I am, without a doubt, a church geek.
As a kid, church felt like my second home. As a tween, I remember being upset when I was asked to serve on the worship committee rather than the staff-parish committee. As a college student, I loved to go home – ie my church - for the weekend. As an adult, I've chosen to make serving in the church my life's work.
So it goes without saying, I love the church.
And because I do, it broke my heart this winter when I watched many of my high school students nod their head in agreement with Jefferson Bethke's spoken word video, “Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus”, something that I spent a week talking about with my students (More on that in another post).
In the interest of authenticity, I'll admit there were times in my life when I, too, would have nodded my head in agreement with this video. I have been broken and battered by the church – in both my personal and professional life. Dig deep enough in my t-shirt drawer and eventually you'll even stumble upon a shirt I bought during one such period of disillusionment. It features the word “religion” surrounded by a circle with a big red slash through it.
Yet, you'd have to really dig to find this shirt because I haven't warn it in years.
Because as my theology has changed and grown, I've come to deeply believe that you cannot actually love Jesus and hate the church. After all, the church is his, imperfect though it's current representations may sometimes be.
As followers of Christ, we don't get to choose to be part of the body of Christ. Instead, we are the body of Christ. It's part of our identity. This is true during those times when the church community loves, supports, and cares for us. But it's equally true during those times when the church community fails, frustrates, and hurts us, causing us to want to walk far, far away from it.
Unfortunately, when we give into that temptation to run from the church, we lose. We miss out on engaging with people who because they are so different than us, just might have something to teach us. We miss out on serving together, on practicing forgiveness and experiencing grace, on communal acts of prayer and worship, and on giving and receiving God's love in a community of fellow sinners. We miss the opportunity to express our brokenness to others and discover that we're loved and accepted anyway. We miss the healing that comes from that realization.
In short, when we disengage from the church, we miss Jesus.
Now, don't misunderstand me. I believe you can encounter Christ outside the walls of the church.
But I believe this because I believe the church is not a building; It's people. It's us. And even though I know many will disagree, I'm not sure you can experience and encounter Christ outside the context of community.
That's why even during those times when I want nothing more than to walk away from the church, I choose to stay, engage, and continue to love it, trusting that somehow, in the midst of the messy family of God, I'll encounter Christ and fall more in love with he and his people. That's also why, as a youth worker, I continually try to instill in my students a deep love for the church.
Try as we might, you cannot separate Jesus from the church. In so many ways, our love for the church becomes a manifestation of our love for Jesus.
That's why I'm not ashamed to admit: I love both Jesus and his church.