch off to college. We sat together at weddings witnessing the birth of new families. We observed helplessly as dying marriages gasped their last breaths. We celebrated the debut of desperately longed-for babies. We wept as tiny coffins were lowered into frigid ground. He gave and He took away. Week after week, we continued to meet. To draw together for an hour or two. To sing and to pray. To tell each other the old, old story. To be reminded that yes, it is all true.
You were often my mother, my father, my siblings. My teacher, my student, my traveling companion. You brought me food when I was sick, when a new baby was born, and when another was lost. You shared your stories, your fears, your dreams, and your talents. With each kind act, knowing glance and deeper question, you offered healing and restoration. You spoke words of truth about yourself, about me, and about the One who brought us together. You loved well.
Yet there were seasons when you were the source of great pain. You were too busy. You didn’t have room in your circle of friends. You were tending to your own wounds and trying to repair the brokenness present in your own life. You failed me. And I did the same to you. But strangely, the pain and silence created an invaluable space.
For the brave work of longing.
For the reminder that we were not made for this world.
For the homesickness which nudged me back on the path toward Home.
Despite the disappointments, we continued to meet. Week after week. Preschool Christmas pageant after Thanksgiving Eve communion after Maundy Thursday after crowded Easter morning. We didn’t give up on one another. We kept coming back—at times running and at others limping. Our relationship changed. We became family.
Our kinship was not born of common interest, background, social standing or life experience. It wouldn’t necessarily have been of our own choosing. Yet we loved the same Father who saw fit to bring us together. Week after week, a sacred alchemy transpired. The common became holy. Through the jagged cracks of a broken, selfish, and prideful people, the glory of the Most High spilled out and penetrated the darkness.
You changed shape as some were called away to other communities. They left as a result of following the Father, and their appointed time with us had been fulfilled. I confess that I’ve been tempted to do the same, but for less than admirable reasons. When I wanted more from you, or when you weren’t serving me in the ways that I had hoped. When our differences felt threatening. The gaps between us too wide to cross. I longed to flee to a place where my opinions were affirmed. But He knew that our differences served a marked purpose. What had seemed like an obstacle to my ideal had actually been rescuing me from a mirage. Yes, you had your own idols. But when you didn’t bow down to mine, you were offering a different perspective. You saved me from myself.
Thank you for coming back week after week, year after year.
For leaning in. For your goodness and your weakness. For your hopeful words of encouragement and your honest tears of brokenness. For having vision for my life, my marriage, and my family when I wasn’t able. For granting me the sacred privilege of speaking into your life as well.
In your faithfulness and in your failures, you continue to draw me back to our Father.
I am grateful.
Years have passed and unanswered questions remain, but I’ve become more convinced about one aspect of church community:
Church, done well, takes time.
Which is why I’m particularly grateful to share that we’ll be taking the next several weeks to read and discuss Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus by Christopher Smith and John Pattison.
American churches have learned much from the business world. Terms like “strategic planning” “goal-orientation” and “market analysis” were once reserved for the corporate boardroom but, in recent years, they’re just as likely to be overheard (and frequently used) in a church leadership meeting. Slow Church invites us to consider the history, evolution, and practical implications of recent trends in church growth. Smith and Pattison ask important questions and offer helpful insights that point toward the cultivation of a healthier local church. Our hope is that we emerge from our reading and discussion better equipped to love our neighbors—both those who are inside and those who are outside of our local church community.
Please consider joining us. The reading schedule is as follows:
- Week of June 20 – First Course: Ethics (chp 1-4)
- Week of June 27 – Second Course: Ecology (chp 5-7)
- Week of July 4 – Third Course: Economy (chp 8-11)
- Week of July 11 – Wrap-up
Each Tuesday we’ll post a few questions to kindle conversation (click here to visit and subscribe to the discussion thread in the forums) and on July 12th, we’ll host an in-person discussion with the authors at the Art House in Nashville where they’ll discuss their newest book, Reading for the Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish. We ask that each family/couple attending the event purchase a copy of the book to help support the authors.
Slow Church is available in the Rabbit Room Store. Consider grabbing an extra copy or two and asking a few friends from your church to join you. Our hope is that the time spent in reading, discussion, and personal reflection, bears fruit in your local community.