Church at Its Best

May 1, 2019 by Andrew Garland Breeden (Tennessee)

For my undergraduate study, I went to a Christian university that required students to attend chapel each day.  Often chapel services felt like an obligation and an interruption — time that could be spent doing something else.  I attended to have my ticket punched, and when it was over I would quickly move on with my day.  I had my doubts about whether I belonged in the community at all and sometimes wondered if I wouldn’t be better off somewhere else.

Then one morning, the family members of a teacher who had died attended our chapel service.  As a gesture of our encouragement and support, we sang to the family.  In my church tradition, singing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:19, NRSV) is a significant aspect of the worship service, and we do it well.  I love to sing, and I love much of the music that is part of my church tradition.  It was a good moment for me and a good one for my faith community.  It is still difficult to describe what happened in that moment, but something sacred and powerful occurred that still sustains me today.

Were someone to ask me what keeps me active and involved in my church community, what keeps me a faithful churchgoer in moments of doubt, what encourages me and gives me strength when I fail, I would tell them about that morning in chapel when I was a college student.  My church community came together to show love and support for people who were experiencing a great tragedy and all the grief and pain such an event brings.  To me that moment was church at its best.

I admit that in the years since, in church on Sunday mornings I have sometimes had the same doubts that I had when I was a student:  Do I belong here?  Would I be better off somewhere else?  I have moments when I am frustrated with church, and I want to throw my hands in the air and give up.  I become so focused on everything that is going wrong that I lose sight of everything that is going right.  Sometimes it’s hard for me to see beyond the ways we treat one another — the words we speak without thinking or the needs of others we overlook because we have become bogged down in minutiae.

When I grow weary with my church community, I go back to that moment in chapel when I was a college student.  It reminds me of all that is good about church and that we are at our best when we are caring for one another and loving, supporting, and encouraging each other along the way.  As the writer of the letter to the Hebrews says, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (10:24-25, NIV).  I remain grateful to my fellow Christians who have helped me along the way, especially in my moments of weakness, frustration, or doubt.  I remain grateful for that moment in chapel and how it has kept me going.

Our church communities don’t always get it right.  This has been the case for a long time, as we see when we read Paul’s letters.  But much of the time church communities do get it right; and at those times, I believe that we get it very right.  The times when we are most like Christ in our thoughts and actions are what nourish me the most.  I think this is true for all of us. Though we mess up sometimes — individually and collectively — this doesn’t have to discourage us from trying to be more Christlike each day.  So let us love, support, and encourage one another along the way.  Let us not give up when frustrations and doubts creep in, but show love and compassion to others every chance we get.  We never know what difference it could make.

Several meditations in this issue address Christian community.  You may want to read again the meditations for May 2, 18, 22, 26, 30 and June 5, 9, 10, 19, 23, 30 before responding to the reflection questions below.

Questions for Reflection:

1. When have you experienced frustration or doubt in your church community? How did you deal with your frustration or doubt?
2. Give an example from your own church community that shows Christian love, support, and encouragement at its best.

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