(Hit those sweet jamz!)
There’s always this sort of comparison game that happens between people.
I see your snazzy watch and think it’s cooler than my old, scratched up one. You see the sweet travel pics from your friends and think about how the coolest place that you’ve been in the last ten years is the beach… which is a quick forty minute drive away. At that beach, we’re all looking around at each other’s stomach’s, just to see who’s is marginally flatter or more defined in muscle. A glance at your neighbor’s new Jeep Renegade makes you think about how much you wish your car was better, or even has the AC working. You see the schools that your friends get into and comparatively feel about as smart as a hamster. I hear the music you make… which, in my mind, makes my music sound I’m a like a ten-year old that just learned how to play “Hey There Delilah.” You get the gist… and you’ve got your own mental list of inadequacies, so think about those things for a second.
Even still sometimes, you look at the people around you, and think that just maybe, you’re the one who has life most figured out… Like, you see people you know still partying and still making fools of themselves, and you kinda feel like maybe you’re not so bad. I mean, you’re not happily married like most of your friends, but… at least you’ve got “the freedom” to do whatever you want! These are all still forms of comparison.
There’s this overwhelming craving we have as human beings to make judgements about everything around us, and it shows in everything we do. We’re experts at formulating opinions about things that we have absolutely no clue about. We feel qualified to make apt formulations about current medicine and politics and global economics… probably based on that Huffington Post article that we skimmed that one time. Truly, though, one would hope that maybe the church is some kind of safe haven to this onslaught of opinions…
The church is not immune to our humanistic comparisons. *Shocker*
Surprise, surprise… because the church is made up of people, it’s just like any other conglomeration of humans throughout history: it’s imperfect. But, there’s a common tendency that I’ve come to notice. We to go to a church and immediately put it under the microscope of our expectations. I’m totally as much to blame as you are. The most personal infliction that I have in this area is in the area of music… a few strums from the lead guitarist and I swiftly and harshly develop this crushing kind of judgement towards the guys on stage. As if they’re even there in the first place to please me, satisfying these stupid, unspoken assumptions that I’ve placed on the church… nonetheless, I’ve mentally made my move in this comparison game.
I’m convinced that you’ve got your own specific critical areas too — maybe it’s the branding, or the aesthetics of the sanctuary, or the method of preaching that the preacher adheres to, or even the quality of the latte that you get in the church coffee shop. Don’t play yourself. Even if you’re the pastor, you’re human… you’ve got the comparison gene in you as well, and are constantly looking to satiate the desire to point the finger.
As you can imagine, this isn’t really ideal for the situation of a prospering and growing church. It would seem like the answer to this problem is simple… “Just don’t be judgmental! Duh!” But I would submit that we must change the way that we think about this matter. Here’s my approach… it’s threefold, each point complimentary to the next.
— Every church is the church.
— Every person that you meet in the church is your brother or sister.
— Every time you’re at the church, no matter the location, you’re home.
These principles have completely changed the way that I view church… especially the one about how every person you meet is your brother or sister. This is HUGE *Donald Trump voice*. Instead of playing the role of “critic” at church, play the role of “brother”. Rather than being judgmental and acting on your comparison gene, walk into church with the expectation of absolutely adoring every person that you meet. I’ve been in this season for a while now where my “church home” hasn’t been super constant, because of various extraneous reasons and circumstances. But with this mentality that I’ve subscribed to, every person at every church suddenly feels like family. Whether it’s in Ireland, Los Angeles, Tampa, or Ethiopia, my family is found in the body of Christ, not my preferences.
When you come to church with preconceived notions and judgements, just do yourself and everyone else a favor: Drop em. Kill em dead. You’re not there to play critic or judge or celebrity. You’re there to love and be loved. Your family loves you, and your Jesus has done more than enough to cover the innumerable differences in people that are present in the church. Get to know how the church functions in whatever part of the world that you inhabit… and once you do, immediately do something to stretch your understanding of the church.
I recently heard an example about this topic of in regards to how churches operate differently, and I think it’s brilliant. In listing out the church’s culture and values, this pastor said, “Here’s how we do chicken…” It kinda threw me off, but this is what he meant. When you think about eating chicken, you’ve got a very precise mental image, taste, and even recipe that comes to mind. You know how you know chicken. And when a friend says, “Hey, you should come over for dinner — we’re making chicken!”, you’ve got a certain expectation. But when you sit down to eat and they bring out this strange concoction of a dish that they call “chicken”, you think that they must be doing something wrong. THAT’S not the chicken that you know and love and trust.
It’s not wrong, just different. And thats important to know about church… every church is gonna do church differently. And there’s such value in diversity, especially among something as spectacular as the local church of Christ. The intricacies that make up each individual part of the body of Christ are always gonna vary, because the way that an ear hears is not gonna be the same way that a tongue tastes or an eye sees. While the mission is the same, demographics, cultures, needs, social norms, and preferences must be salient in nature to properly accomplish the goal of excelling at being the church. The church in Ireland is gonna be accommodating in a different way than the church in LA, with different methods and styles… but it’s still the church, and that’s a beautiful thing.
So, don’t play the game. Choose to put your comparisons aside and learn to love the church. It’s sure as heck not easy — it’s not easy to love anyone — but it’s your great opportunity and joy to do your part in advancing the kingdom of God across the earth. It’s far simpler than the politics that we’ve made it all about. It’s about Jesus and people. Never forget that.
I pray that in this day, you broaden your understanding of the miracle that is the local church. By the power of the Holy Spirit within you, I believe that your love for the church can and will reach new dimensions of depth. With any hurt or misunderstandings in the past, look expectantly and boldly to the future, hopeful for the impact that the church can make in this world. You’re loved and accepted and welcome in the church, no matter what the faces look like that greet you at the door. We’re all different, and I pray that you can accept the beauty and advantage that’s presented in that for the church. Our Jesus has enough love for all of us, so don’t be so stingy in giving it away. You’re awesome, friend. In case nobody has told you recently, I love you and am thankful that God saw it fit to make one of you for this world. Carry on, friend, and keep moving forward.