After a long day on Saturday, Thad and I made a split second decision and took the kids out for Mexican. They’re a pretty cheap date when you consider that three of them always order just a plate of fries, one always orders a bowl of queso, and one always orders a side of rice and a side of beans. Combine those inexpensive nutritional choices with the free chips and salsa and bam, we’ve got dinner out on a dime. And no dirty dishes for me.
We’d been seated against the wall downstairs for only a few minutes when I saw an older couple a few tables over staring at us. I tried to pay no attention, but after a short while, the woman got up and made her way towards us at the same time the waitress walked over to take our order. Things went from weird to awkward to uncomfortably heavy and before we realized what was happening, we were knee deep into church talk.
I remember when y’all got married. Where are you guys now? You know we got a new pastor and he’s preaching his heart out. But we’re losing people. Quite a few actually and we don’t why they’re leaving. I mean, he’s preaching the straight Bible and people are walking out the back door.
Thad listened to her for a few more minutes and I watched his shoulders drop as I connected all the dots between us. She worked the nursery in our first church. She’d rocked our first two babies. That’s why she was staring at us.
I sat at the table and like Thad, my shoulders dropped.
In less than six hours, with three different people at three different churches, I’d been on the receiving end of the exact same conversation:
People are leaving our church and we have no idea why.
All the young families were here one Sunday and the next, they were just gone.
We don’t know what we did to cause them to leave.
It feels like a divorce with no closure.
They were a part of our family and now they just aren’t.
I lost my entire small group. In one week.
We are heartsick.
After she left, Thad and I sat across the table from each other and talked a circle around the big questions everyone was dancing around, but no one was asking:
What does it look like for the Church to bear with one another in love?
What does it look like for the Church to do the hard work of conflict resolution?
What does it look like for the Church to be longsuffering?
What does it look like for the Church to choose others over self?
What does it look like for the Church to covenant with one another to live together in harmony in order to make much of Jesus where He has planted them?
What does it look like for the Church to commit themselves to one another…for life?
What does it look like for the Church to commit to live in and serve her community…for life
Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to talk with some ladies about good neighboring. We talked about how loving our neighbors grows us in our individual relationships with Jesus while improving the entire community around us. We chatted about how hard it is to love the people who just so happen to live next door to us and how the struggle to be in relationship with them shines a big light into all the crappy places in our hearts. We confessed our inability to resolve conflict and walk the long mile with people who are suffering and spend time, over time getting to know our neighbors.
And we shared the heart struggle to simply love our neighbors like Jesus loves us because we don’t know what that kind of love looks like. On Sunday night, our church’s small group gathered in my house for dinner and a book study. We’re going through a book about the body of Christ and how it can’t be what Jesus intends for it to be unless we, the people making up the body, mature in our interpersonal relationships.
We were all answering questions and asking questions when someone spoke up and said something so profound we all just sorta sat there.
Our church’s greatest contribution to our city isn’t going to be in how we serve it. Our church’s greatest contribution to our city is going to be the family we offer it.
Over the next few weeks, I’m going to blog through a loosely crafted series on what healthy churches look like. I use the term “loosely crafted” because each post will be a stand alone post within a series of posts that will roll out as I get each one written.
And for those of you wondering why all the writing about what makes a church healthy especially when the whole world is going to hell in a hand basket, let me remind you that:
The welfare of our cities depends on the health of our churches,
The welfare of our schools depends on the health of our churches,
The welfare of our neighborhoods depends on the health of our churches,
The welfare of our neighbors depends on the health of our churches.
And although we don’t want to admit it, the welfare of our own families depends on the health of our churches.
We can’t give away what we don’t have, y’all, and the world needs a healthy family to be adopted into.