Today, I went to a funeral for someone that I knew, but not very well, an older member of my church and friend of a friend. It was very moving and I cried quite a few times (I’d like to think this is not unusual at funerals?) This person had such a rich life, was such a loving person to his friends and family and church, and everything in the service bore witness to that.
As I listened to the memories people shared, and as I chatted with other church members at the luncheon after the service, I realized how important that church family is in one’s life. As a way to worship, and through worship, to build community, to develop friendships… a spiritual community is invaluable.
Of course you can’t just show up at church and reap all the benefits. Yes, churches should reach out and be warm, welcoming spaces for strangers. But eventually, you have to move beyond the honeymoon. Being involved in a church is an investment of time and energy that yields great dividends – relationships, solidarity, the chance to worship together. (And, added bonus, today NPR mentioned that religious involvement correlates with contentment.)
With any such commitment comes a price. In the words of our pastor today, to love is to hurt. There will be dissension and feuds and truces and politics. There will be pain and loss.
But it is worth it.
Churches aren’t the only way to find Jesus. Jesus doesn’t need churches to get his message out. But churches need Jesus, and so do we.
God uses churches to create the network that we as humans need. Places to celebrate rituals like marriage and birth and mourn death. People to connect with and build the relationships that carry us through difficult times. Friends to support us. Fellow believers to speak truth to us.
Sometimes the church or people in the church mess up. (In fact that’s what the current book I’m working on is about). But that doesn’t mean we throw church out the window entirely. We still need solid Christian community.
We need it more than we know.