One of the leaders in our church urged me to turn what happened a couple of weeks ago into an article, and so here we go.
On a recent Sunday at our church’s gathered worship service, I noticed a new person with us and struck up a conversation with them over morning tea. As a minister, there’s something wired into us from training or instinct that sees us ask questions about, and listen to, people’s stories. So as I asked and sipped my coffee, this lady new to our church told us her story of being a “church shopper” (I’m not a fan of the term, and prefer “church-finding” as it sounds less consumer-driven). We had a great conversation about the gospel, and our new friend said she came to Reforming looking for a church. So far this event is normal, and by my recounting of it you might even be bored. But it’s what happened next where things got interesting.
For I said to our visiting sister in Christ, “We are not the best church in Bendigo”.
There were a couple of others from Reforming listening, and I could see the surprise on their faces, and could almost read their minds… “What are you doing Russ?! We want people to like our church and join our church!” Yet I hope what I followed up with by way of explanation in the conversation, and in this article, will help.
You see it’s true. We are not the best church in Bendigo. Not because we plan to fail you, or don’t plan a strategy that is faithful to the Scriptures, or just like failing… but because we seek to be shaped by gospel-honesty. I explained to our church-finding friend that we are not the biggest church, we are not the most resourced church, we are not the church with the best preachers or personalities, we don’t have the best music or whatever one may rate a church on. We simply love Jesus and one another, and seek to love our neighbours. But let’s be honest, if you’re looking for a church in Bendigo, then we are not the best. Actually, there isn’t one that fits that category.
Now, I said what I said because I’m so used to having people join church only to find disappointing things about it later. Surprise! Yet, we shouldnt be. We should not be surprised when we find the church we join, or even planted, is not perfect, and is not even the best one in town. I think that the reasons we get surprised when churches fail us, or are even just mediocre, are two-fold.
Firstly, it’s been happening far too much, and for far too long, that pastors and leaders of churches have been saying from the front (or to visitors over morning tea) that “our church is the best church in town.” Sadly I have heard this more than once, and once is enough. It comes across as arrogant, and defensive. It’s very off-putting, and I don’t know why any Church-loving Christian ever thinks it’s helpful for anyone. It’s not. It’s repellant.
Secondly, our expectations are way, way, way misplaced. This is where we need to hear the gospel of grace again. We have come to believe that the church “is the hope of the world”, when actually Jesus is the hope of the world. Now, please don’t mis-hear me, I LOVE the church. The Scriptures show us that if a Christian doesn’t love the church and join a local body then there is something un-Christian about this. The church is Jesus’ body and bride, and we are to love her. But we too easily have placed expectations upon the church to be perfect and fulfill every need, when in fact that is Jesus’ job.
Now I outlined these two points to our church-finding friend that Sunday a couple of weeks ago, and explained how the gospel frees us to admit we as a church are weak, and that the power the world needs belongs to Jesus. And her response? She found this liberating. She was pointed to Jesus, and that happened by a church pointing out our weaknesses and His strength. For her, for you, I pray that this means you really know who we are, we are re-forming. I also pray that it shows you who Jesus really is.
We are not the best church in Bendigo, but we are a local body of the best person Bendigo has ever seen – Jesus Christ.