Recently, I came across a wonderful article from the Christian Century entitled "Do You Actually Want to Be Our Pastor?" The article features an excerpt from a book Love Big, Be Well: Letters to a Small-Town Church, in which a search committee writes an honest letter to potential pastoral candidates and one potential candidate writes back an equally honest letter in response. Below is a link to the original article and I encourage you to read it.
What I love about this piece is it is not simply about a search committee and a potential pastoral candidate, but rather it speaks to the longing I believe all people have, even pastors, to be a part of a church that truly reflects the comlexity, the messiness and the beauty of communal life.
Too often, we hold on to the unrealistic notion and ideal that to be the church means that all is perfect. There will be no conflict, no hard moments; no disappointments and everyone will be on their best behavior.
It is why people are often disillusioned by church life. Yet, the truth is that to be the church means we are called by God to come together as the unique people God has created us to be. In our togetherness, there will be difficult moments because we all come with different expectations, different experiences, different perspectives, and different needs to learn how to accept, appreciate and love those who are different than us.
It is a hard assignment and we will never do it perfectly. In fact, the only way the church could ever be perfect is if there were no people. In many ways being the church means entering into the holy experiment of learning TOGETHER how to be more Christ like.
In the apostle Paul's letter to the churches in Rome, he writes what this holy experiment of being the church, of being the body of Christ looks like.
In Romans 12, verses 9-21, Paul writes about what that transformation can look like when the focus is not on ourselves, but instead in being in humble service in the body of Christ.
9Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
10Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.
16Live in harmony with one another.
17Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
18If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
19Do not take revenge,
20On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head."
21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
I think Romans 12 is one of the most beautiful passages that offers us a template for what it means to be the church. Although, it sounds a bit daunting, it comes down to one thing-LOVE.
Just like the fictitious letters featured in the Christian Century article, there is essentially one question we have in looking for a true church home--Will you love me?
If people visiting our churches were to write honest letters of what they are seeking in a church, their letters might read something like this:
Dear potential church,
Will you show me love, acceptance, and forgiveness?
Will you love me enough that I can be myself without fear of being judged, shunned or turned away?
Will I be able to be honest about every part of my life?
Will you look at me only as someone who can serve on a committee?
Or someone whose children can up your attendance in Sunday School or youth group?
Or someone whose offering might help balance the budget?
Or will you look at me as someone you can grow alongside of?
Someone you can cry with? Someone you can curse the darkness with?
And ultimately someone who can be a trusted friend to share in the journey of faith?
A potential new member