Loving the Church

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I was privileged to spend the last few days with about 150 other pastors and denominational leaders at the offices of the North American Mission Board in Alpharetta, GA. We were all there for the same purpose: to learn how to save, revitalize, and replant dead and dying churches. I met some really great men of God who have been shepherding congregations for years—some for decades.

I was there because I love the Church. By that I don’t just mean, “My church,” I mean the Church as the Body of Christ—in all of her different forms and with all of her struggles. Over the years I’ve had friends who saw the Church differently than I. Some had no regard for her, others were disillusioned with her, and some just wanted her to look a certain way before they would buy-in.

My love for the Church is rooted in my theological understanding of her, but it started well before I grasped any of that. It started in what many would consider to be small churches where my Father pastored or was on staff. As a child I never remember thinking my church was cool or uncool, I don’t really remember thinking all that much about the Church as separate entity, because my family was so closely tied to the life and ministry of the church. In many ways it was who we were and what we did. And although I can see some potential issues with that in hindsight, that was the environment of my formative years and it produced in me a heart-felt attachment to the Body of Christ that became a spiritual attachment when I met Jesus at 10 years old.

I grew up in imperfect churches, but I was able to watch my father faithfully preach and lovingly lead and shepherd his people through the good times and the bad. I saw my mother play the piano and teach Sunday School and even lead worship when needed. I saw faithful saints who rose early to make coffee and fold bulletins and turn on the baptistry heater. I saw men of God serve as deacons and break their backs to create more space for young families who they believed we could reach.

Some who grew up in these less-than-ideal churches bolted as soon as freedom allowed it, but I found myself called to serve the church when I was just 15 years old. Back then I had a very clear understanding of what my role would be {wink}, but over time, God has allowed me to serve several churches, start two from scratch, and be a pastor in more than one area of ministry. It’s been painfully wonderful.

Through the highs and lows, victories and defeats, I still find myself loving the Church and believing the best for her. I have a penchant for identifying areas that can be improved, so I understand why some think I’m pessimistic. But the truth couldn’t be more different. You see, I drive past churches in my community and I pray for those people and those pastors. I pray that they will be refreshed if they’re weary and supplied if they’re needy. I pray that the gospel will be preached and that disciples will be made. I’ve read the same stats many of you have regarding decline in our churches, but I have hope. Because although I may see where they need to improve, I also believe with all my heart that they actually can do it!

I believe that Jesus will build his church and that the gates of hell will not prevail against it. I believe that will continue to look like brand new churches starting and reaching hundreds or thousands, and I believe it will look like established, legacy churches being revitalized and reaching their fullest potential. You see, I love the Church primarily because Jesus loves the Church and he laid down his life for her. We should be willing and ready to do the same.

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