This morning my husband and I were introduced as members of the church, along with several other families. This wasn’t our official ‘joining’; as a newly organized church we have already done that; this was just a way of actually introducing the families who make up the church. But as I was getting ready for church this morning I began reflecting on what makes a church ‘good’. What is it about this church that drew me in where others left me cold? This is by no means an exhaustive list, and it may look different from your list, but these are my thoughts.
1. Real church cuts across denominational lines. No one denomination, worship style, etc. has a lock on all that is true and holy and biblical. In fact, we probably all get it wrong in some places some of the time. I’ve been in churches and movements where it was subtly or not so subtly proposed that somehow we knew a truth that all of those other churches ‘out there’ didn’t get. And that gets confusing when you run up against something in your church that you aren’t sure you agree with. Our church is now a merged congregation of the Mennonite Church and the Christian Missionary and Alliance Church. How cool is that? Breaking down walls and declaring that as part of something bigger, as part of the body of Christ we aren’t going to let names separate or define us anymore.
2. Real church allows questions. It acknowledges that as humans we are going to struggle to understand the mind of God, to understand the word He left behind for us, to understand how and why He works the way He does in the world both in the past and in the present. Didn’t it always irritate you as a kid when you asked your parent a tough question and their answer was “Because I’m the parent and I said so, you don’t get to ask the questions.” (Well, ok, maybe you were lucky enough to have parents that let you question with freedom.) But it is frustrating to be told you shouldn’t have a question because that doesn’t take the question away, it just makes you feel guilty for having it. What better place to struggle with the big questions than in a church, where we can learn together?
3. You shouldn’t have to be a ‘certain way’ to belong to a church. Yes, different churches will often ultimately draw different types of people through their worship style, outreach ministries, etc. But as the body of Christ on earth it’s our job to show His acceptance to everyone who walks through our doors. Side note here, I don’t think cliques have any place in the body of Christ. Nothing makes it harder on a newcomer than to realize that everyone has their own little ‘group’ already and they are so content with who they relate with that they don’t want anyone else coming in and messing up their dynamic. This was my experience in the church I grew up in. Or rather, I should say, my mother’s experience. New to the church, she tried to join several Bible studies only to be told that they were really quite full and why not consider starting her own? What a way to welcome a new person! In all the years that we attended there I do not recall my mother making any close friends of her own age. And so I grew up in a church where we were always a bit the outsiders, where I was never quite pretty enough, or popular enough or well dressed enough to fit in with the rest of my class. Insecurity for me began in the church. It should be the other way around. I love that at my church now we are a blend that welcomes ties, tattoos, dreadlocks and Dockers.
4. Related to point 3; church shouldn’t be a place of plastic perfection. Church comes with real people and real people come with hurts and baggage and some Sundays we can barely drag ourselves through the door. But we come, and there we find other people with struggles, some the same, some different, but ALL with struggles. It is in watching other people struggle that we can sometimes find grace for our own battles. How frustrating it would be for me, two days out from almost being checked into a mental hospital, to walk into church and feel that everyone there had it together except me, that I was the only one falling apart on the inside? I don’t think I’d be back. No, we can’t all walk around wearing our weaknesses on our sleeve, but there’s something in the air of a church that is genuine, something we sensed when we first entered the church we are a part of now. I still struggle with trying to put on that mask of perfection, but God is gently prying it from my hands and I don’t think I want it back.
There are other points I could make, other things to say, but in many ways they all fit under the umbrella of those points. Ultimately, I like the way the vision statement for our church lays it out: Belong, Question, Share, Grow. I love my church, and I’m glad to be a part of it. I hope that I succeed at making other new people feel as welcomed as we did when we first came. (That’s a big task for a naturally shy person, but I don’t think it lets me off the hook.)
Oh, and one final note; if you happen to be within driving distance of Sioux Falls, come check us out! Mercy Church I’ll be the shy one who probably won’t say much, but I promise I’ll at least smile at you.