I hesitate to write this, for several reasons. Among them: I do not want to be perceived as writing only about the congregation of which I am a part, because I am not. The Church (capital T capital C) is much bigger than we are, and I see these things in both my own denomination and in The Church (especially the American Church) in general. I do not want to be arrogant--my perceptions are just that: mine. I do not want to create drama…there's enough of that already.
But I also see things I think need to be said.
Every January, the President gives a speech on The State of The Union…and he inevitably says that the state of our union is strong. Even when that is patently untrue, every president says it.
So what about the state of The Church?
Here is what I see in The Church.
I see a lack of trust--of each other, of the leaders we believe God has called for us, and of God.
I see a lack of resources--in part because we choose to spend our money, our time, and our energy elsewhere, and in part because there are fewer of us than ever.
I see an urgent desire to return to the way things used to be, when things seemed more predictable, church attendance was culturally mandatory, and the church was the center of social life.
I see an urge for every congregation to be all things to all people.
I see an inability to handle disagreement or conflict without triangulation, gossip, withdrawing, and withholding grace.
I see a pervasive spirit of comparison--constantly trying to figure out how we can be like this or that other church that seems to have all the people and all the money.
I see an unfulfilled longing for true community.
I see us holding tightly to the things we desire, and ending up with no hands free to grasp what God desires.
I see us hurting each other when we don't get our own way.
And I see imperfect people learning from other imperfect people who followed Jesus (through scripture, through study groups, through prayer).
I see people singing together even though that's not something our culture does anymore.
I see people spending their nights staffing a homeless shelter.
I see people longing to share how their lives have been changed.
I see people who write cards to every person who visits, or gets sick, or has a birthday.
I see people who read Scripture together and pray for guidance on how best to explore that reading in a worshipping community.
I see people who discuss hard theological questions out in public.
I see people who get dirty in order to grow food for others.
I see people who give hours and hours (along with dollars and dollars) to make a building a welcoming space for people who are cold, who need a rehearsal space, who need a safe place to admit their addiction, who want to learn, who need a place to eat and sleep.
I see artists who use paint, music, dance, and words to express grace.
I see people who know they can walk through Church Doors and find help.
I see people who advocate for justice in every imaginable arena.
I see people who don crazy outfits and sing terrible songs in order to help kids become friends with Jesus.
I see people who have known great joy through their church and want others to know that joy too.
Most of all, I see the face of Jesus in each of those people.
So…while the picture may seem bleak from the outside, or from the perfectionist side, or from the view of someone who wishes that all of us lived in the Kingdom of God right now, the reality is that all those people, in all their small and large acts of faithfulness, are what makes the church. The Church is not a building, not a governance structure, not an institution--the church is a Body made up of many members, and it's those people who remind me, one by one, that the State of the Church, while it could be stronger, is actually pretty darn good.
Don't get me wrong, we have room for improvement--just like the Union does. But the foundation is there, if only we'll build on it.