One summer when I was a little boy, my mom sent me to something called “Vacation Bible School.” If ever there was an oxymoron, that’s it. I knew “Vacation” didn’t have anything to do with “School”. And then you throw the “Bible”-word in the middle and you had all the excitement of an after-school special on dental hygiene.
But I went. Once. We outlined pictures of stained glass and colored them with Crayolas. That was the last time. So each day mom sent me to VBS, I would leave the house to walk two blocks to the church and then promptly slip down a side street to find my buddies and play army instead.
Church held zero interest for me. By sixth grade, my parents no longer made me go. I guess it wasn’t worth the hassle to them. Church, to my little brain, had nothing to offer but monotone talks with no relevance to my world and a waste of good free time on a weekend.
But a funny thing happened in my 20’s: I met Jesus. Everything changed. I found myself challenged, transformed, and empowered…and suddenly the Bible came alive. The Jesus I read there was nothing like my stereotypes. He was radically different. He made the religious people mad, challenged the status quo, and even ticked off His own disciples at times. What’s more, He spoke with an authority like no one I knew. He somehow mixed power with servanthood and love in a way that was stunning.
I liked Jesus. But I still had some problems with His people…this thing called The Church.
At times it seemed so small, so focused on trivialities, inward and self-righteous. Sometimes it seemed that Christians could be incredibly charitable and then turn around and say something ridiculously racist. And why were they so strange on TV with big hair and pounds of makeup and exchanged plastic glow-in-dark crosses for “your love gift of $25”? Sometimes I wondered why there were churches on every corner and why they argued over inconsequential and petty things.
Then one day I had an epiphany:I was one of them. The Church. I was no longer an outsider and could take potshots at what I thought were those hypocritical, judgmental, small-thinking Christians: now I was one of them and attending a local expression. I didn’t see that one coming.
As my literary/spiritual mentor wrote:
“When I first became a Christian, . . . I thought that I could do it on my own, by retiring to my rooms and reading theology, and I wouldn’t go to the churches . . . I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music. But as I went on I saw the great merit of it. I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off. I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren’t fit to clean those boots. It gets you out of your solitary conceit.” ~C. S. Lewis; God in the Dock
Like Toto in Oz, the beloved Bride of Christ has a way of pulling back the curtain on The Great And Powerful Me…and exposing my sham vanities and arrogance.
Leaders, be careful how you view The Church. It doesn’t mean we don’t call out her hypocrisies and faults. It just means we take the plank out of own eye first.
DAVE WORKMAN | Elemental Churches