Do the people at your church ever annoy you?
Maybe it’s gone beyond annoyance. Maybe you’ve been hurt by your local church.
Perhaps it’s the leadership. Maybe the pastor seems to be more interested in politics than he does the Bible. Or perhaps you’ve heard too many one sided, thoughtless, or even bigoted opinions espoused by those who think they speak for God. Or the church’s programs don’t match your idea of what a church should be. Who knows, maybe there’s been a serious sin issue within the leadership. Let’s face it, all these things happen in churches all across the country…and it probably happens every day. No wonder people get disillusioned with the Church.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was not oblivious to the fact that Christians sometimes fail to live out their claims. He watched as many of his Lutheran countrymen supported Hitler, even while he stood in resistance to him – which would eventually cost him his life. His words about Christian community, then, are very pertinent:
“The serious Christian…is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams.”
In other words, God, in his grace, doesn’t let us stay in our idealistic dreams of Christian community for very long. He goes on:
“Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.”
He has much to say about the importance of disillusionment in genuine Christian community. It’s important because “A community…which insists upon keeping its illusion when it should be shattered, permanently loses in that moment the promise of Christian community.”
Bottom line: the Church is a mess, but there is grace to be found in wading through that mess. To quote Bonhoeffer one last time: “Christian community is not an ideal, but a divine reality.”
In John 6:53, Jesus tells the people that “unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” This bizarre statement was more than many of them could handle. In fact, it says that afterward “many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” (v. 66). What’s fascinating is that Jesus used Greek word sarx for his “body.” Sarx is not the only Greek word he could have used, but it is the one that connotes the negative aspects of the body – with it’s sickness, it’s smelliness, and it’s limitations. It seems that for Jesus, life is available in the very act of bearing with the hardships that are sure to be found when we follow him.
The Church is a mess. It’s true, sometimes evil works its way into the life of a church in such a way that people really should leave. However I suspect that the majority of people leave not only a church, but the very mold that God wants to form them with.
Pastors are the worst offenders. We pastors can talk all day about the importance of the local church. We get upset when people leave for the bigger, better ministry down the street. Yet we are constantly looking for the next step in our careers. It’s to the point that for many pastors, a 5 year stint at a church would be considered long. We go to conferences that teach us how to lead our churches to the “next level,” and now we are obsessed with obtaining something that does not yet exist to the point that we cannot appreciate the ministry happening under our noses. The slightest whiff of a dissenting church leader, insubordinate volunteer, or even a legitimate concern over a sermon we preached can cause us to be dismissive toward the very people we are called not to dismiss.
This is a message to the pastor who cannot appreciate his or her congregation for who they are, and it’s a message to the young idealist who has it all figured out, and it’s a message to the church-hopper who just “felt led” to leave. Be careful, because you might be cutting yourself off from the very thing you need: disillusionment.
Because sometimes our dreams have to be shattered before we can see God’s grace.
 Bonhoeffer, D. (1954). Life Together. (p. 26). New York: Harper & Row.
 Ibid., p. 27
 See Ronald Rolheiser, The Holy Longing.