Our Messy, Magnificent Church (Pt. 1)

Peace Church exists to worship Christ, build community and love Cary. If you’ve paid attention over the last year or so, you know we’ve been saying those words a lot. Our new mission statement has helped us refocus why we do what we do as a church, and that’s a good thing.

But there’s a danger that arises when the community starts thinking missionally. When you have a clear idea of where you want to go, it’s easier to recognize that it’s not easy getting there.

Peace exists to worship Christ, but a lot of the time it feels like we do more sinful stumbling in that pursuit than steady growing.

We seek to build community, but that would be a lot more convenient if it weren’t for all the weird people we have to put up with, or all the busy schedules we have to try to synchronize. 

And yes, obviously we want to love Cary, but what exactly does that look like? Where does it happen? How do I work 40 hours a week, take care of my family and still make time to serve at Kingswood?

If we lose sight of the heart of grace at the center of the church, a mission statement can become mainly an ideal by which we judge our failures. How do we reconcile the realities that the church is a community of still imperfect people and also a community called to join God on a massive mission?

Remember: The Church is Supposed to be Messy…

The gospel is the only message that promises unconditional cleansing and acceptance to all who believe, so it makes sense that a gospel-centered church would be full of sinners.

Nothing brings the doctrine of sin from a theoretical concept to an in-your-face reality like gathering a bunch of sinful people in the same place and telling them to work toward the same goals.

Jesus has definitively, eternally rescued his people from the penalty of sin, but we still wrestle daily with its power. “I do not do the good I want,” Pauls says, “but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Rom. 7:19). That’s true for you and me and every Christian we will ever interact with this side of eternity.

In his book, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us that God delights to use messy fellowship to bring us to a greater experience of grace:

The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be, and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.

The church is the place where God calls Christians to experience disillusionment, disagreement, even disgust, so that we can more deeply experience forgiveness, love and hope. The point is not to bottle up all of our annoyances and inefficiencies; the point is to learn to love one another through them.

If we as a church are going to continue pursuing a mission together, we need to remember that often the pursuit will be marked by tension, pain and situations that require us to give and receive mercy. 

Praise God, one day we will be free of the presence of sin forever! But for now, we shouldn't be naive about how sin will affect our community. We can even be thankful for the struggle, because God will use messy fellowship to teach us more about what real community looks like.

Check back later this week for the second part of the series...