I’ve been a Christian for most of my life — since something like age 3 — but I spent most of my first 2 1/2 decades feeling like I didn’t measure up to the super-Christians I knew. You know the type: friendly, outgoing, super-involved at church, a sort of Christian superhero.
That was never me. I’ve always taken my faith seriously, but church was something I watched from the sidelines. For me, church was like watching football. It was something I did weekly, and had a lot of opinions about, but I never actually grabbed a helmet, suited up, and ran out on the field with the team to help make things happen.
These days, I’ve found a church I love — and I’m out on the field, experiencing the action firsthand. We’re a bit nontraditional: we stop the sermon early for discussion groups once a month, and spend another Sunday volunteering in our community instead of holding a traditional worship service. Of our three pastors on staff, two are women. We have more misfits, outsiders, and people disenfranchised with traditional Christianity than any church I’ve ever been to, and it’s the greatest.
To me, this church is the closest I’ve come to experiencing Christian community — ekklesia — Christians gathering together to worship, learn about, and try to live for, God.
I can’t describe how refreshing and invigorating it is to be away from a church community more concerned with huge, rock concert-like worship services, or unable to tell the difference between what is the Gospel/truth of Scripture and what is just Christian pop culture. My church doesn’t try to convince me to vote for a certain political party, it doesn’t make me feel less valuable for being unmarried, and I don’t feel like sermons are leading me abide by traditional gender roles or portraying complex social, cultural, or spiritual issues as black and white.
But for all the things I love about my church, the more I show up and participate in different programs, groups, and events — and take on more leadership responsibilities — the more I realize: church people bother me sometimes.
Even the church people I’m more inclined to like: the misfits, the academics, the artsy coffeehouse Seattleites. Even at a church a love, church people can still annoy me. (And yes, I probably annoy some people, too.)
That’s part of what it means to be in community. Not every relationship will be 100% awesome all of the time. For the record, the more I step out of my comfort zone to get involved at church, the more I make dumb rookie mistakes, or accidentally make life harder for people who don’t deserve it, misunderstand, miscommunicate, or otherwise cause tension that I didn’t intend to. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens. I’m pretty sure that is a normal part of ministry and church community — and I don’t know why I didn’t realize that before.
Every time I feel myself getting frustrated with someone — a person who is monopolizing the conversation during a scripture discussion group and not letting others talk, or someone who is advocating for an “poor us, suffering Christians vs. the evil, dangerous world” mindset (a worldview that to me, feels so contradictory to Jesus’ heart to love the world and invite them to follow him), or who doesn’t value the things I value — I try to remember that this is what I signed up for. This is part of the deal.
Jesus didn’t say, “Come, follow me, and only hang out with people like you, who will never disagree or disappoint you in any way.”
He said, “If you want to be my follower, deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” To be honest, focusing on my spiritual growth, the things I enjoy, and only hanging out with Christians who view the world like I do is a whole lot easier.
But that’s not really the Gospel. Making a point to live like Jesus did is my friend, who has a lower income than anyone else in our discussion group, but still regularly bring popcorn or brownies for everyone.
It’s when a woman had monopolized the conversation in our scripture discussion group all evening, and my friend volunteered to pray for her in our group prayer.
Its learning what it means to show up, and keep showing up, taking part in a community care deeply about through the fun times just as much as the challenging ones.
It won’t be perfect. You won’t always agree with everyone. Some people might bug you. But it’s a chance to live out something we Christians say all the time: that every person is made in God’s image, created by God for a special purpose, and beautifully beloved and precious to God just for who they are.
Saying that is one thing. Living it out — daily, weekly — in community, is another thing. But it’s what Jesus did, it’s how early Christians lived, and it’s something I deeply want to more fully understand, live out, and experience.
Even if certain people can get on my nerves a little sometimes. Because if you’re living in community, that’s kind of part of the deal.