Is Church for Me?

 
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Why do Christians leave church? I often hear reasons like “the worship style wasn’t for me,” “the teaching wasn’t very engaging” or “I had a hard time connecting, and I never really felt pursued.” I understand these reasons.

We long for that perfect fit in a community, when the music, the pastor, the people and the expected involvement line up perfectly. We want to feel like we belong. I spent years trying to find the right fit in community. I wanted to be needed, to play music on Sunday morning and lead a Bible study. I wanted people to see me as a valuable member of the body of Christ and to pursue me in life. I wanted me.

We are not called to ourselves. Matthew 6:33 does not say, “But seek first to know yourself, and God will give you everything you want.” It says, “But seek first [your heavenly Father’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these thing will be given to you as well.” We are called to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:36–40). Why then, is our critique of our church so full of “me”?

The first line of the introduction of “Encouragement: The Key to Caring” by Larry Crabb and Dan Allender says, “The more I understand people and their needs, the more I am persuaded that God has uniquely designed the local church to respond to those needs.” Shortly after that, they write, “The church, where Christ’s holiness and love are to be evidenced the most, too often becomes an organization just seeking to perpetuate itself, while the reasons why it should continue and grow are obscured.”

The reason Christians so often become disenchanted with the local church is because we are obsessed with ourselves, and we believe the church exists to meet our needs.

I started going to my church because I felt like God was saying, “Plant yourself somewhere and stay there for a year.” Yet, despite this directive, I spent the next year simultaneously seeking for a way out and disappointed that I didn’t feel like I belonged. Do you see the problem? I certainly didn’t.

Then in the summer of 2013, God changed everything. I had a job offer at a church in another state that I was excited about, and God shut the door. I remember one afternoon, as I was praying through my disappointment, God restated His command to me: “Plant yourself somewhere and stay there for a year.” I realized that I had not done what God wanted. I had used my church as a stopover to the next location. In my concern for myself, I had placed distance between myself and true community, and, in the process, I hurt people who are now some of my closest friends. With this realization came a complete shift of how I see the church and God.

When we approach church as a solution to our needs, we will be disappointed. Yet the opposite of this is not to seek to meet the needs of others. That approach will be met with exhaustion and discouragement. Our true purpose is stated in the mission of the Free Methodist Church: “Love God, love people and make disciples.” When we seek to have our needs met in God, we free up so much space in our lives to see people.

Hebrews 10:24–25 gives a good starting point for the local church: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

When my focus turned from myself to God, and subsequently to His people, God did amazing things in my heart. Like Jonah, I tried to run away from where God had called me. Also like Jonah, it took great hardship, pain and submission to God to get me to recognize my own brokenness. Yet when I had begun this process, within a few months, I had been invited into leadership in my church. My city became my home instead of a stopover point, and most amazingly, He opened my eyes to see the beautiful woman who would become my wife. It is not a magic formula to everything being better, and it isn’t a comfortable place to be, but when we take on the difficult task of turning away from ourselves and facing God, He is capable of great healing. This is the first step toward a renewed local church.

Mark Crawford is the assistant editor of Light + Life Magazine.

DISCUSS IT

  1. In what ways have you seen churches or their members lose their evidence of Christ’s holiness and love?
  2. What prevents some people from finding true community in the local church?
  3. What tips do you have for keeping your focus on God and not on yourself or your personal preferences?


10 Ways to Transform Your Marriage

 

By Jim Burns

Too many couples settle for mediocrity in their marriage, when they would never settle for second best in other areas in their lives. Many husbands and wives unintentionally neglect their most intimate relationship, and in time “happily ever after” sounds like a fairy tale.

Still, I believe that fairy tales can come true. Yes, they can happen to you! It’s possible to develop a great marriage when you become both intentional and proactive in working on core strategies that will strengthen the relationship with your spouse. Here are ten strategies that I’ve learned can transform your marriage.

1. Adjust your attitude. You might not be able to change your spouse, but you can change your attitude, and it just may make a world of difference in your marriage.
2. Show affection and warmth. Simple words and actions that demonstrate your love for your spouse can change your spouse’s mood and the atmosphere in your home.
3. Offer encouragement. It takes nine affirming comments to make up for one critical comment. If you are like most people, you owe your spouse a boatload of encouragement. Watch for opportunities to give your spouse an affirming word.
4. Give sexual intimacy the time and attention it deserves. Are you too tired to work on this? Then your priorities are in the wrong place. Find at least two hours per week to spend on romance and intimacy. And flirt with your spouse–reminding him or her that he or she is still the apple of your eye.
5. Be friends with your spouse. The basic principles of friendship should also apply to marriage too: friends tend to have more patience with each other; they extend grace, forgiveness and kindness towards one another; and they have fun together.
6. Schedule more fun in your marriage. Look for creative date ideas–don’t just go out for dinner and a movie. Your willingness to put some thought into enjoyable, out-of-the-ordinary things to do together will speak volumes to your spouse.
7. Practice “thank therapy.” Sit down today and make a list of at least twenty reasons why you are grateful for your spouse.
8. Accept that all problems are not resolvable. Some problems will always be in our lives in one form or another. Compromise and find a workable solution you can both live with.
9. Nurture spiritual growth. Start by praying daily for your spouse and your relationship. Develop a regular time together to practice spiritual disciplines such as devotions, bible study, prayer, and reading.
10. Review and renew your marriage vows.

Vow renewal ceremonies are often more meaningful than the wedding. Reviewing and renewing your vows will move you toward spiritual intimacy.


Church as a Body

 
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A popular meme features the peaceful picture of a rowboat and these words: “Religion is a guy in church thinking about fishing. Relationship is a guy out fishing thinking about God.”

The philosophy affirms another popular idea: “I don’t have to go to church. I can worship God anywhere.” The idea sounds appealing some days, but is it true? Why does being part of a church community matter?

Church matters because all parts are needed for God’s mission.

“The body is not made up of one part but of many. Now if the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. … God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. … The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you’” (1 Corinthians 12:14–21).

Nine years ago, doctors told me I needed a kidney transplant. Kidneys are required to get rid of the things that would otherwise poison you. This body wouldn’t have lasted long without a kidney.

God made the church like a body on purpose. He made it so one person who sees well (spiritually speaking) can see what others can’t. Another person who has a passionate heartbeat for justice wakes up others who are less “heart.” Someone who hears the culture around her gives others her insight.

It’s part of His nature — the Three-in-One God. When we act like a body, we act more like Him. When one part isn’t contributing ideas, service, personality or time, the church’s mission isn’t complete. Not being a part of it is a much bigger issue than just an empty seat in Row 4.

Church matters because it’s God’s hothouse for growth.

When Jesus says His disciples will be known by their love for one another, He presupposed that we cannot represent God outside of community. If we’re trying to be followers of Jesus solo, we’re failing. We may be displaying a great person to the world, but they don’t need another great person. They need a place where not great people can learn to be whole.

The local church is the hothouse for nurturing robust seedlings that become plants that feed and beautify the world. Church is the incubator where the baby gets the strength to go out and be who he was created to be.

The church is the place where God planned for His people to learn from one another, practice how to live together, and show the world what a God-breathed family looks like. Yes, we have podcasts for learning, but they do not replace face-to-face messy interactions with fellow followers who need us as much as we need them to sharpen one another toward holiness.

“Solitary religion is not to be found,” John Wesley wrote. “‘Holy solitaries’ is a phrase no more consistent with the gospel than holy adulterers. The gospel of Christ knows of no religion, but social; no holiness but social holiness.”

Church matters because God uses our failures.

The church deserves some of its criticism. We have looked at others like HGTV projects that need a lot of work and are already over budget. We have been friendly but not loving, inviting but not welcoming, a group but not a community. We have fought over minutia and neglected to fight for what mattered. We have accused younger generations of compromise when all they’ve done is made us uncomfortable.

But maybe God wants to use that pain to make His church a better place. A hurt person who stays can make sure the next person who comes through the doors does not end up hurt. Hurt people can teach His people better lessons about empathy and wholeness.

When God designed the church, He called us a body. He had in mind a people who walked together, toward the same place, with the same goal. He did not have a picture of individual eyes, noses and kneecaps lying around telling one another, “Hey, I’m OK. I’m worshipping God over here my own way. But it’s all good.”

The church is intended to batter the gates of hell. It’s a glorious adventure to be a part of together. It’s supremely ineffective as a lone person, smacking the gates with a baseball bat. Jesus laid down His life for the church, for us, and He asks us to be His image here until He comes.

DISCUSS IT

1. Why do so many people believe they don’t need church?

2. Would those doubters feel welcome in your church?

Jill Richardson is a Free Methodist pastor, wife and mother sharing God’s grace through speaking, writing (jillmrichardson.com) and living.



Do older people really want young people in church?

The surprising truth about intergenerational congregations

Brad M. Griffin

Photo by: Paolo Giancristofaro

Lately we have been sharing about our work at the Fuller Youth Institute over the past few years studying churches growing young—remarkable bright spots in the midst of a gloomy national church landscape. 

Yes, these are churches young people are lovingnot leaving.

But if you tend to be a skeptic like me (I like to think of myself as a hyper-realist), this may be raising all kinds of questions for you. 

Some of the questions we often hear include:

“What about the senior adults in these churches?” 

“Do older adults get left out when churches focus on young people? 

“Do old people really want younger people in the church?”


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Social Media: Selfies

 

 

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One of the most dominant features of recent social media has been the selfie, and they remain extremely popular among teenagers today, especially with females. Selfies are much more than a passing fad these days. They are an established part of the fabric of youth culture.

According to the Oxford American English Dictionary, a selfie (noun; pronounced sel-fee; plural selfies) is a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.

Selfies are huge in social media today and are a perfect fit for teenagers in the throes of adolescent development, particularly in their process of creating the sense of identity, self-image, and self-esteem. Each selfie gives a kid the opportunity to test drive her or his sense of identity and receive almost immediate feedback through social media. This feedback is a double-edged sword, cutting both ways, with positive and negative outcomes. As kids view feedback from their selfies, they refine their sense of identity, for better or worse.

Why Kids Love Selfies
Selfies are an easy way to communicate visually via social media and to receive feedback via likes and comments from friends and followers. When a teenager posts a selfie using social media, she or he doesn’t have to ask: What do you think about this picture of me? The question is assumed. Selfies provide a steady stream of identity validation and/or criticism from others.

The Dark Side of Selfies
While kids are looking for validation from their selfie posts, there is a huge potential for bad outcomes through negative comments, bullying, and feeding the monsters of self/narcissism that lurk in each of us. As with other pictures posted online, once it’s in cyberspace, it’s likely to be out there forever.

How Parents Can Help Kids Handle Selfies
• Help kids establish a healthy sense of self-image by encouraging them to establish their identity and value upon who they are in Christ.
• Provide kids with plenty of loving affirmation.
• Encourage healthy relationships with family, peers and trusted adults.
• Encourage kids to think through who they are seeking validation from when they post a selfie.
• Encourage kids to consider what values their selfies convey, and whether those values are consistent with the values they claim to hold.
• Teach kids to avoid posting inappropriate selfies.



Five Ways to Have a Fun, Less Stressful Summer Vacation

By Jim Burns 
 
 
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Family Vacation. Those are two words that strike fear into the hearts of many parents (and kids — especially if they are teenagers!) Some parents can get so caught up in the details of a summer family vacation that they don’t have any fun. Other parents find the stresses involved in a vacation are so great, that by the time they get home, they need to go back to work in order to get some rest. Yet, family vacations don’t have to be feared. They can be a tremendous source of bonding, relaxation, and fun while building a future filled with great memories. The following tips can help you turn your next family vacation into a great experience.

1) Plan in advance. Planning ahead will often save you money on all of the big vacation expenses like airfare, hotels, and even attractions. Making your plans well in advance will certainly lighten your stress load and give you more time to enjoy while on your vacation.

2) Set realistic expectations. From your expectations of your kids’ behavior to expectations of family bonding to expectations of either activities or down times, set the bar at a realistic level. A successful family vacation might be wonderful and will hold many great memories, but it probably is not going to change your lives. Don’t expect vacation time to fix problems at home or work.

3) Leave work at home. Unless you have one of those jobs where you absolutely must maintain communication with your work, don’t take work with you, don’t check your e-mail or text messages, and don’t answer your cell phone. It may take you some time when you get back to work to get back up to speed, but your family deserves your full attention while on vacation — not to mention the fact that you need time away from work as well!

4) Value your time together. Your living, sleeping, and eating arrangements may well be different. Your family may have to sleep in one room together. You may not be able to find a quiet place. You may not be able to prepare food as you would at home. Be aware of these factors going into a vacation and don’t stress out about them. Rather, make the best of your circumstances, valuing these unique experiences and enjoying your family’s time together.

5) Relax. You cannot see everything, do everything, and experience everything in one vacation. Don’t even try. Don’t plan out every minute of your vacation. Leave room in your schedule for spontaneity. Be willing to compromise on activities. On vacation, no one ever gets to do everything they want to do, but do your best to make sure that everyone in the family gets to do something that they want to do (moms and dads included!)



Pass A Legacy of Faith to Your Kids

 
 
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The thought of passing on a legacy of faith from generation to generation sounds great, but where does a parent begin? As a starting point, try thinking about the spiritual, relational, physical, emotional, and mental characteristics of your life. Then, ask yourself what kind of legacy do you want to leave with your children in these five areas of life? Following, you’ll find some goals you might want to pursue. As you review them, feel free to add more specific practical ideas of your own.

• Spiritual: To love and obey God, teach integrity, value involvement in a church, grow in faith, learn and live by the Bible, develop a biblical worldview, be a disciple of Christ, serve others.

• Relational: Times of fun and laughter, family bonding vacation times, recreation times together, ability to resolve conflict with family member, listening skills, how to treat the opposite sex, developing lasting friendships, investing in the lives of others.

• Physical: Eat healthy foods, manage stress, exercise, financial integrity and stewardship, cleanliness and health issues, how to work hard, how to budget your financial resources.

• Emotional: Build healthy friendships, find times of rest and replenishment, build confidence and a healthy self-image, build trust and unconditional love, develop character traits such as discipline, perseverance, courage, and purity.

• Mental: Read good books, learn new skills, write and discuss ideas, discover how to think critically, become skilled at planning, learn decision-making skills.

These are good starting points for identifying what you want to teach your children. However, try hard not to overwhelm them or be overwhelmed yourself. Something is better than nothing, and those who don’t aim at anything won’t find their way.

Remember that your words are important, but they can only go so far. So much of the work of passing on a legacy of faith takes place when we model it ourselves and believe in our children. To do that, we must make sure that we as parents are working on these same issues within our own lives. It will take a plan, intentionality, and help from above. But I believe you can lead the way for your children and make a generation difference for lifetimes to come.

 


A Future for the Local Church

 

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The story of the First Free Methodist Church of Pasadena began in 1888. What originally started as a tent revival on the streets of Pasadena, California, under the call of the Rev. C.B. Ebey, flourished into a lively local church for several family generations. In fact, the church lasted for 120 years until the Free Methodist Church in Southern California closed the church building’s doors in 2008. The church experienced a rich history like the city in which it resides, but the congregation simply couldn’t keep up with societal changes.

Recent Barna Group statistics indicate that, in the past decade, “the number of adults who are unchurched has increased by more than 30 percent. This is an increase of 38 million individuals — that’s more people than live in Canada or Australia.” (fmchr.ch/bgunchurch). With such a staggering decline in church attendance, especially in Pacific Coast states “where residents comprise 20 percent of the nation’s unchurched,” there’s no surprise the First Free Methodist Church of Pasadena struggled like many other local churches.

According to sociologists such as Robert Putnam and Marc Dunkelman, the fabric that held the local church together is vanishing. In “The Vanishing Neighbor,” Dunkelman concludes that the disappearance of “middle-ring” relationships — the core relationships of the neighborhood — is the reason for such drastic societal changes. He writes, “Adults today tend to prize different kinds of connections than their grandparents: more of our time and attention today is spent on more intimate contacts and the most casual acquaintances. We’ve abandoned the relationships in between — what I define as ‘middle-ring’ ties. And that shift, made as the result of millions of individual decisions across the whole of society, has quietly spurred the second transformation of American community and left us with the impression that the future is bleak.”

Dunkelman brings to our attention what Putnam pointed to years ago in his book, “Bowling Alone.” The essence of American society formed around townships and Alexis de Tocqueville’s democratic institutions has been replaced by the individual power to choose the relationships we want.

The result has redefined the neighborhood. We simply don’t know the neighbors next to us anymore, and the truth is we don’t need to. Our phones let us filter calls to speak mainly with family and close friends. Our laptops help us stay in touch with longtime friends from high school who live in another state. Our cars let us travel to any place of our choice. Our apps connect us to anyone and anything instantly. There’s really little left in life that’s beyond our own choices. When left to our own choices, we choose what we like. So why choose to support the local church?

When I responded to a call in 2011 to restart the First Free Methodist Church of Pasadena, now called Rose City Church, I honestly had no clue either. To find out why our neighbors would choose the local church, we spent three years forming a community ready to serve the neighborhood. In that time, we realized two important lessons. First, it became clear that the local church is no longer at the center of community. We are just one community group among many in our area. Second, we learned that many of the organizations serving the city did so really well — better than we could ever hope with our limited resources. This meant our future did not rest in gathering people to us so we could take over the city. Our future rests in preparing our people to go out and support the good work already taking place. To find out whom to support and in what ways, we spent nine months in a listening campaign.

When our listening campaign revealed the vast network in which Rose City existed, we began to see how drastically the neighborhood had changed. Dunkelman was right. People exercised the power of choice to participate in all sorts of relationships as they saw best. But this wasn’t a bad thing. We learned to make sure we did only one thing really well and not many things poorly.

Instead of attempting to be a church to all people by trying to meet all needs all the time, we made the change to focus on only doing one thing well: discipleship. We decided to focus on offering the one thing that no other secular community group can offer: an opportunity to grow as a disciple of Christ within the life of the church.

This singular focus meant we had to make major changes to our ministries. We had to hand over our student outreach at the local community college to InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. We had to transition Rose City Coffee, our coffee training program for homeless youth, into a small business like any other local coffee shop. This shift meant that the future of our ministries rested in the hands of strangers who would one day become our partners.

A simple vision of discipleship and partnership has provided us with a bright future as a local neighborhood church. Within a year of these changes, our impact in the city increased drastically. We partnered with numerous community groups. We organized community events. We were invited to chair city committees. We led the way in community development. We became a voice at the table with a strong reputation in our network. Best of all, we became friends with our neighbors.

Yes, the culture surrounding the local church has changed, but the future is far from bleak. We now know our place in the city and our neighbors do too. They join us for discipleship, and we join them for partnership. By God’s grace, we look forward to another 120 years as a local church.

Dan Davidson is the lead pastor of Rose City Church in Pasadena, California. He also chairs the Faith Community Committee of the Pasadena Partnership to End Homelessness.



Why Church Matters

 
 
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Church fixes us — not the church building, of course, and note that the fix doesn’t always feel good. Being fixed isn’t the same as being happy or contented, but being fixed is the fundamental reversal of being fractured. It’s the restoration of the core of what it means to be human — relationships. Everything that’s wrong in the world stems from fractured relationships, be they relationships with other people or with the Creator. That’s what’s going on in church: We’re practicing right-relationship.

Strangely enough, the church fixes us together, not one at a time, because “self-help” is an oxymoron. Our needs can only be resolved communally, with others, because that’s what’s broken.

Evangelicals tend to emphasize that the salvation of God, through Jesus, is the personal forgiveness of sins. But I’m happy to remind you that salvation goes way beyond that. The good news is that Jesus came to fix it all, not just our personal offenses. He came to fix it all, and most of what’s broken is relational — our marriages, our friendships, our families, our communities, our nations, our political processes. Think about the headlines for a moment. What wrongs are they describing? They’re relational. “Group-help” might be more descriptive of what we really need, not “self-help.”

That’s why church, this gathering of people “getting-fixed-through-Jesus,” is indispensable for salvation. Yes, indispensable. Someone will point to the thief on the cross — or some believer on a deserted island — but granting the rare exception, salvation is found in, exhibited by and proven through the communal restoration of relationship. We call it church.

Let me go one step further to something that will sound strangely Catholic: You cannot be saved outside the church. Again, granting the rare circumstantial exception, there is no solitary salvation. The world knows no lone Christian. Why? Because the very essence of salvation is relationship restored, which cannot happen in isolation.

So although church is messy and sometimes awkward and often uncomfortable, this is where we put our inner experience of grace into a real-world trial. Church is where we test our heart’s transformation and bring to maturity the fruit of the Spirit. You say you’re saved; how do you behave in a board meeting? You say the Spirit has done a work in your life; how are you when the music drags and the singer is pitchy? You say Jesus has forgiven your sins; how are you at forgiving the hypocritical among us? You say you’re grateful to the Father for the gift of His Son; do your offerings truly show your gratitude?

Let’s go one step further. Might this communal understanding of salvation be more meaningful to post-Christian generations? These are friends who don’t instinctively feel the guilt of their sin nor our plea for them to be made right with God. Yet they instinctively join their voices against group sin: be it war, modern slavery or civil rights. This is why the cry for “social justice” is the drumbeat of our lives.

They have been brought up watching world news, not local news. It’s all big picture. They respond to big-picture solutions. It’s helpful for them, given their worldview, to understand that salvation is both personal and global. That’s why church is the first step toward addressing everything that needs fixing today. It’s a group response that includes personal response.

Your local church will certainly seem like a far cry from God’s solution for the brokenness of our world, but it’s not. The good news of salvation through Jesus has been entrusted to a redeemed people, not a person. The radiance of God, which inhabited the tabernacle and the temple, now inhabits the living stones that are being built into a new temple. That’s your local church, the place where the radiance of God inhabits.

Church often lets us down. It often doesn’t rise to this lofty description. That’s normal. Within your local church, there will be individuals who are less “fixed” than others. You probably could list them!

Yet God, in His cooperative strategy, has chosen this instrument — this gathering of unequally fixed, yet restored people — to be His demonstration of grace and power. The church is exhibit No. 1 of God’s restoration of all that is fractured: relationships.

Bishop David Roller served for 17 years as a Free Methodist missionary in Mexico and then for 10 years as Latin America area director for Free Methodist World Missions. He was first elected a bishop in 2007.



God’s Messy Masterpiece

by 
 
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“I’m done with the church. I don’t see the point of it all. I will worship Jesus on my own.”

Hearing those words from a longtime friend was a sucker punch to the gut. I sat in silence trying to gather my thoughts. I moved uncomfortably in the faux leather coffee shop seat and began to pray silently. This isn’t the first time I’ve witnessed a Christian bail on the church. As a church planter and pastor for 20 years, I have sat across the table with a number of people who have been hurt, burned or disillusioned by their experience in the church. I’ve read countless articles (on Christian websites) that dismantle and deconstruct this sacred institution. I’ve listened to church leaders, in a grand stroke of irony, bash the very church of which they are a part. I’m not talking constructive criticism. I’m talking about the type of tongue-lashing where they throw it to the curb and kick it while it’s down. That always puzzles me. How could someone who shepherds the church speak in such a hurtful way about the church? I’ve heard it far too often.

I’ve sat and listened as other people have rejected the church, but today was different. Today this conversation hurt. It was personal. Maybe because it was such a close friend or maybe because it was the umpteenth time I’ve been on the receiving end of the “Dear John” letter, but I wasn’t going to let this moment pass without standing up for the church. With a thousand thoughts running through my mind and feeling like I had nothing to say, I leaned back into the conversation and said, “Listen, friend. Let me tell you about the beautiful mystery of the local church and why I love her so much.”

The church is made to be messy.


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