I want to find a perfect church. That statement sounds so far-fetched, yet so realistic at the same time. In my two-and-a-half decades of life, I have been actively involved in five different churches; two of which I served on staff. I will be the first one to say that none of those churches were perfect. Now that statement can sound cold or insensitive, but let’s be realistic – where humans are involved, perfection is mostly a dream. Each one of those churches has had some great attributes. And each of those have also had some less-than-ideal attributes.
Growing up, I recall visiting at least a dozen different churches. My father (who I appreciate) often seemed to find challenges with the church we were attending. In this frustration, there were times that we attempted to search for a new church as a family. If you are in ministry, you’re probably thinking that my family were those people. You know… the kind that are never pleased with the preaching, the worship, the youth ministry, or even the coffee. We might have been those people, but we were also those firmly committed people that were always there to help set-up and tear-down, consistently tithed, came to every Bible study, and helped in every ministry that had a need. We were the family that churches either loved or hated.
Much of my formative spiritual years seemed to be involved with trying to find the right church for our family. So admittedly, I think I picked up some of those traits as I have grown older. I like to also say that I have a prophetic spirit, meaning that I am constantly looking for ways to improve things. The combination of my upbringing and my attitude have led me to a place where I have a big passion to help churches reach their full potential. In that pursuit, I am often asking the question: “How can we do this better?” Which to some people might sound like: “I want the perfect church.”
I will never find a perfect church because I long for polar opposites. I want church to be big, but small at the same time. I want it to be very attractional and very missional. I want everyone in church to know everyone and yet only know 15 people really well. I want worship to be rehearsed and yet I want it to be completely spontaneous. I want graphics to have a high level of professionalism and yet I want the raw authenticity of many small churches. I want children’s ministries to be highly programmed, yet I want them to be highly relational/personal. As much as some churches try to accomplish all of the above, the truth is that most churches will only ever really accomplish one or the other in most of these areas.
So maybe my pursuit for a perfect church is crazy. But I don’t think so. Here’s why: I have found the perfect Church. That Church is your church, it’s my church, it’s their church, it’s all of the churches together that form the kingdom of God. The universal Church is made of imperfect people and imperfect congregations, but together we make up the perfect Church. Why? Because the church is God’s plan for humanity to bring restoration. Last year, Pope Francis shared that: “The Church is the great family of children of God… Certainly it has human aspects from the members who comprise it, pastors and faithful. They have defects, imperfections, sins. Even the Pope has them – and he has many – but what is beautiful is that when we become aware that we are sinners, we find the mercy of God. God always forgives. Don’t forget this. God always forgives… The Church is born from God’s desire to call all people into communion with him… [and] to participate in his divine life.” – The Catholic Herald, May 2013
While I am not a member of the Roman Catholic Church, I have great appreciation for Pope Francis’ words on this issue (and many other issues as well.) God is using the Church to help reconcile all of humanity and creation into community with himself. In this sense, the Church is exactly what God planned and intended for in his effort to restore a fallen world. This great reconciliation involves small churches and it involves big churches. It involves churches that love the poor and churches that bring the gospel to the rich. We need all kinds of churches to make up the Church.
We don’t always agree with each other as one Church and that’s okay. I don’t always agree with everyone in my family, but we are still family. I believe the same goes for the Church. The Pope is not my apostolic leader, but he is my brother. I need him and he needs people like myself. We all need each other. When we realize that we need each other, we have nearly arrived in the presence of the perfect Church. When we love each other, embracing our differences and overlooking our imperfections, we can be the Church that Jesus spoke about when he said: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18, NRSV). We are all invited to stand on the foundation of Christ, to be part of his plan for the Church to proclaim victory of the power of death. Christ’s Church is here to bring life, hope, and peace. We can either work with it or work against it. I think I have found the perfect Church and I’m thankful to be part of it.