The myth of the perfect church

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Human beings are created with an inbuilt tendency towards idealism. Fairy tale stories and superhero movies reflect our need for happy endings and superhuman abilities. We grow up with romantic and unrealistic expectations of life, which are often dashed against the rocks of reality, leaving us hurt and disappointed.

You can see this idyllic imagination at work in our searches for a romantic partner. My youngest daughters (age 6 and 4) sometimes take turns being a bride and marrying each other, already living out the dream of “happily ever after”. They don’t yet know that every marriage involves two very different and flawed humans, who will have downs as well as ups, and who will never fully be able to meet each other’s needs and expectations.

When it comes to church, we have the same idealism, only even higher. After all, we have Scripture verses to back it up. We long to be part of an intimate community of people who love one another, accept us as we are and empower us to be all we can be.

Our idyllic notions often take a battering in institutional church, so we turn our hearts towards a romanticised notion of “organic church”. In our minds, this new-and-improved-model-of-church will meet all our needs and bring us towards “happy ever after”. In the real world, organic churches have their problems too – their power struggles, personality clashes and failure to meet people’s expectations.

Organic church life can be amazing. In fact, institutional church life can be equally amazing. However, just like a marriage, any of these relational settings needs to be approached with the right mindset and commitment to playing our part. There are certain characteristics which will create the transformational community we long for – honesty, authenticity, acceptance, kindness, patience, love. The problem is, these things come at a cost. They require effort and truckloads of maturity. They are not always easy and they don’t always feel good.

If you want to find some magical, picture-perfect church community, give up now. However, if you’re prepared to struggle with your own issues, put up with other people’s foibles, and commit for the long haul, you may just find glimpses of the joy and fellowship you crave. It won’t be an easy journey, but along the way you will change yourself and your church community, for good.

10 thoughts on “The myth of the perfect church

  1. Kathleen,

    Good post! My struggle with “institutional” style churches is that the model doesn’t foster participation and spontaneity. People say, “Well, you won’t find the perfect model.” I agree, but certain models need to change in order to open doors for the things you describe and are passionate about (me too:). For that to happen, leaders need to let go of control and trust the Holy Spirit in His people.

    You can’t put new wine into old wineskins!

  2. You are absolutely correct. We do need to approach church with the same sort of attitude that we need for a successful marriage. Among other things this means having a willingness to keep engaging even when it’s hard and a commitment to working things through.

    When one party sees the other as inferior, demanding submission to their dictates and blind allegiance to their ‘leadership’, it generally doesn’t end well. In my experience, no matter what the setting, we need to see each other as equals and learn to value the unique contribution each person brings.

    • “When one party sees the other as inferior, demanding submission to their dictates and blind allegiance to their ‘leadership’, it generally doesn’t end well.”

      Amen! In church and in marriages.

  3. Thanks for this! I’ve had a few conversations in these lines lately, and I think the example you give from marriage is a great one. It’s easy to come to church for what we get out (perhaps we’ve misunderstood why it’s called a “service”?) but harder to take a bigger-picture view.

    Incidentally, as a parent of small children, I assume I’m not the only one who’s ever felt Usborne should release a new touch-and-feel book called “That’s not my church…”

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