A friend and I were having a conversation yesterday about how a church had failed a mutual friend of ours. This mutual friend has been experiencing considerable difficulty, the church has become aware of this, and yet has not reached out to her. It's a failure that causes distance, suspicion, and disillusion.
I was reminded that the offended friend has a phenomenal group of co-workers who have been an outlet for socializing, empathizing, and all-round excellent camaraderie. I'm so thankful for this! A loose comparison was made to the lack of attention given to our friend, versus the embrace she has received from her friends.
It's true, there is a disappointing difference here. The church, the very people who are supposed to care for their own, have not done well in this case. They should have checked in. They should have inquired. They should have offered support. But they didn't. For whatever reason(s), they have failed her.
I have been told, "it must be tough to be a pastor." And it is. While pastoring a congregation is a life-giving vocation in so many ways, it is set up for failure in a myriad of ways, too. (At least in our current conceptions of how a church and pastor should function....but that's for another blog.)
The comparison between the group of friends and the church isn't really a fair one. Mutual support is only one aspect of a church community. For a group of friends mutual support is often the only aspect that keeps them together, and when it's done well it keeps them coming back for more. The group gives the individuals validity, companionship, social outlets, and much needed encouragement.
A church is supposed to do this, too. But, the difference lies in all the other things a church is supposed to do, too. A church is also supposed to plan and execute meaningful worship, take care of its finances, visit the sick, reach out to others, advocate for the marginalized, provide service for the community, be involved in social justice, have good theology, grow in membership, model servant-leadership, and have a healthy organizational structure that makes appropriate, astute decisions on behalf of the group.
This creates a crazy amount of arenas for dissatisfaction. And a church is not like a business where one can separate out one's own soul from the business itself. No, our place of worship helps to create or maintain a sense of personal identity, and who we think we are in relation to God. A well-running church, then, is necessary for an individual's sense of who they are personally, how God works in the world, and how humanity is to live out our mission. So, not only are there a myriad of arenas in which a congregant can find dissatisfaction, a sense of self and our perception(s) of God are also on the line in regards to how well or how poorly a church functions. A kitchen that is habitually left messy by the youth group becomes a theological statement that we don't care enough about God's house, that YOU don't care enough about God's house, which then reflects poorly on me because you and I are in the same group that is choosing to follow God together.
So yes, there's a heckuva lot to contend with as a church group and as a pastor. And rest assured, the church will fail you. In big ways or in small ways. As the church is trying to work on being a good support system to one another, it's also trying to do all those other things at the same time. The failure might not even happen in the personal support system, it might happen on a theological level, or a we're-not-doing-enough-for-the-poor level, or we're not offering enough alternatives for youth, or the pastor's preaching sucks, or the worship music is too hard to sing, or, or, or...
So for those of you who are checking out Echoes and finding yourselves reading this distressingly depressing blog I want to say: you are loved. This small group of non-conforming Jesus-followers will probably let you down somehow. We won't mean to, and we'd rather talk about it than have you be frustrated alone. Give us a try, and help us shape this community organically, to be a place where we can fail and learn from those failures in the hopes of learning to be a group that can disagree well together, while also working well together.