Embracing the Struggle: How Church Membership Puts the Gospel on Display
The following is a guest post by Trevor King. Trevor is a good friend and provides leadership over the membership process at our church. I have always appreciated the way he articulates the importance of church membership, so I wanted him to share it with you all. This is a good read, and may even be convicting for you. Enjoy the post!
“They had a lot of problems.” You might be amazed at how many times I hear these words from people who desire to join my local church as members. Many times the reason they’re leaving their current church boils down to vague statements: “We just didn’t see eye-to-eye.” “They had a lot of issues.” “We just couldn’t get on board.”
To the credit of these would-be members, maybe the problems were theological. After all, just because a group of people calls themselves a “church” doesn’t make them a church. So I’m not saying that you should never leave a church or that it’s always wrong to leave. But often these aren’t deep disagreements on theology or doctrine. The struggles are simpler and a little less pious.
When pressed, the answers get a little clearer. “They weren’t very focused on missions.” “They weren’t very hospitable.” “They didn’t seem open to hearing what I thought.” “They were hard to connect with.” “I just didn’t feel welcomed.”
The common denominator is obvious. They have a problem. Essentially, they aren’t doing what I think they should be doing. They aren’t what I think they should be.
And if this were a country club, a home owner’s association, or a workers’ union, these prospective members would be right. They’ve paid their dues. They’ve signed the check. They have part ownership. Things should have worked out. So what was the problem?
The Church is Something Different
The problem is that we’re not talking about a country club, a home owner’s association, or a workers’ union. We’re talking about the church — the pillar and foundation of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15). And the church — bought by the blood of Jesus, with a common faith and common mission — is a very real, deeply connected, blood-bought-and-bound family.
When we put our faith in Jesus Christ, we become part of this family, for better or for worse. This means we step into all the glory, all the goodness, all the blessing. It also means we step into all the struggle, all the muck of sin, all the heartache, and all the interpersonal conflict. In marriage, we don’t get to pick and choose the moments we love and accept our spouse. We said yes, entered in, and committed to it all. How much more to the Bride of Christ.
Theirs, Mine, & Ours
The temptation when things get hard or when we don’t feel like we’re getting a fair deal is to jump. We back away, raise a hand, and say, “_They_have a problem.” Have you felt this — the desire to throw your hands up and forge ahead to somewhere less problem-prone?
But running from the struggle isn’t the way of the Christian — chiefly because it’s not the way of the Christ. We’re called to step into the problems, the shortcomings, and the failures, rather than run from them. God has brought us into this family, so their problem becomes my problem. Their_struggle becomes _our struggle. The problems I may see in this local church aren’t something to balk at and run from; they’re something to take on as my own problem.
When we step into the struggles of our local church, we seek to be part of the solution. I’m not talking running over people and making power-plays. We prayerfully and gently seek to walk through problems together with leaders and other members. When we stop seeing the problems as theirs, and start seeing them as ours, we begin to see our place in the story — working together for the good of the church and the glory of God.
Faith. Hope. Love.
When we have an “ours” perspective, we display a common faith. We show that Jesus is better than all the struggles and all the problems any group of people may face. We hold up the common, uniting tenets of our faith and rally around them together. We put our eyes on the Savior.
When we have an “ours” perspective, we display a common hope. We display a hope that the Lord can and will help us reconcile, heal, and move forward united in the gospel. We show the world today what things will be like in the coming Kingdom. The people of God — the inheritors of the earth — put on display what life in God’s Kingdom looks like.
When we have an “ours” perspective, we display a common love. We reveal that what Christ has done has truly transformed us. The Spirit of God in us empowers us to love one another just as Christ has loved us. The King of the universe went to the cross as a display of love for us, so we can lay down our pride, our preferences, and our own purposes out of love for one another.
The Pillar of Truth
Christian, when you enter into the struggles, when you make whatever issues that concern you “ours” instead of “theirs,” you display genuine faith, hope, and love with fellow brothers and sisters in the gospel. And when this happens, when you give up all pretense for the good of your brothers and sisters, you do something extraordinary. You preach the gospel to the world.
You hold up, as an embassy of the Kingdom of God, the ethics, culture, and values of the Kingdom and the King, Himself. When the childcare may seem to lack what you want for your kids, when the sound guy can’t seem to turn it up enough, when small groups aren’t as missional or discipleship-focused or fellowship-loving as you think they should be, you step in. You humbly enter into the family to love them as Christ does, with all the warts, and all the flaws. And you recognize the evidences of grace that God uses you, with all your warts and flaws, and places you into a community that He created and ordained to take the message about the Savior to the ends of the earth.
Photo By Randy Heinitz