This is the 4 a.m question of the day, why have I stayed connected to the Church? Why do I serve a United Methodist Church, or participate in organized religion at all? I have been asked this question repeatedly, probably because I spend a lot of time with young adults searching for their own identity and they want to know what “Church” has to do with their “faith.” I woke up shortly after four this morning with this question upon my heart. After some prayer, relfection, and coffee here are MY five reasons for staying connected, they are: history, accountability, theology, synergy, and reality.
History—God has chosen throughout history, for whatever reason, to work through the flawed forms of the Church. I am not discounting all the times when the Church has blown it. History is full of times when the Church’s human leadership has led it to do incredibility stupid things, but historically when God has chosen to work, it has been through the Church. From the beginning God has called a people to act as prophets, proclaimers, and priests to a world separated from God. Don’t you want to be part of something that has deeper roots than the internet culture that surrounds us?
Accountability—being held accountable is something most of us resist, but that all of us need. It keeps us from becoming either manipulating dictators or narcissistic navel gazers. Part of this comes from some very negative experiences with “independent fellowships” and “churches” from my childhood, where the leader exerted absolute and very manipulative control over the people. Being part of a denomination, or “organized religion” holds me and the church accountable for our behaviors, beliefs, and balance. Having to answer for my personal ministry and for that of the church I serve to another person who I have agreed to be accountable makes me consider things differently that I would if I had absolute control. It also keeps me from becoming a navel gazer, practicing postmodern monk-hood and withdrawing into a conclave of self-important backpatters who would stand “against the world” by completely withdrawing from it. Down deep, don’t you want to be held accountable to a higher level of living?
Theology—the Church teaches who God is and holds those truth revealed throughout history. It grounds us in creeds from the first century and give us roots in today’s disposable culture and challenges my self-centered approach to scripture with a broader understand of God’s divine action in the world. Don’t you want to be exposed to thoughts bigger than you could think alone?
Synergy—we can do far more together than we can individually. Margaret Mead said it well about the importance of a small group of faithful people studying scripture together, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Or Mother Teresa, “I can do what you can not do, you can do what I can not do, together we can do great things.” At its best the Church organizes around the mission to proclaim Christ and make him known through acts of mercy, words of hope, and signs of worship and wonder. Paul talked about “two or more,” and then planted churches of thousands. When we come together we dream bigger dreams, do bigger things, and live better lives than we can as individuals in our closets praying alone. Don’t you want to be part of something bigger than yourself?
Reality—I have learned in my spiritual walk, that I can’t do this alone. There have been times in my life when I considered walking away from the Church. When I became frustrated with its human frailties and shortsighted leaders. When it seemed to me to do more harm than good, but then something would happen to remind me how much community matters. There are no perfect churches, but there are perfect moments when through the mess we make of it God gives us a glimpse of heaven in a child’s prayer, the funeral of a faithful saint, or the baptism of a new believer. Do you really want to miss that?
These are some of my personal reasons. I do not believe it is a comprehensive list, and certainly not an authoritative one. These thoughts need some more work but they are where I am as God gives me another chance as the sun rises on this new day to serve the people I love through the Church. Won’t you give it another shot? I remain:
Consumed by the Call,
Dr. Marty Cauley