No Perfect Churches
I had to come to grips with something many years ago as I was entering my second decade of serving in various leadership roles within the Church:
The perfect church doesn't exist.
It doesn't. No matter how hard you might try to find the perfect faith community, you won't. The best you can do is try to find one where you feel a sense of belonging, which, as it turns out, is infinitely more important than belief.
Beliefs change. Belonging lasts.
And I'm using the word "church" here because that's the terminology that is close to my own journey. You might have a different name for it, and that's perfectly all right.
All those years ago when I began processing the whole "no-perfect-church" notion, an idea formed in my head and it never left. In fact, I've been propelled forward by that idea for a long time now, and it has proved to be both costly and unbelievably rewarding.
This is typically the case with big ideas that propel you forward, isn't it? The whole risk/reward thing is very real, and sometimes very scary.
You are probably wondering what that idea was. Here it is in a nutshell:
I wanted to be the pastor of a church that was open and inclusive to everyone, unashamedly Jesus-centered, thoughtful about Scripture, passionate about justice and mercy, innovative and creative in worship, devoted to doing mission, welcoming to children and families, and dedicated to helping people grow in their faith and life.
Here's the funny thing---I'm pretty sure I'm describing the church I currently lead, which brings me a lot of joy. Mind you, my church is far from perfect... Still, it's a good feeling.
But more importantly, I'm describing the kind of person I am striving to be. Because that is where it all begins---this journey toward finding the "perfect" church. It begins in your own life.
When you begin living the things you are longing for in community... embodying the change you desire around you... becoming your best and truest self... it's a powerful thing. And that kind of power/energy spreads and transforms things along with it.
It took a Buddhist teacher to help me understand this more deeply. Thich Nat Hahn wrote this exhortation to the Christian church, and it blew me away:
Church-building does not mean just organizing. Church-building means leading your life in such a way that the Church becomes more and more tolerant, understanding, and compassionate so that every time the people go to the Church they can touch the Holy Spirit.
The problem is, we tend to want to hang out with people who look like us, act like us, talk like us, believe like us, and even vote like us. So the kind of "Church-building" that Hahn is talking about here can be challenging.
In the low moments when I've despaired over the cost of this big idea I've been pursuing all these years, I simply remember what Jesus himself taught about being "perfect."
He told his followers that in order to be "perfect" they needed to see the world as God sees the world, which is through the lens of love, grace, and mercy.
If your faith community or church is using that lens to cast a vision out into the world, it cannot fail in its task to be a conduit of the Holy Spirit, and the embodiment of God's kingdom to its neighbors.
May your soul be ignited by a fiery passion to become the change and transformation you desire not only in the Church but also in the world around you. May you embody God's kingdom of peace by looking through the perfect lens of love, grace, and mercy.
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.