We have been talking about community and the body of Christ a lot in church recently. As I contemplate how it has and continues to form who I am, I am just amazed. There have been times in the last months that I have found my self weeping in church with gratitude and joy for how God has used His body to impact me, love me and change me.
I grew up in the church and if you have, you know that it has real potential to cause hurt, cynicism and doubt. I cannot say that I came out unscathed. The body of Christ can really be very dysfunctional. However, when I look back, just like my family of origin, the body of Christ really just needed to be ‘good enough’ to accomplish the goal. It did. I experienced God over and over.
In the church I grew up in, I particularly experienced two characteristics of God, His love and faithfulness. A few examples would be: Mary my Sunday School teacher in kindergarten blessed me with her genuine smiles and hugs. I thought, "She must really like me." My great-aunt Millie E. taught the next grade up and she enthusiastically taught us bible stories (yes, on flannel graphs as I recall). Love. Larry played the piano at church most of my growing up years. He is a very gifted pianist and yet humbly played for our children’s choir, eventually my wedding and recently my Dad’s funeral. Faithful.
Over the years there were numerous adults, youth and children that were regular attenders and members at this church that I always knew would be at events. They cheered me on when I sang in the choir, did ridiculous parts in musicals, led children’s church, participated in youth events, graduated High School etc. They knew me and my family and loved us with their steady presence and common pursuit of community. This body was a safe place for me to explore my talents and gifts.
When I went to college, I was not only finding my independence as a young woman from my family but also my church. I explored at deeper levels what I believed and also whether where I had come from was where I wanted to go. Initially I was very critical of both my family and the part of God’s family I grew up in. During college I attended all sorts of churches. Some churches encouraged me to grow the emotional side of my faith, some the intellectual and some the practical. As I experienced each of these, I held a microscope up to where I had come from. Sometimes what I examined wasn’t pretty. But, they were there, being obedient to Christ’s call to be His body and meet together. If that was all they did (even though it wasn’t) it potentially would have been enough for me to experience God and for Him to be glorified.
Then I went to graduate school. I found a church that really lived out God’s call to be a body of believers that simply pursued after Christ and loved each other. Gospel. There I met and married my husband. They walked with us by discipling, encouraging and challenging us. When we hit hard times, they were steadfast and unwavering in their support. They spoke hard things when they needed to be said. Truth.
As we moved to Memphis, we were broken. We desperately needed God’s people to come through. When we connected to believers here, we found forgiveness, love, support and healing. God has shown us His practical provision through the body of Christ through four different cars being given to us, monetary help, places to live with no rent charged and the list goes on and on. It has been so humbling to see God’s people love and provide.
In the body of believers we are currently in we have begun raising our children. I already am so amazed at how our children are loved and cared for. I am excited to see how our children flourish by being apart of the body and seeing their parents participate in fellowship.
"The church is a whore and she is my mother." This quote by St. Augustine rings true for me. The church I grew up in was less than perfect and yet I believe still accomplished for me the overall goal of what God has called us to. They represented God to me by reflecting Him through relationship.
I write this mostly as a testimony to those who find the faults of the church so overwhelming and frustrating that they choose not to participate. I probably would agree with most if not all the accusations thrown at the church. We are messed up. But, that is kind of the point. If we can press in and experience even a taste of God through each other, how wonderful. If we can walk along side of each other when we all are hurting, how beautiful. Some of what God has done in my life has come in simply pushing through to be in relationship even when I felt really frustrated, dirty, disgusted and hopeless. Just simply surrendering and participating in a body of believers EVEN if they are messed up still positions us (me) to experience what God has created to happen there.
Trust me, I don’t get it. I don’t truly understand what happens when we commune. But something does...He comes.
By Mackenzi Groff, October 25, 2009