The defect free church

A couple of year ago one of my sisters-in-law bought a remote-control car, I think at an airport, for my son’s birthday. At the airport, the car was capable of great speeds and, if memory serves, it climbed the wall a little bit before flipping over and landing perfectly and continuing along its path.  You probably know where this is going. When the car was unwrapped and the expectations of a 4-year-old set sky high…it didn’t work. I don’t mean it couldn’t climb walls and land perfectly, I mean it didn’t go anywhere.

 The only functioning aspect of the car were the snazzy lights that flashed and changed colors. Tears ensued.

Thusly continued my lifelong disappointment with remote control vehicles, and so began my sons disappoint with such things.

The car lived up to my expectations perfectly. The sister-in-law was embarrassed. She didn’t know.

I buy Apple products. I started before it was cool and the time or two I tried to change (for financial reasons) I was left disappointed and frustrated by the alternatives.

I buy Apple products because, for me and my expectations/abilities, they work. That is not to say the others don’t work but only that they do not meet my expectations, expectations based on experience.

Something very hard for us to do, myself included, is to switch out of that sort of expectation and accept that institutions, governments, schools, hotels, and, yes, churches, have a hard time meeting, let alone exceeding expectations. We need to approach such parts of life differently than car-buying. This happens for at least two reasons:

  • People have lofty and diverse expectations: Lofty: every word of every sermon must strike home, every note of every song must make me want to dance, or cry, of lift my arms, or smile with joy. Diverse: the building must be large, airy, spacious, or closed and comfy, modern and metallic cool, or ancient stonework and stained-glass, we should sing older hymns, or newer ones…you get the drift, no church can ever live up to these contradictory demands. (To be frank once you are committed to relationships within the church, all this stuff barely matters, we mostly cease to even notice it, but it takes time to build such relationships and even more time to begin to understand their importance in our lives).
  • Churches are made up of people and are not some bespoke item we can purchase. The bible offers us very little to suggest that a church is a building, or even a worship service, it seems to be a gathering of people, seeking to do life together, to share with one another, boldly declaring what God has done in Jesus. Still, we are but people—frail, broken, and often wrong—people. So, we fight about just exactly what God has done, or where the candles go, or if there should be candles. We want to love new people but we wind up in cliques, we want to sing music that new people will like, but we sure like (and know and trust) our older tunes. People are complicated, they are diverse, and they are unpredictable. Sometimes an elder’s call to worship will be 30 seconds, sometimes 13 minutes, sometimes very meaningful, sometimes not. A sermon is prepared by a person with a lot of other obligations in the week, a person who can wake up on the wrong side of the bed, who can fail to fall asleep, who cannot be at their best even though it is time to deliver that sermon. Like you sometimes the worship leader has a lot on her mind, like you they aren’t experts in lighting, and PowerPoint, and audio technologies.

Let’s keep trying to be open and welcoming and God-honoring in all that we do. The staff here talk a lot about excellence and what it means in a church context. I am not advocating mediocrity any more than I would suggest lukewarm hearts for Christ are the way forward.

But let’s also show each other grace.

Compliment what is good and helpful, offer solutions to what needs fixing. Forgive the missed word, the dropped note, the wrong slide or hymn number.

Above all recognize that a community of people, and its worship services, have nothing to do with Ipads and Remote Control Cars and more to do with the sad 4 year old that needs comforting, or the distraught aunt who needs assurance that her relationship to the child will survive intact.

Grace and Peace,


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