It's been a long time since I last posted any really personal thoughts here, but an encounter with some old friends has left my heart very heavy tonight. We met to do our annual NHL playoff draft, which is always good for some laughs and some good-natured mocking of each other's picks. After our drafting was done however, the conversation turned serious as each of my friends expressed their joys and frustrations with their respective churches.
One friend is an associate pastor who was sharing how happy he is at his church and how well things are going for the staff and the congregation. My other two friends (both members of their church boards) were not quite so positive has they shared their frustrations with power struggles, mismanagement of church funds, conflict in leadership, etc.
While I understand their frustrations - each of them were making reasonable points - I sat there without saying very much, as all I could do was grieve for what I was hearing about their church situations. I'm sure the issues they are facing are not unique or isolated to their particular faith communities, but if these problems are as widespread as I expect they are, then God forgive us for turning away from the core message of the gospel. If those who call themselves Jesus followers cannot even get along without arguing and infighting, why should those outside the church walls have any reason to believe our message about the love of God? And why would they ever want to join a movement that sings "they will know we are Christians by our love" but whose actions are the exact opposite of love? While ministry may continue to take place in these situations, I have to question the effectiveness of that ministry.
Why is it that so much energy can be invested in arguments over budgets and buildings when there are people in spiritual and physical need just outside the walls of our church buildings? How can we fight over our religious structures when there are people, people whom God created and loves deeply, who need to be introduced to Jesus and invited to participate in God's kingdom? Who will care for the refugee and the widow, the homeless and the lost, the oppressed and the prisoner? I'm so saddened by it all.
Pray for my friends. Pray for your church leadership. And pray that we would all "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves." (Philippians 2:3, NIV)
The Message puts it this way: "Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don't push your way to the front; don't sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don't be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand."
Forgive us o God for our self-centeredness and for letting our religion get in the way of your message. Forgive us for building our kingdoms instead of yours.