I’ve had this angst now for a while.
It’s just… this unsettled feeling when it came to church.
I knew I wanted something, or was looking for something, but I wasn’t really sure what it was.
To give you a little transparent background, I have to admit I had become pretty disenchanted with church, observing a lack of the intentional and humble pursuit of unity, diversity, and act-what-you-preach living.
The more I learned of God through the church, the more I learned his heart for all peoples and cultures and genders and races. And so I slowly began changing. While it was a very real and organic change, it was also intentional.
Yet that’s when I started observing something. The kind of life I was starting to live began to stand out.
But I thought this was normal? I thought this is what the church stood for, preached and worshipped about? Why would moving into a life that reflected that outside of the church walls be so abnormal?
Why did we gush about how amazing the sermon was about welcoming all people with open arms, no barriers, just as Christ has welcomed us, and then debate about withholding mission support from a Gospel-focused agency due to their different style of worship music? Or have a church gathering that was all the same color, intellect level, economic state and activities when the surrounding community and city did not reflect that ratio? Or preach and condemn sensual clothing and porn but then pass by the prostitute and doing nothing to care for her state of exploitation?
It had all been very confusing to me. I was learning one thing about the heart of God, and seeing another.
So I was trying to figure out this alignment of what I say and how I live.
But even more than that, I was learning of God’s heart for his people to be unified, that we’d be known for love not fractions.
So deep down I wanted that: a gathering of people that was unified and diverse; a place where the unity makes us attractive, but the diversity makes us beautiful.
But I just couldn’t find it. Why wasn’t there one group where all that was present?
Where was the unified, diverse, faith-in-action church?
And I thought the problem was that somewhere there was this ideal church where all these great, amazing beliefs collided together.
I thought it was hidden somewhere, out of sight, that perhaps every other church needed to find this one church and start acting like that one.
I wandered for a while, moving from church to church, staying long enough to partake, but not long enough to commit.
I kept searching for that one.
Praying, considering, waiting, Repeat.
Then tonight happened.
The Pray Chicago gathering and movement. Where churches from all over Chicago came to pray for the peace and hope and Gospel-advance in the city.
It was some of the most normal, extra-ordinary moments I’ve ever had.
The guy next to me was an immigrant from Morocco. The couple in front of me was from South Side. We sang worships songs in several different languages. Leaders from the city read Scripture reading through John 17 in their native tongue: Romanian, Arabic, Spanish, Hindi, Mandarin, Tagalog, Hausa, to name a few.
Worship was extravagant and awe-some.
And I looked around me and literally saw the world.
Nations. Cultures. Races. Together and one.
And we were not fragmenting. And we were real. Really caring and really acting and really believing.
And that’s when I realized it.
That I found it.
This is what I always wanted.
This is The Church.
This beautiful, mis-matched, imperfect, oh-so-glorious group.
Nothing matched, but we blended.
The unfamiliar languages were stark, but at the same time harmonious.
What typically are known as cultural barriers were points of celebration.
And it wasn’t just about the individuals. It was the collective parts of the city coming together as one to intercede to The One.
As the service ended, I sighed.
I just had a taste of heaven.
And that’s what we’re here to do: pursue on earth as it is in heaven.
In Chicago as it is in heaven.
Yes. Yes I found it here.
But if it’s here in Chicago, then it’s in Greenville South Carolina. And it’s in Fort Wayne Indiana. And it’s in Madrid Spain. And it’s in Venice Italy.
So, I had some things to deal with personally.
You see, here’s what I realized that night:
There is no ideal local church.
There is only a Church.
It’s diverse. And it’s unified. And it’s full of good works.
And maybe when I commit to be a part of a really imperfect, un-ideal local church, that I’m committing to the worldwide Church of Jesus and participating in the Big Team’s wholeness.
I used to think that committing to one was saying no to others.
Now I know that saying yes to one is saying yes to all.
To make the macro-Church more unified and diverse, I must participate and struggle forward in the micro-church, no matter how un-unified and un-diverse it is.
And that’s winning.
Because if I don’t show up in this church relationship, then I’m creating a fraction and there’s a diverse spot missing. Just because I didn’t show up.
And when I say “show up,” I mean “give my heart into and commit.”
I don’t think I’m the first person in the world to ever seriously struggle through this. For those of you wanderers out there, I get it. You’ve seen some very real concerns and have probably faced some serious hurt from inside the church.
Yeah, me too.
So hear me out: I don’t think there’s an ideal church out there. Wherever you land, you’ll probably get hurt by someone, you won’t agree with the pastor at some point, you will be dumbfounded by some decisions, you’ll meet some hypocrites, you’ll get disheartened by your own hypocrisies, you’ll be lonely at some point, and you will begin to wonder if, geez, is this even worth it?
Yeah, sounds like work. Committing to anything is ridiculous hard work.
Let me just say that I’m learning it’s not about which building you commit to going to on Sunday morning and having the absolute ideal setting and people around you.
It’s how you interact with them every day. It’s how you serve. It’s how you lay down your life so that another may advance. It’s how you decide to show up. And keep showing up, rain or shine.
If we all did that, even in different, un-ideal settings, wouldn’t we be creating an ideal, unified, diverse Church individually together?
Here’s the thing: one day, our imperfect, struggling churches who flounder in unity and diversity and good works will come together at a really cool celebration in heaven that will look like a super-charged version of Pray Chicago.
And that’s when we will realize that what we always wanted we already had all along.