This Sunday marks a change in the life of my church. We're changing our name. It's a big deal for some-- and not such a big deal for others (me). A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, after all. This has been my church family since moving to Florida in 1998, so I know it intimately. It's a biggish church, Southern Baptist in denomination, and, like any other church of any size or denomination, we're often times a hot mess. But this hot mess is my family, and even if I sometimes feel aggravated to the point of distraction, I love them.
For me, there is much fuel for aggravation, but I think the irritation has a fair amount to do with the fact that I'm a Montana girl, and this is the South. Being so close to Miami, this band of believers is an eclectic blend of Deep Dixie South mixed with a fiery dose of Spicy Latin Zing Both come with their fair share of attitude and issues, bless them. (We from the Northwest, of course, we have zero issues or attitudes. Not.) Suffice it to say that I am jeans and T-shirt in a land where the choices are panty-hose and sensible dresses or flamboyant frills and spike heels. I'm the proverbial square peg, and the holes in Florida are either round or triangular. Consequently, it's not always what you would call comfortable for me here. As you can see, these are not really doctrinal aggravations. Just personal challenges.
My church is also proudly a Southern Baptist church, and I am a product of a "non-denominational" faith influence, so I don't necessarily find the term Baptist something to be proud of (or ashamed of, for that matter). We're all Christians, so Jesus should be the only thing we're proud of. Anyhow, because of the difference in my background, my church has dearly held traditions and practices that I have to confess drive me just the teeniest bit nuts. In these seventeen years, there have been many times when I have disagreed deeply with the way things were run or attitudes that were held. (In fairness, when we first joined the church, we knew exactly what we were getting. Not to mention the fact that I joined them; they didn't join me.) Still, there have been several occasions when the differences led me to consider finding another church family...one where I fit better.
Except, here's the thing:
As itchy as it can sometimes feel to be a black sheep, this is my family, and you don't just quit your family because they occasionally make you crazy. Ultimately, it's not about my preferences or my opinions. Nearly every thing that makes me nuts is a non-essential in terms of eternity. Even though I might do things differently if I ran the church (which is NEVER gonna happen, by the way, so you can breathe easy as far as that goes), there has never been a doubt in my mind that our leaders love Jesus and love people. I may have disagreed with some actions or decisions, but any time that I have looked beyond the action to the heart of the person, what I see there is love.
Sure, we have a tendency to bicker and wound and judge and sometimes behave selfishly, but this family also loves big and cares for the hurting and offers grace in abundance. And here's a newsflash: EVERY closely knit gathering of flawed humans--religious or otherwise--is going inflict some wounds.
That's why community is risky. People are just messy.
While the official church priorities may not always be the same ones I have, this church body--through the lives of individual members--is reaching into the world and our neighborhoods without fanfare or grand production. As individual members of a bigger body, we are making a difference in many ways, some that I am aware of (foster care, community service camps, pregnancy centers, teaching ESL, restoration homes for victims of trafficking, care and service for sick or invalid friends) as well as others I probably can't even begin to imagine. Knowing that, it's really not necessary for the church policy to cover every type of ministry I find vital--because the people of the church are living their lives in such a way that loving the world doesn't require church staff or an official program. I kind of appreciate that the church leadership doesn't have to be in charge of every single act of ministry. I like the fact that as a church community we can come to church to increase our learning, worship together, share our passions and ideas, support one another and then GO OUT and love the world.
So here's my cry: They are not perfect, but this is my family.
May we grow in humility, wisdom, transparency, intimacy and courage because we strive to love like Jesus.
Jesus, give us humble hearts to hear and respond to truth. May each person engage in a way that is brave and true, and may each leader humbly show up and lead in a way that is brave and true. Let us each own our place and give others the freedom and grace to own theirs. May we as a body be intricately and openly part of Your Church in the world and not a separate entity with our own agenda. May we allow one another to be flawed and may our love for one another come from Your Spirit in such a way that we can see the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.
Happy Launch Day, Crosslife Church. I really do love you.