Church Life

The Oxymoron Church: Broken Community

When talking about a topic like the Oxymoron Church, the question comes up, “Where do we start?” Do we jump straight into the big issues and risk scaring people off? Or work our way up from the little things? Let’s start somewhere in the middle.

Church is a word we often use improperly. It is not a place, but a people. It isn’t something we do, it is who we are. The church is about a group, a family, a body made up of many individuals. (If you’re my age, think Voltron.)

A healthy church is a group of believers in community. The bonds between them should draw the lonely into arms ready to embrace them, and a place at the table with many brothers and sisters.

In the Oxymoron Church, the promise of community falls to pieces. What should be one whole is smashed by division and strife.

Living in a divided world

Over the course of our lives, we get used to division. Factions, partisanship, us-versus-them, are all normal and accepted, maybe even considered essential.

Siblings are older or younger and go to different schools. School spirit develops into a warlike mentality at sports events. We learn about revolts and wars, both historical and in our world today. Politics and worldviews clash, separating us and deepening the divide.

The variety of denominations adds to the normalcy of division and pulls it into Christianity. Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists, Nazarenes, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, and Non-denominational, naming a few. I still confuse people when they ask which “religion” I am and I reply with, “Christian.”

Division is everywhere in this life, but it should not be in the church. This holy community is supposed to be marked by unity, common purpose, working together, and supporting each other. It is about following Jesus Christ, living by His Word, and encouraging each other along the way.

You can’t hide it

Let’s take the honest look at our churches, and ask which of these pictures better characterizes our spiritual community.

Do the people in your church go out of their way to support and be supported by one another? Do they lay down personal preferences for good of the whole and the Gospel?

Or can you see something different in your church? Is it obvious by the who sits on which side of the sanctuary? Can you see it on their faces during worship? Are they people who get a “reserved” slice of pie at church potlucks?

What motivates people’s hopes and dreams for the church? Are they focused on “we” or “me”?

I once posted a picture of a group in church to teach them what a selfie is. The sanctuary was setup in three sections. Most people sat along the aisles, but not in the middle seats of the middle section.

My picture was of me smiling with my head filling the empty space in the rows. To the right and left were people sitting on the edges. A ministry friend of mine asked the question, “Which side is the sheep, and which is the goats?” (You can find out what meant by reading Matthew 25:31-46).

While the picture and resulting comments were humorous, they made plain some of the long-standing rifts in the church community.

What we fail to understand about divisions in the church is how obvious they are to an honest observer. Though people spend decades playing nice while together in the building, factions and strife can be obvious after just a few minutes, or with a quick picture.

Welcoming and welcomed

When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he covered two major hurdles when it comes to church community.

The first hurdle to healthy bonds of community in the church is failing to recognize how much we need each other.

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 12:21, NIV)

The longer we have been a Christian, and the longer we have been in the same church, the more likely we are to think we do not need to welcome other people into our lives.

Think of all of the difference you might have with a new believer in your church. Personalities, likes and dislikes. You might disagree about the way you want the pastor to preach, how the music should sound, how bright the lights should be, and what color the pews (or chairs?) must be.

Of course, these are just the basics. Don’t forget about the more personal vulnerabilities about opening your heart to new people. What if they hurt you? Will they disappoint you? Would it just be better to ignore them than risk all of the possibilities?

This leads to the second hurdle: people who don’t feel like they matter enough to be a part of the community.

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. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. (1 Corinthians 12:15–16, NIV)

It must break God’s heart to see us lock our hearts away behind impenetrable walls and reinforced, locked gates. But how angry is He when our selfishness keeps others He loves from finding their place in the community God created for them?

We have to stop doing church and going to church. When this is the limit of our vision for what church is, we forget how God brought us together for each other.

As an American, I know that E Pluribus Unum means “out of many, one.” It is a small phrase describing the power of how many parts come together to form one powerful whole.

“Church” should have the same power, as its promise is so much greater. The whole that is the Church, the Body of Jesus Christ, is not limited by geography or politics. It is supernatural, glorious, and destined for greatness beside the King of kings.

If you are already part of the community, welcome others into the fold. A healthy church is a growing church.

If you aren’t part of the community, you are welcome here. God loves you so much more than you can imagine. Don’t let the foolishness of pride and selfishness keep you from the greatest relationships you will ever have.