Why Church?

Why Church?

They came bearing casseroles and cakes, paper plates and folding chairs. The tiny house in front of the dairy barn was filled with folks from all over the surrounding countryside. My grandfather died during the night, quite unexpectedly and word of it passed quickly in the farming community of Putnam County. I was 12 years old, confused and devastated, but comforted by all those older women who mothered me in the days ahead. Solemn men wearing weathered Liberty overalls stood out in the yard, kicking dust, telling stories that made me laugh and reminded me what a fine man my grandfather was to so many.

That is church.

I was a young preacher and remembered the time I saw church members surround this well-loved, but now devastated middle-age lady. Her son was arrested the previous week on drug charges. I had visited the young man shortly after his arrest, held his hand while he cried out of shame and disappointment, and assured him that our love was steadfast. His family was not giving up on him and neither was I.

That is church.

One Sunday we awkwardly sang songs in a “blended” worship service – a curious hybrid of hymns, modern praise choruses, drums, guitars and pipe organ. A guy with tattoos running up his neck wearing a sleeveless t-shirt, belted out his praise right beside a demure widow who was a bit uncertain about it all, but grateful for the big crowd that Sunday. Some people groused and complained, but I still carry that image with me of the big man with tattoos beside the little elderly lady holding a hymnal together.

That is church.

A phone call was taken and in the brevity of a few words it was learned that John’s only remaining relative died a couple of days ago. John is an adult with developmental disabilities and was living alone in a dilapidated trailer. He was afraid and lonely and heart-sick, living in a world that too quickly values intellect and power. Once the urgency was discovered, a minister stepped in, rallied her church to do something, and a group home was founded. John now lives safely and lovingly with friends not far from where he grew up. Oh, and John sings every Sunday in the choir.

That is church.

Church can be incorrigible and narrow-minded. Church can be political and short-sighted. Church can be disappointing and frustrating. I can say this about every institution I have ever been a part of, including my very own family.

Often I read and have conversations with people giving up on the church, leaving the church, or never being a part of the church in the first place. I understand, I really do. I have wanted to storm out from time to time too, for all of the above reasons and more. “I can just love Jesus on my own, beyond the walls,” I say to no one in particular.

It is helpful to remember that Jesus was quite frustrated with his religious community too. Yet he kept going, kept worshiping alongside men and women, and kept challenging others to a higher way of knowing, living and behaving. Jesus engaged the community of faith – Pharisees and sinners; Scribes and nobodies; tax-collectors and harlots – with the unyielding hope that together, in community, it is important to love one another, love the neighbor, and love God…Together.

I need a place and a people to love and be loved; I need a place and a people to find community; I need a place and a people who will hold me accountable as we seek to live out God’s purpose and mission for this world. I need a place and a people to practice the faith in community and in the world.

By God’s grace we are kept in this grace…together. There is always room for more.

Peace,

Greg

22 Comments

  1. Amen and Amen!

    Thank you, Greg, for displaying grace to so many.

    We love you and Amy!

  2. Powerful and so true!

  3. Takes almost a lifetime to collect experiences like those but makes a truth filled message. Amen

  4. Always enjoy your posts!! They bring back memories and remind me that Jesus’s command was to love one another as He loved us!! Thank you

  5. Well said! Thank you

  6. Greg, you always project the most meaningful thoughts. I appreciate the descriptions of “the church.” I am still healing from experiences in “the church,” and yet among the difficult times there were also many memorable times. I still struggle – in or out? Haven’t decided! But thank you for your blogs!

  7. Putnam county in Ga or FL?

  8. The descriptions of church touch me. I tend to focus on the pain I’ve experienced in the name of God and through the church rather than the love given and received. Thank you for helping me to open my heart a little wider.

  9. Many thanks for your thoughts, Greg. Only by God’s grace. Amen

  10. Georgia, Eatonoton is the county seat (and the only town for that matter!)

  11. Greg, I always enjoy reading your thoughts.

    Blessings to you and Amy……

  12. Greg thanks for your good words. We just finished studying Searching for Sunday, by Rachel Held Evans. It’s a very well written, expressive book, about her personal search for connection and meaning with the church, sometimes painful, often inspiring. I suggest it as a good read (from a 30 something) about why we stay connected to this very vexing institution. I’ll look forward to your next post.

  13. Enjoyed this very much.

  14. Thank you Greg for the reminder. I needed this!

  15. Thank YOU for being church to me and so many others for 10 years. Peace and blessings to you and Amy.

  16. My parents took us to church. They are gone. I still go to to church every Sunday,

  17. Beautifully written and well put. Thanks for the words!

  18. So well written. You summized my thoughts and so agree that people have wandered away from the church and do not find time to put God in their lives. You are very missed. I always loved your way of making me leave church with words and thoughts that guided me into the next week. Thank u for sharing this.

  19. So well written. Thank you.

  20. Such a beautiful and moving message about church, and how we live out Jesus command to love one another. Thank you.

  21. What wonderful and true commentary!

  22. Greg you know you are right where God wants you to be . Every minister can’t be all things to all people. All the things about your childhood you will never ever forget.. We are what we are because of what we have been through.
    Love ya
    Peggy Ludwick