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Unlike the sheep in Lynne’s upper field, something far beyond safety happens when followers of Jesus come together. Throughout the New Testament, we are reminded of the things God works in and through us as we live in community.
Colossians 3:1-17 challenges us individually and corporately to live out our days in a way that is pleasing to God. As the people of God, holy and wholly loved, we are to clothe ourselves with gentleness and patience, forgiving others (and ourselves) at every turn, overflowing with love and thankfulness. The apostle Paul writes, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (vv. 15-17, NIV).
In the company of fellow believers, our own sinful nature, petty grievances and selfish desires are exposed, not so that we become divided and bitter, but so that we may be set free, redeemed and transformed into all God has called and created us to be. The church becomes the formative foundation where we learn to live out the ministry of reconciliation (see 2 Cor. 5:18).
The church has never been about what we can get out of it as much as what we can give through it. As members of the body, we have the opportunity to grow together and learn how to function properly with our unique gifts, talents and callings. Along the way, we garner strength for our own faith journeys and may even find that the gathering of Christians—the church—and this adventure of following Jesus is not only fun but also contagious! Our love and unity become an invitation for the world to know Christ (see John 17:21).
I have a hard time arguing with those who say the church is broken, messed up, inefficient, dysfunctional. They’re right. But despite all these weaknesses, God has chosen to put His name on it. He has chosen the church as His bride. She may have frizzy hair, smeared makeup and holes in her dress, but in the end she is still the bride of Christ. Knowing that makes me want to love her, defend her and serve her.
Among the Flock
As we walked among the fields, Lynne explained that rivalries exist among the sheep. Ewes who have just given birth tend to be a possessive bunch. Rams are often at odds with each other—sometimes even dueling each other to death if they are outside the presence of the shepherd.
Watching the flock interact reminded me that sometimes it’s tough to stick together in a confined area. The sheep behind you will race you to the greenest grass. The sheep in front of you may have gas (or worse).
Within a flock, sheep slow each other down, step on each other’s hooves and trip each other. Being in a flock has never been easy for sheep, but it’s how they were designed to live and flourish.
In the same way, being in a church isn’t easy for many people—including me. The church, by nature, is inherently flawed. But it’s in this place that I encounter God in unexpected ways. Not only do I experience acceptance, forgiveness, grace, love and compassion from fellow believers, but also I am given the opportunity to extend them to others.
Within the church, I’m beginning to appreciate many of the intangibles that emerge in the process of living everyday life together—learning to work through ups and downs, disagreements and tensions, innovations and failures. As we pursue God through life’s potpourri of tragedies and triumphs, we learn to love more deeply and find ourselves becoming a little bit more like Jesus.
The church reminds me of just how much I need people in my life who are different from me. I cannot count the number of times someone has shared with me his testimony about the way God is working in his life and has pushed the boundaries of my understanding and knowledge of God. Or the times someone has challenged my beliefs and encouraged me to dig deeper into knowing what I believe and why I believe it.
The church is one of the central places where the poor have their needs met by the rich and the rich discover how they desperately need the poor. I remember sitting by a slightly tone-deaf single mom who was singing songs of victory with all her might when everything in her life shouted defeat. The sight of her gave my own faith texture and strength.
In church I rediscover that I am not alone on this Christian journey. I’m reminded that I have only a snapshot of the larger story of what God is doing in this generation and the grander story of what He has been doing throughout history.
By adding my voice to the familiar chorus of “Amazing Grace,” reciting from the Common Book of Prayer, celebrating the sacraments, or listening to the wisdom of John Wesley and those who have gone before, I partake in the beautiful story God has been unfolding since the beginning of time. And I am reminded that God has not failed us yet—nor will He.
While I taste portions of these truths in my personal time with Christ and the Scriptures, the flavor is never as wondrous as when I experience them in the presence of fellow believers. For these reasons and many more, I recognize that whether or not I like it, I need the church. I can’t be all I’ve been created to be on my own.
I’ll see you on Sunday.
Margaret Feinberg (margaretfeinberg.com) is a popular speaker and the author of Scouting the Divine: My Search for God in Wine, Wool, and Wild Honey (Zondervan).
* Church is loaded with meaning for many people. For the purpose of this article, I want to clarify that the church has never been a building. I would like to sidestep the discussion of denomination, size or liturgy and focus on the church as the organic yet intentional gathering of believers in whatever form that may take.
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