Saturday, July 05, 2014

Train Up A Child: Go To Church

We want to raise our kids to see the importance of church...which just happens to be one of the most  countercultural parenting decision these days.

After all, these are the days of the "spiritual but not religious." These are the days when its popular to criticize the church. Everyone loves Jesus. Very few seem to care much for his bride.

And I get the pushback. The church has hurt a lot of people. The church has failed to lead the way in areas of justice in the world. I work for the church, but I'm sometimes tempted to lie about my occupation when asked.

Yet, even in the midst of the frustrations I have with the church, I can't seem to give her up. I can't get away from her. I can't seem to shake her.

I grew up as a preacher's kid. I loved every minute I spent at the church. I knew every corner of the La Mesa Church of Christ. I knew the best hiding places for hide and seek. Because we were hundreds of miles away from grandparents, church was my family. We spent holidays with our church family. They became our "cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents."

I held a stained-glass picture of the church. The church was God's gift to earth. The church was God's kingdom come. The church always seemed to meet my needs and taught me how to see and care for the needs of others.

But anyone who grows up with those fulfilled expectations will eventually walk away unfulfilled. Because church is also a mess. It's filled with people who have problems. Every one of us. And if you spend enough time with enough people who have enough problems, there are sure to be unfulfilled expectations.

But part of growing up is acknowledging that all institutions creak and groan from time to time. The church is no different.

And that realization led me to start having conversations with new people who want to know more about my church. It was the conversation I had at Littleton. And it will be the conversation I'll have as long as I'm a leader in a church.

The conversation goes something like this...the guest asks: So, tell me about your church.

And I say: "I can only promise you one thing about this church. All I can promise you is that this community will disappoint you at some point. It's a matter of when, not if. We'll do our best to form your kids in the way of Jesus. I'll do my best to preach the Word of God faithfully. We'll do our best to shepherd and equip you as a disciple of Jesus Christ. But rest assured that we will fail you and disappoint you."

You can tell I went to school to be a salesman.

Then I continue: "What it means to be a church member is that when we disappoint you, will you choose on this side of that inevitable disappointment to work through your disappointment? Will you choose to reconcile instead of leaving? Because if you leave, you're going to miss an opportunity to see how the grace of God can fill the holes left by our community's failure."

It's easy to to be "spiritual but not religious." But that's not Christianity.

It's easy to love God by yourself. It's easy to love God without the church. But Jesus called us to love God and our neighbor. And without a church you're committed to, you'll never get a chance to live out the second part of the Great Commandment.

Because church isn't a perfect place for us to have our spiritual needs met.

No, no, is the place where broken people come in close enough contact with one another that they experience friction and are forced to develop the Fruit of the Spirit as they work through those problems.

That's what is wrong with marriage today. We have come to believe marriage is the place where we get our needs met. That's not marriage. Marriage is the chance to live close enough to someone that we can't hide our flaws from them and they sharpen us to become the people God wants us to be.

It's the same way with church. If you're trying to find a church that will fit you perfectly and fill you up every Sunday, you misunderstand what the church is about. It's not a perfect place with perfect people. Instead, it's an imperfect people who come in close enough contact that God can shape us through the relational struggles we will inevitably face.

And that's why we want our kids to grow up in church.

Not because they need perfect attendance to make God happy.

We want our kids to grow up in church because we want them to experience a community that will inevitably wound them and heal them at the same time. We want them to live in close enough contact with people they would never choose to be in relationship with outside of the commitment of diverse people who love Jesus more than their own agendas.

We live in an age of echo chambers. We listen to our iPods with our choices of music on demand. We listen to our cable news channels that spin the facts in just the way we want them. We don't have to live in community with people who believe differently than us in many parts of our society.

But in church, we don't have a choice.

If you've been baptized, water is thicker than blood. The family of God is closer to me than my own family of origin. My tribal loyalties are less important than my kingdom loyalties.

We want our kids to value church not in order to fulfill some legalistic obligation.

We want them to value church because they live in a world where it's so easy to mold their world in a way that assures them they are right about everything.

That's not possible in church. Because it's not our church. It's not my church. It's God's church.

Is church attendance an important value to pass on to your kids? Why or why not?

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