Belonging: Why a Broken Church is Still the Hope of the World

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I look at myself as a refugee from the thought system of fundamentalism. That world included the rapture and a heavy dose of fear that I have happily left behind and sometimes mocked.

However, there’s an important distinction that God has impressed on my heart over the years. Though I may give up on certain beliefs and practices from my fundamentalist days, I should never give up on the people from my fundamentalist days.

Why?

Because they haven’t given up on me.

I can look back to three women in particular who did a heck of a lot more for my walk with Jesus than anything that has come out of the emerging church and its related books and blog posts. That’s not a dig at the emerging church. It’s a statement about the power of God working through these women in fundamentalist churches with hymns-only, KJV-only, suits and dresses-only, and sermons so long they would have killed Eutychus beyond Paul’s healing touch.

I’ve been shaped by what people, even if I’ve left some of their beliefs behind:

  • I have written off the rapture.
  • I never look at the KJV.
  • My suits are shoved in a corner of my closet.
  • I zone out during sermons with remarkable predictability.

And yet, God’s mark has been made on my life because of these women.

My VBS teacher welcomed a lonely, confused Catholic kid who wandered in and had no idea what to make of the songs, games, and crafts. She singled me out and taught me that the church could be a welcoming place that feels like home.

My Sunday School teacher patiently endured the distracted boys and nurtured my curiosity and questions. She committed to pray for me every day for the rest of her life. Who does something like that? Who can dismiss a woman who loves so freely and generously like that? Who cares if she believes in the rapture or doesn’t have as robust a notion of the Kingdom of God as we’d prefer?

Another Sunday School teacher taught me how to pray, to sit in the presence of Jesus and to expect that he’ll show up. She taught me that the Holy Spirit is not only alive and well. The Holy Spirit breaks through our doubts and failures to bring God’s life to us.

We could pick apart some of what these women believe. They may not understand who I’ve become today. Who knows if they’d even doubt my salvation. Few of us would darken the doors of the churches where I met these women.

For all of the brokenness in the church, there are people who have become wells of God’s love and power. They refresh and bless, even if others wear out and condemn.

Even among those who wear out and condemn, I could tell stories of support, acceptance, and joy. The horrible points of fundamentalism make salacious headlines. Who can resist a dig at fundamentalist theology?

There are days when I look at the stuff Christians write and say to one another and spend their time on, and I am filled with despair. I wonder if God’s people really are capable of bearing good news. I wonder why the hope of the word seems so hopeless.

I spend my time pointing at the brokenness of the church, and invariably, I stumble into someone who changes my mind. The longer I look, the more I find people who are faithfully following Jesus and loving others in all kinds of churches. Even if the sermons they hear on Sundays are anything but good news, their lives preach something far more powerful.

When I’m done pointing out every problem I see around me, I’m reminded that my life is far from squeaky clean. That’s when I realize that the marvel of the church isn’t so much God can use a fundamentalist. That’s nothing.

The marvel of the church is that God burns through our clever profile pictures, witty blog posts, and sharp outfits in order to see who we truly are. He sees our hidden moments, where our minds wander, and what our true motives are.

He sees you and me without any explanations or excuses.

He sees you and me, and wonder of wonders, he says that he loves us and we need to go and tell the world that Jesus is here. He’s alive. He’s powerful. He’s ready to change lives.

In his infinite wisdom, God knows that the only way to give hope to a broken world is to cobble together an assortment of broken people, letting their lives testify that his new life is here and it’s able to help anyone.

I know that a broken church is the hope of the world because I’m a broken person who relies daily on the mercies of God and his inexplicable love that has reached me through three perfect women.

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22 thoughts on “Belonging: Why a Broken Church is Still the Hope of the World

  1. Michael

    Your belief in the rapture has been “left behind”? ;-) My pastor and I were teaching recently on how Revelation teaches that in the end Heaven comes down to Earth. He quipped, “So we want to be left behind!”

    As someone who was similarly raised with fundamental beliefs, I appreciate the post. I won’t go back to fundamentalism, but there is still so much that they understand and teach well about God and life.

    1. ed Post author

      Left behind indeed!

      The key for me is that Jesus is still powerful, no matter how much our theology gets in the way. I’m glad his love wins those kinds of victories.

  2. Lore Ferguson

    “In his infinite wisdom, God knows that the only way to give hope to a broken world is to cobble together an assortment of broken people, letting their lives testify that his new life is here and it’s able to help anyone.”

    YESSSS. So good. So true. So glad you get this!

  3. Jenny Rae Armstrong

    I love this post! It’s so sad that as Christians we feel the need to pick on other Christians–I think it’s a way of distancing ourselves from them, setting ourselves apart from “those sinners” (which is what we complain about THEM doing). It’s one thing to disagree with ideas, another to disaffirm people or people groups.

  4. Lizzie

    I really enjoyed this post, but alas my stats won’t show up on your counter here, as I shared it to FB and Twitter via AddThis as I went along.
    Brokenness, as part of our life together, has been a part of my understanding of the church for pretty much my entire adult life. I started to get a sense of it in my 20s, and it has served me well ever since. I find it more constructive than thinking in terms of “sin,” more inclusive, more hopeful, just a better philosophy overall. I am glad to see contemporary figures such as yourself carrying it forward.

  5. Stephanie Spencer

    Amen! I have such torn feelings about the church sometimes. But, still, I believe in it. There is so much hope and love, even in the midst of theology debates and frustrations.

    “I spend my time pointing at the brokenness of the church, and invariably, I stumble into someone who changes my mind.” Yes. So true.

    Thanks for these words today.

  6. HopefulLeigh

    I’ve come to realize the importance of remembering the good with the bad. I choose to remember the great Sunday school teachers, the fun I had in Missionettes, the songs we sang, the bonds we formed with other families at my childhood church. While the bad stuff is easier to recall, it’s not the whole story and I do myself and my parents and that church a disservice if I believe otherwise. It also helps to remember that I’m not perfect.

    1. ed Post author

      “Missionettes”??? I need details and, especially, pictures. Did you have uniforms like the girl scouts? Did you have choreographed dances? My imagination is spinning out of control for want of more details Leigh (“Lee!”).

      1. HopefulLeigh

        Ha! I don’t know if there are any pictures. I’ll have to see next time I’m home. No uniforms though- just sashes, yellow if I recall correctly. I’m a little proud I won the Miss Marple award one year. (I don’t remember what this was or why it was a big deal. But it was.)

  7. James in Stumptown Oregon

    Great post Ed. As I read your post, it struck me how everyone is trying to get away from whats not cool and land in something that is cool. So I like the fact that you paint a picture that these 3 women may not be cool or hip . . . but these women are doing the most with their convictions and abandonment to Christ as they know it. That is uncommon follower-ship and it is to be respected. Thanks for respecting that.

    Growing up 7th Day Adventists, I have an excellent understanding of Fundamentalists in our christian circles. We as a family traded in Adventist-ism for Baptist Fundamentalists. Those two extremes eventually drove me to the Rescue Mission staff where I finally saw beauty and grace in all who came broken and used up. I felt as desperate as these folks who came to the mission, except mine was from the extremes of “fundamental theology” and the extremes it builds on. I came to serve at the Portland Rescue Mission and ended up being the one saved and washed clean.

    I am not on the emergent end of movements in christian culture and its fair to say I fit into none of the columns. It’s also fair to say at times I am way more fundamental the the fundamentalists and way more emergent the to emergents. I think that makes me a “Way More Rescue Missionists”!

    1. ed Post author

      I put less stock in labels and rely more on understanding my roots. If I know where I’m coming from, how I label myself is far less important. Having said that, I’ve been happy as a clam in the Vineyard these days.

  8. Vicki

    Thank you Ed. I’ve been in discussion the past few days with a couple of young men who are intent on pointing out every inaccuracy in every Bible version except their favorite, and looking for heresy in every teacher except themselves. This is what I’ve been trying to say. Thanks for saying it so beautifully.

  9. Alise

    Oh, this made me weep. Because yes.

    It’s okay to point out the Church’s flaws. It’s okay to say that some of the tactics used by the Church are more harmful than beneficial. It’s okay to admit that we’ve been hurt or marginalized or dismissed.

    But we dare not forget the good. And there is much of it out there. Thank you for the sweet reminder.

  10. Linda B.

    I’ve been on staff at and / or attended a bunch of broken churches. I still have amazing relationships from all of them. I think the church isn’t the machine anyway, but the people as you mentioned. I however am not looking for a hip church, and I do believe people can grow spiritually in almost any environment as long it’s the right one for them at that time. I’ve reached the point in my life though where I’m not willing to fight with the machine any longer on a regular basis and say… that the stuff you mentioned is wrong and then still go there week after week listening to the sermon etc longing for real communication and shared discussion and shared lives. I’m not saying that will never happen for me again. My point is that maybe instead of saying… “well that’s just the way things are” that it’s possible to do things differently. To have something more organic and relational that’s not based on a building and the old model… where even if we do that we care for each other a few at a time. I do believe that we are the church and that it’s amazing and wonderful. I’m not advocating abandoning the body of Christ, just wondering why we still all say gosh we hate this format, but its just the way it is. Now each week I have amazing fellowship with a variety of people from a variety of church backgrounds and more real ministry than ever before.

    1. ed Post author

      Great point Linda. I spent 7 years outside the church trying to find some other way. God has graciously led me to churches that value relationships and community over building an organization, where God’s life trumps the goals of the machine. Some of the early posts in this series about belonging go a bit more into the ways I’ve rediscovered community and have tried to do it better.

      1. Linda B.

        Ed, that’s what I’m hoping for as more and more people reach that point. I love that several bloggers are talking about it now and suggesting the better way. There are also people like Kathy Escobar who are pastoring and blogging. I do have great hope that the tide can change… certainly God’s heart is for real community to happen.

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