A friend of mine who is a leader in the new Global Methodist Church recently co-authored a book outlining the vision for this new church. In one chapter he writes about what he calls the five stages of church commitment. Here they are.
- NEW—“This is the perfect church.” When we are new to a church, we think: “This is the perfect church! I am going to give it my all!” You and I know this is not realistic. There are no perfect churches and if you ever find one, you will ruin the whole thing the moment you show up.
- CONFUSION—“This church isn’t perfect.” Before long, we get confused about a church and think: “What, this church isn’t perfect!?” When the balloon of our honeymoon at a church is popped by reality, we’re temporarily disoriented and stunned.
- DISENCHANTMENT—“I thought this was a perfect church…” This is the point at which people say, “I have been hurt by the church.” The church isn’t whatever that person thought it would be or should be and they are brought to a crisis point
- DECISION—“I am going to quit this church and look for a perfect church” or “I am going to realize that no church is perfect and serve God anyway.” Here is the deal: even highly effective churches consist of flawed people, flawed systems, and flawed leaders because we live in a flawed and fallen world. Sometimes leaving is the right answer, but much more often the right play is to stay and be a part of making something better.
- MATURITY—“This is an imperfect church!! But it is MY church, and I will give it my all!” Those who grow to this point get ALL the benefits of loving their church, but they are now in a sustainable position to serve effectively for the long haul. They don’t expect that things will be easy, systems will be flawless, and people will never make mistakes.
Greenway, Jeff ; Lowry, Mike. Multiplying Methodism: A Bold Witness of Wesleyan Faith at the Dawn of the Global Methodist Church (p. 125). 313 Publishing. Kindle Edition.
I appreciated the honesty in these statements, I know that no church, certainly not one of which I am pastor will ever be perfect. They also reminded me of how I got to stage five.
You see, there was a time when, if I am honest, I was stuck in stage 4. I was constantly looking for the perfect church and constantly criticizing the existing church for not being what I thought would be the perfect church.
I have often heard people talking about getting a “gentle touch from the Lord” well I think I got a “sanctified kick up the rear” from the Lord. It happened when I read something written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer that German pastor, prophet, and martyr. (A hint, never read Bonhoeffer if you don’t want to be challenged. )
I wanted to share with you what Bonhoeffer wrote about the church that the Lord used to convict me of my arrogance. I encourage you to read these words and reflect deeply on them.
“A great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and if we are fortunate, with ourselves, is bound to overwhelm us as surely as God wants to lead us to an understanding of genuine Christian community. …. The sooner this moment of disillusionment comes over the individual and the community the better for both. …. Those who love their dream of Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial.”
“God hates this wishful dreaming because it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. Those who dream of this idealised community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others, and by themselves. They enter the community of Christians with their demands, set up their own law, and judge one another and even God accordingly.”
“Christian community is not an ideal we have to realise, but rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate. The more clearly we learn to recognise that the ground and strength and promise of all our community is in Jesus Christ alone, the more calmly we will learn to think about our community and pray and hope for it.”
I don’t know what words or phrases stood out to you, but here are the two the Lord spoke powerfully to me through.
I was one of those people who had an idealized dream of what the perfect church should be. My commitment to that dream caused me to have an arrogant and disdainful attitude towards churches that didn’t reach it. Bonhoeffer was right, I said I had the best interests of the church at heart, but the truth was that I was damaging the church rather than building it.
Of course, we need to keep envisioning what God is calling His church to be, but we should not allow that dream to become more important than the church as it is.
The Lord challenged me to keep my passion for the church to be the church but to realize it’s not perfect and to get involved in the community of this imperfect, messy, and at times frustrating fellowship of imperfect Christians, who live messy lives and can be truly frustrating to live with.
That’s how I arrived at stage five of commitment to the church
MATURITY—“This is an imperfect church!! But it is MY church, and I will give it my all!”
So what stage are you at and how did you get there?