By Luke Holmes
I wasn’t ready the first time it happened. I was a young, ready to take on the world. Newly married, my wife and I moved to a small town of under 600 so I could be a part-time youth pastor.
Before we left for summer camp, the music minister told me he needed to “put a bug in my ear about something” which quickly turned in a critique of the way my wife and I were doing things. I was completely caught off guard.
I wish I could say that was the last time I was hurt by somebody in the church, but it was only the first of many. After time, the hurts and disappointments in the family of God begin to pile up.
Anyone who has served or has even just been a part of a church for any length of time can tell you the same thing.
This has nothing to do with style of church or denominations either. It happens everywhere. Why stay in a church with difficult people? It’s because there is a special kind of sanctification that can only happen in a family.
It’s not a mistake that the Bible paints a picture of the church as the family of God.
Why would God choose such a difficult institution as the family to express how we receive the inheritance of God? Because living in a spiritual family with those different from us teaches us lessons we can’t learn anywhere else.
It’s in a family that we learn to love each other regardless of how imperfect they are or how imperfect we are to them.
After all, they are family. We have to love them. It’s only in church family that we freely choose to live with these people and seek their good.
This kind of intimacy teaches us true forgiveness. The household of faith that Paul talks about is the place where you are voluntarily around people that you don’t like or have let you down.
This understanding of family does have limits. No one should stay in a situation where they aren’t safe physically or mentally.
Each day the news carries more grim tidings of our fallen world, and the church isn’t exempt from the effects of sin.
We know there are physical families who abuse, exploit, or hurt the members of that family and there are spiritual families that do the same.
As Christians we should be an example to the world of what a beautiful thing a family can be.
When it ceases to be that, we must use wisdom and discernment to know when to step away for the safety and health of ourselves and those we care about.
But apart from those situations, how do you worship in the family of God when the person across the aisle has let you down or even hurt you?
When we choose to be a part of a gathering of believers we’re taught to truly forgive by staying in relationship with them.
Jesus instructs us to “leave our gifts on the altar” and go to our brothers (or sisters) and repair that relationship with them.
The restoration of earthly relationships makes our relationship with God richer and fuller. We can only learn that type of forgiveness in the intimacy of a church family.
Our distance from many news stories makes it hard to feel the full effects of tragedy. Living in the intimacy of a local church family doesn’t allow us to be distant from hardships.
The local church is full of broken families, addictions, deaths, disease, births, celebrations, and more, no matter the size of the assembly.
If we walk away from church we lose the ability to see the good and bad of life play out in others’ lives. We don’t get to share in their sorrow or their joy.
To give up on church is to give up on a place that teaches us what life is all about by seeing it lived out every day.
We don’t gather with the church to see perfectionists, but to see people from all walks of life come together to admit their need for something greater.
The church is an eternal entity made up of temporary people, a timeless body made up of people living in the moment.
The family of God gives us hope that in an increasingly divisive world there exists a place for people who are different to come together.
In the small gathering of local believers the liberal activist sits across the aisle from the fiscal conservative, who is down the row from the homeschool family that takes a meal to the local elementary teacher to let her know they are praying for her.
The leadership of the household of faith might be composed of barbers, farmers, professors, bankers, teachers, but ideally, a mixture of all of them. Their diversity gives the church strength.
The local church is one of the few places that we can intentionally choose diversity in our weekly rhythms of life. When we come together to do this, the church is the “wisdom of God made manifest in the world.”
That doesn’t mean church life is easy. The church can be the greatest source of pain in our lives. It can also be the greatest source of blessing.
To choose the church is to subject ourselves to the kind of sanctification that only happens when we live closely with each other.
To choose the church is to choose to rejoice and laugh with people as well as to choose to hold them when it all comes crashing down.
In church—minus the tragedy and disappointment—we have a brief glimpse of what eternity will be. We must choose church because we believe that someday soon we’ll all be together. So let’s start now.
LUKE HOLMES (@lukeholmes) is husband to Sara, father to three young girls, and pastor at First Baptist Church Tishomingo, Oklahoma since 2011. He’s a graduate of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and can be found online at LukeAHolmes.com.