The “Trying” Church

church-717830_640Have you ever gotten frustrated with the church? Ever feel like giving up on other Christians?

Gandhi expressed it this way: “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are nothing like your Christ.”

Most of us, at some point, have run across Gandhi’s famous quote and found ourselves saying a hearty, Amen.

I have a confession to make, though. I love the church.

At age six, I memorized and recited Psalm 122:1 in front of the congregation of the First Baptist Church of Hope Valley: “I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD!” And it has always been true for me.

Even when the church disappointed me,

Betrayed me,

Wounded me,

Shut me out, shut me down, and tried to shove me aside.

But, while I’ve frequently found the church trying

I still see many Christians trying to represent Jesus on earth.

And because of them, I fall in love with the church over and over again.

This past Good Friday, I visited my childhood church for a special dramatic presentation. Several men went outside their comfort zones to portray people significant to the Easter story.

As they stood, dressed in period costumes sewn by a woman willing to sacrifice time and offer her skills so that the men wouldn’t have to wear bathrobes, I was struck by the sincerity of their efforts. As each one delivered his monologue, I could see their hearts on their faces and in their eyes.

They were reciting a script but I could hear them saying, “Please, let this effort open someone’s eyes to who Jesus is. Please, see Jesus in this moment no matter how I might stumble or what lines I forget, please look on this stage and see Jesus.”

And I did.

In the faces of the musicians, I saw the same thing. They had obviously poured hours into choosing and rehearsing the music and their labor of love showed on their faces. Please, it said, please see Jesus through our songs.

This past summer, I visited seven local churches in an effort to see where Jesus might be at work in my community. Rhode Island is so bereft of evangelical activity, we’ve been declared an “unreached people group.” As I sat in pews and chairs in congregations that ranged from twelve to two hundred, listening to everything from liturgies and organs to poetry and praise music, I was struck by how hard everyone was trying.

I had been afraid that as I sat in services that differ from my usual tradition, I would be overwhelmed with a critical spirit or thoughts of judgment. I prayed a lot before visiting each place and I believe it was Jesus’ spirit that flooded me with a different feeling.

Yes, I thought, I see how hard everyone is trying.

Okay, not everyone. I could pick out the pew sitters and tourists. I could see that each little church had its problem people and its sore spots but there were others, from greeters to leaders, who were obviously making a concerted effort to represent Jesus.

And I was filled with love for those who are trying so hard.

I see a church full of people – of every age, color, gender, nationality, and tradition – who love Jesus and want others to see how much He loves them.

I know Christians who leave the comfort and security of the U.S. to minister in Haiti, Indonesia, or countries hostile to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I know Christians who spend their free time, after working full-time jobs, caring for the homeless, counseling women with problem pregnancies, sitting with families in crisis, and mentoring urban teens. I know Christians who foster children, adopt special needs babies, or take refugees into their own homes.

I know Christians who visit total strangers in hospitals and nursing homes. I know Christians who spend hours praying for people in need, interceding for people they may never meet but who need a touch of grace in their lives.

We are a clunky, clumsy, imperfect people capable of making big mistakes and seriously trying one another’s nerves.

But Jesus loves us. We are His bride and He sees us with eyes of love.

I believe that when He looks at us, He sees us trying. He feels our hearts pounding with the desire to serve Him well and to represent Him in a way that does Him justice.

I know He was present for the Good Friday presentation. That drama reminded me that when Jesus came, He drew to Himself the men and women who were not polished and perfect but who understood what it’s like to be oppressed, lost in a storm, hard-pressed, and rejected.

His followers were fishermen, prostitutes, and cheats. They weren’t smooth-talkers or power-brokers. They were just people who knew they were lost and then found themselves in a relationship with Jesus.

That’s what I am.

That’s what I see when I am in church – others like me, and others very different from me but made family by the blood of Jesus.

Can you see it? Can you see the trying church?

If you’ve lost that vision, ask Jesus to restore your sight. He’s been known to do that. He can open your eyes so that you, too, can see Him in the His bride, the church.

He’s there. Right in our midst.

Whereever two or three are gathered in His name – trying, ever trying.


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7 Comments

    The Conversation

  1. Leslie Payne says:

    Great words, Lori. I also love visiting other churches to see the bigger picture. It’s amazing to think the Lord works through all our broken efforts. That is amazing grace!

  2. As always – well said! Thanks for seeing the good above the human.

  3. I love this, Lori. My parents and brother told me that I was nothing like Jesus and I was judgemental and critical of others. Ouch. This is not the witness I want to convey. I love the church as well and I hate when I let Jesus down. It seems I have more compassion and forgiveness for my brothers and sisters than for myself.

  4. Thanks, Leslie! It was a very positive experience!

    Hi Fred and Wendy! Thank you!

    Don’t stop trying, Rachel. The more time we spend with Him, the more likely He’ll rub off on us!

  5. fagankela says:

    I have read this blog several times and it is still refreshing. It has been a revelation to me lately how much God loves the New England church. We truly are a church that fights with our blood, sweat, and tears and see little to no result to the naked eye. Yet amidst our staunch new england communities, burns a fire that’s hot and ready to be set a blazed.

    Thanks again for sharing your heart from a fellow Rhode Islander, and brother in Christ.

  6. fagankela says:

    I have read this blog several times and it is still refreshing. It has been a revelation to me lately how much God loves the New England church. We truly are a church that fights with our blood, sweat, and tears and see little to no result to the naked eye. Yet amidst our staunch new england communities, burns a fire that’s hot and ready to be set a blazed.

    Thanks again for sharing your heart from a fellow Rhode Islander, and brother in Christ.

  7. Thank you for sending the encouragement back this way! We all need each other, don’t we, us seeds sprouting up in this rocky, rocky soil!