It started slowly, I think, with a change of scenery. I bought the lie that church is better done in one part of the country than the other. It started as, “the southern church is broken,” and a couple of disappointments later I was easily convinced: the church is broken. Cynicism shows no geographical boundaries.
Church brokenness is, of course, true, but the lie comes when I tell myself that if I were in control, I would know how to fix her. That I would focus on the “right” things, that I would bring into clarity what the local church seems to be missing as a whole.
Brené Brown reminded us all in the past few years what Teddy Roosevelt kept saying: the trophy belongs to the one who resides in the arena. I spent my days thinking that I was in uniform, giving my all, and playing the game. I went to church, I volunteered, I played the game. And yet my uniform was spotless, my skin was unbroken, my face unmarred. I hadn’t earned even a scratch.
My negativity festered, until I could stand on a pedestal at any moment and proclaim: “Let me tell you what’s wrong with the church right now. I can show you charts and figures, news articles and personal testimonies. I can have you convinced. Just give me five minutes, and you’ll be angry too.”
Love the church?
I continued on being angry and beckoning others to join me until I was given a gentle reminder that that a minister’s first role is to love the church. “Love the church?” I thought. “That broken mess? Why would God want me to do that? We don’t need to love it, we need to change it.”
Then I heard my own words again, “We don’t need to love the church, we need to change it.”
Obviously, that thinking is backwards, practically and theologically, and I can see that plain as day now. But at the time, I would have told you that I did love the church. That this was what I wanted to do, to lay down my life for God, and to bring change to his system. That is love.
What I had forgotten over time was that when I threw my rocks of rage, claiming my bold statements, I wasn’t only throwing at a building, at an institution. I was throwing stones at real, breathing, hurting people.
I was throwing rocks at thousands of years of people, bruised for the sake of the gospel. Men and women who were bringing actual change by loving their congregations and the flock set under them by God, loving people through brokenness and trial and error. I was throwing rocks at the people in the church, the ones who had met God and were daily fighting for holiness, although the way is narrow and the road is steep.
I threw stones at flesh and blood, people who had potential to be deeply hurt by it.
I wanted to move people towards love for Christ and yet there I stood, hands calloused from throwing stones.
So to the church, to the body of believers, to the men and women leading this charge and those walking under them, I am sorry. The body is more than just terrible news stories, failures and forgetfulness. The body is the Lord’s and I am sorry that I didn’t treat you as such.
I am sorry that my voice was loud and raging and spread more harm than good with all my church cherry-picking. I am sorry that as the one who is called to minister to you, I forgot to love you first.
Cover image by Nadine Shaabana.