"I don't like church. Church people are a bunch of hypocrites."
"Church would be great if it weren't for all the people."
I could probably list a dozen or so more variations of the same sentiment. All of them are pretty harsh sounding. What is even more harsh is that these words are spoken at times by Christians, including even pastors.
A buddy of mine posted a link to an Alban Institute article up on Facebook that cites a USA Today story stating that a decreasing number of young adults born in the 1980's or 1990's view the church as a place to make a difference or develop leadership skills. I haven't read all the way through the article yet, but that statement seems to very much strike a chord with the sentiments I quoted at the beginning.
Yesterday afternoon, I found myself in a "woe is me" kind of place, able to list all the things that are wrong with church and the ministry, considering that there had to be something better. Then my wife asked the question: "What else would you do?"
Today I was reading in the book of Joshua. It is in a rather boring part of Joshua, where the text is detailing the boundaries of each of the 12 tribes portions of the Promised Land. I found myself skimming over a whole lot of names that just don't really carry a lot of meaning for me. Then I found myself at Joshua 15:63, "But the people of Judah could not drive out the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem; so the Jebusites live with the people of Judah in Jerusalem to this day."
Those words struck me. Here the children of Israel find themselves in the land flowing with milk and honey, the Promised Land that God had given to them to be theirs. The book of Joshua tells of numerous victories Israel enjoyed on the battlefield, sometimes facing difficult odds. Life would seem like it couldn't get any better. And then, "But the people of Judah could not drive out the Jebusites, so the Jebusites live with the people of Judah to this day." Even life in the Promised Land was not perfect.
It seems to me that we spend a lot of time lot bemoaning the parts of our life, our jobs, our families, our homes, our chores, and our churches that we would rather live without. We pour a lot of effort, with good and right intentions, on improving things and making things better. However, sometimes, we find ourselves disappointed after all of our struggles and battles that there are still some nuisances that we want out that we haven't been able to uproot. I wonder, in our striving for perfection, do we allow the frustrations of what we have to put up with to keep us from learning how to live with what we would rather live without? As I thought about it, I thought it was pretty impressive that the Israelites, who had gained so many victories by the sword, had to figure out how to live with a people rather than run them out.
Am I saying that we should not seek to change what is wrong in our institutions and in our lives, that we should simply quit whining and put up with it? No. But what I am saying is that the presence of what we would rather live without need not keep us from living in the promise of God. Just because life or family or church or ministry or work is not as perfect as it could be does not mean there is not sweet milk and honey still to enjoy and share. There are some things that we would rather live without that we sometimes need to figure out how to live with.
It's pretty easy to get jaded about church and about ministry, and there are a lot of good reasons to get jaded by either or both, reasons that need to be addressed and changed. Still, there is milk and honey to enjoy, even if we have to enjoy them while living with Jebusites.