Staying Engaged in the Imperfect Church

The pastor was teaching about the importance of staying engaged in a strong local church, and he provided three reasons/warnings why people typically disengage. It was the 11:30 a.m. service, and we were sitting along an aisle, second row from the very back, in the less-than-a-year-old worship center. In front of us were two teens, one who was texting throughout much of the service. Behind us were two teens who spent the service talking, giggling, and kicking the back of my seat.

These distractions were helpful reminders that I love my church even when it’s not perfectly meeting my needs. It occurred to me, in fact, that there is at least one reason not listed by the pastor that we disengage from the church – the church tends to let us down in all sorts of ways because the church is filled with imperfect people. Pastors, staff, fellow members … they might say something that offends us, fail to show appreciation or support for things we’re doing or trying to do, act unprofessionally in small ways like not responding to emails … We get our feelings hurt because, of course, the world, including the church, is supposed to meet our needs, right? But, as the pastor aptly put it, only Jesus meets all of our needs. Only Jesus is perfect. The rest of us are prone to error.

I’ve been guilty of selfish frustration with the imperfect church, so I’m seeking forgiveness. One, I know I contribute greatly to that imperfection. Two, I know how much God blesses me and my family through our church. Heartfelt worship … Biblical teaching … amazing leadership … Godly men and women serving selflessly out of love for Jesus … the list goes on and on. God even uses the imperfections to teach me things like patience, forgiveness, self-awareness, and the importance of loving one another when it’s not easy – like when some is kicking the back of my seat.

Want Some Patience? Get in Line.

There are times in my life when I am the model of the virtue known as patience. Those times have a name: “The Exception.”

A photo I took at SDC.

Some people describe me as calm and easy going, but they just don’t know me well enough. Patience is an area where I definitely need some spiritual growth. And because I need it, God seems eager to provide opportunities for that growth.

Two or three times a year, for instance, my wife and I make the 100-mile drive through the Ozarks Mountains for a visit to Silver Dollar City.

If you’ve ever traveled to the Branson, Mo., area, you know that traffic is, shall we say, … an issue. It’s a mountainous area with limited options for getting from one place to another, and millions of tourists flock there each year for shopping, live theater shows, water sports, golf, and, of course, to visit the Silver Dollar City theme park. The roads simply can’t keep up with the driving needs of roughly 8 million visitors a year.

The actual population of Branson is around 10,000, but on any given day there are 100,000 people in town. And on the days we go, all 100,000 of them seem to get in line right in front of us.

It starts with the drive in. It takes a little less than two hours to drive the first 98 miles from our home to the parking lot at Silver Dollar City. The last two miles? That’s usually around 45 minutes. When we went last week, it took 75 minutes to cover that short stretch.

This, of course, is a warm up. If you don’t have tickets, you stand in line to get them. Then you stand in line to enter the park. Once inside, you stand in line for the shows. You stand in line for the major rides. You stand in line for food. You stand in line to stand in line.

In short, Silver Dollar City is a ton of short bursts of fun sandwiched around multiple opportunities to learn and practice patience.

Proverbs 19:11 says wisdom yields patience, and Jesus surely needed patience as He grew in wisdom. If it’s hard for me to put up with a 45-minute wait to get soaking wet on a rubber raft ride, imagine how hard it would be for a perfect God to put up with a history filled with people who are habitually selfish, prideful sinners and who can’t make it 10 seconds without messing up. You think Jesus was just a little frustrated His disciples kept falling asleep when they were supposed to be praying with Him?

Yet, there are no fewer than seven verses in the Old Testament that describe God as “compassionate and gracious … slow to anger, abounding in love.” (Exodus 34:6, Nehemiah 9:17, Psalm 86:15, 103:8, 145:8, Joel 2:13, Jonah 4:2) You see patience described in figures like Job and Abraham (he was 100 years old when God delivered on the promise to make him father). Paul talked about patience over and over. He described in verses like 1 Corinthians 13:4 and advocated for it in verses like Romans 12:12. The wisdom books like Proverbs, Psalms and James all preach the importance of patience.

So after reading and reflecting on many of those verses, here’s some of the wisdom I to absorb when it comes to patience:

We live in a me-first, hurry-up world, but we’re called to display endurance. The rewards of it are always worth the wait.