I have been at my church for almost sixteen years now. Over those years, I have seen many changes, both in staff and membership. I've been caught in the middle of divisions, anger, and bitterness. Many people have come and gone. Couples who mentored us in our early marriage are long gone. Those we enjoyed sweet fellowship with have moved on to bigger and better things. Sometimes we lost friends because they had to move away. Other times it was so they could attend another church across town. Or they stopped attending church all together. These losses left deep wounds, not only in my own heart, but also in the Body.
Being a part of a community of believers is hard. Not only because people leave, but also because of how we treat each other when we're together. We disagree, put each other down, and let each other down. There's gossip and taking sides. Then there's that small group of people who do the work for the entire Body, leaving them burned out and overburdened. There are also those who are overlooked and forgotten. Their hurts are unseen. They long for hope and encouragement but no one asks and no one notices.
I wonder--is it worth it? Is real community with other believers in the Body of Christ worth the effort? The time and energy we put into getting to know others, the peeling back of our masks to reveal who we really are--is it worth it? What about when others in the Body let us down or when people we love leave the fellowship?
For centuries, and in some places in the world even now, it was a deadly act to attend church. In our culture, we take it for granted. Yet for the early church, the Body of Christ was a literal lifeline. These were the people whom you trusted most. They fed you when you had nothing. They gave you shelter when you were kicked out of your home for believing in Christ. They encouraged you when you felt like giving up. And they walked into the arena with you, dying alongside you for the sake of Christ.
We are part of this same Church, the same Body as those early believers. And it is this Church for whom Christ bled and died. Though we are fickle, he is always certain of his love for us. Though we sell ourselves, prostituting our hearts for other lovers, he is steadfast and faithful. Though we run from him, doubt him, or think we are unworthy of him, he always pursues and always finds us.
The truth is, we are a broken Bride. We come to this marriage soiled, stained, and ashamed. Without Christ's white robes of righteousness, we'd be dressed in torn and tattered rags. Together as a Church, we are a group of ragamuffins. It's no wonder that life in community is hard. We are each sinful and desire our own good. Every part of the Body is tugging and pulling at the rest in order to go its own way. Without Christ as our Head, we'd be a tangled, mangled mess, immobile and useless.
Yes, community in the Body is hard. It's broken. People divorce themselves from the Body. We are let down, hurt, and ignored. We go to battle against one another, forgetting who the real enemy is. But when we love each other in spite of how hard it is, it shows the world the grace of Christ. When the Church fights hard to stay united, to follow its Head and to submit to the will of Christ, the world sees redemption and beauty rise up from the ash heap. It sees a nomadic group of worn travelers brought together by the cleansing blood of Christ, washed and made new, united by the gospel, and focused together on spreading the Kingdom of grace.
Though my heart has broken many times over the years, I still believe in the Church. I believe in the work Christ has done to redeem his Bride. I believe the Body is worth it. Because though it hurts to give and share of myself only to be rejected or ignored, or to see people leave and go their own way, or to see those I love bicker and complain, it doesn't cripple me. I can be a part of the community, not because it meets my needs or serves me in some way, but because by doing my part, I am serving Christ. And though many other parts of the Body leave or severe themselves, Christ my Head will never leave or forsake me. I live and participate in community for the sake of Christ and the Kingdom and leave the rest to him, for the Church is ultimately his body and not mine. He died for the Bride and he will ensure that she endures and is ready for the Wedding Feast to come.
Has community been hard for you? Have you been the one wounded or the one who has done the wounding? Either way, Christ came to redeem and restore you. He died to make you his own. Look to your Head; be united with him. See the other worn travelers of the Body through the lens of grace, for they too have been bought and redeemed. We can't do this life alone; we have to stay united by the Blood which bought us. We are the Body and Bride of Christ for all eternity. Let's live like it.