The question rattling around in my head right now is "What is it worth?" (Yeah, you know me and my creative post titles...) And by this I mean that I feel the conflicting emotions of a church that is going through messy times. The truth is, of course, that all churches are messy. You've put together a group of people who are always struggling with how best to live in community and carry out God's work in the world. Churches are made up of people who, on account of their common faith, value things like peace and grace...but who also suffer from pressure to keep up the appearance of peace and grace instead of feeling the freedom to be honest, as if a face-to-face disagreement would run counter to faith itself. Churches are made up of people who, whether they acknowledge it or not, consistently engage in matters of ultimacy: sin, grace, faith, life, death, innermost desires and beliefs. And so the life of the church is something that is deeply intertwined with the innermost parts of people's lives - the vulnerable parts. This is why hurts that happen in the church sting and scar more than hurts that happen elsewhere.
And so, especially in difficult times, I wonder what it is that keeps people coming back on Sunday mornings. I wonder what makes it worth it to people to keep moving forward in ministry. I wonder what makes it worth it to remain loyal to faith, or loyal to the Church, or loyal to this particular church or that particular church.
I get spooked easily, I should admit that. I get anxious when I hear about church divisions, or people leaving the church, or embracing alternative ways of being church or doing faith that imply a rejection of the worth of the historic church. I have unknowingly developed a passion for the church and its mission. I have developed a strong (perhaps overly strong?) sense of the worth of the church, and I want to defend that worth with all I have. I suppose that it's a personal fear, really. As I continue along the path to ordination, I continue along a path toward dedicating my whole life to the service of the church. If the church has no worth, then neither does my call. If the church isn't worth fighting for, then neither is future ordination. If there is no worth to the Church, or this church or that church, or to the community of faith, then I feel helpless and duped. If the church isn't worth anything, then what is wrong with me that I feel fed by it and feel passionately about its survival?
So that's why I get so hung up on this question of worth. I know that there are plenty of people who believe that the church is worthwhile, necessary, fruitful, nourishing. But when things get messy (as they always tend to do), sometimes it's too easy to listen to the negative voices and want to give in to the people who are abandoning ship. It's too easy to see only those who are giving up and making the decision that ministry isn't worth fighting for.
Every church is messy. And yet communities of faith have prevailed and continue to prevail over the difficult times. I want to believe that the book of Hebrews is speaking to people in a similar quandary over the life of faith in messy times when it offers this encouragement:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)