I grew up in a tiny church, and one of the central lessons that were repeated over and over was this: Christians do good for the world. We were an imperfect little group, and we had our petty (even mean) people who would occasionally slip and let their lesser angels show, but, generally, we tried hard to make the world a better place. We would help people in need when we could, and we lived a life of quiet devotion and faithfulness. I learned the best – and the worst – about the church, and I think that this real experience of the church has enabled me to stay in the ministry while so many of my peers have left it. The church is filled with people, so yes, it is messy at times. It is also a beautiful place where God’s light shines, sometimes because of us; sometimes in spite of us.
Even with this kind of experience, I am still astounded when people use the church. The Colorado mega-church pastor who was lobbying for strict laws against the LGBTQ community turned out to be gay. The Catholic priest urged his congregation to give sacrificially, and then was found out to have stolen over $400,000 dollars from the till. The layperson who so faithfully served her Lutheran congregation as treasurer who, after stealing from her church for 10 years, got caught by the new pastor – who was then let go because the congregation was angry at him for doing his job. These kinds of things happen more than you know, but churches have a way of dropping a cone of silence on these unsavory events, believing they can keep these secrets forever. They can’t.
Even the little things eat away at our sense of community. The family that comes to church for two weeks to get the kid “done” (baptized); the couple that wants a pretty backdrop for their perfect wedding event; the outsiders who infiltrate a local church to take them out of the denomination because that church is open to people the new people consider to be “outside of God’s grace” – there are so many ways people use the church for nefarious and selfish purposes, and it not only makes us all look bad, it injures the good work being done by the vast majority of people who are just trying to follow Jesus.
I know that the only way the church will be perfect is when we are with God in heaven; as long as people run it, it will be flawed. I also know that the best way to minimize these kinds of abuses is to make sure that there is accountability in everything. I was told by a few older members that one of my beloved predecessors used to meet with select board members in what he called “the meeting after the meeting”. No congregation can be fully focused on its work if decisions are made in secret. Jesus told His followers to put their lights on top of the bushel so that all can see. The church is supposed to do good, and abstain from harm. It is our job to make sure that happens as much as possible.
Prayer – While we seek to always be good, merciful God, we also are flawed and foolish people. Forgive us when we fail, and encourage us when we succeed to do Your work. Amen.