And, corollary to that expectation was another: when everything didn’t go smoothly, something was wrong. And, usually, a third and a fourth corollary: it was my fault, and it was my job to fix it.
Now, I know better (most of the time). A verse I read recently in Proverbs made me laugh out loud:
Where there are no oxen,Of course, we all know, stalls are made to house livestock, and therefore they will get dirty. And churches are spiritual houses made of people, who often make bigger messes than dumb animals.
the stalls are clean;
but much is produced
by the strength of an ox (Proverbs 14:4, CJB).
Eugene Peterson writes,
Every time I move to a community, I find a church close by and join it—committing myself to worship and work with that company of God’s people. I’ve never been anything other than disappointed: every one turns out to be biblical, through and through: murmurers, complainers, the faithless, the inconstant, those plagued with doubt and riddled with sin, boring moralizers, glamorous secularizers.Of course. Why should we expect this process (whereby a bunch of sinners are transformed into a community of the redeemed) to be free of such disappointment? Not even Jesus enjoyed smooth-sailing with his band of twelve; they were sometimes as clueless, crotchety, and bumbling as I am!
But every once in a while, Peterson says, “a shaft of blazing beauty seems to break out of nowhere and illuminate those companies, and then I see what my sin-dulled eyes had missed: word-of-God-shaped, Holy Spirit-created lives of sacrificial humility, incredible courage, heroic virtue, holy praise, joyful suffering, constant prayer, persevering obedience.”
Oh, I’ve seen those things in my church. I’ve also seen us make plenty of mistakes (somewhere around a bajillion). And we want to get better. And we ARE! But we should also remember that, like cattle stalls and sheep pens, only empty churches can go very long without making a mess.