Dan Kimball, a regular contributor to Leadership and Out of Ur, has written a book titled, They Like Jesus but Not the Church: Insights from emerging generations. The book chronicles the attitudes of younger seekers - they feel a strong affection for Jesus but they harbor distrust, even disgust, for the church.
I can relate to that perspective. In college I studied in the comparative religion department of a secular university and was closely involved with a parachurch ministry. During those years my fascination with Christ and my devotion to him was budding. But I carried a lingering resentment toward the church. For a number of legitimate (in my mind) and illegitimate reasons, I had pushed the church to periphery of my life. I saw it as a superfluous appendage to faith; like a sixth finger or third nipple - pretty harmless but best removed or kept hidden to avoid embarrassment.
That sentiment changed in me, however, through prayerfully reading the New Testament. I came to see that is was impossible to love Jesus but not his church. As the "Body of Christ," the community of believers is at the center of God's mission and work in the world. As Saint Augustine says, "You cannot have God as your Father and not have the Church as your mother."
I repented. I prayed for weeks asking God to fill me with a love for his church that I knew was absent from my soul. In time my heart caught up with the biblical truth my mind had already conceded.
Fifteen years later I now find myself struggling with a new dilemma. As a young Christian I loved Jesus but not the church. As a more mature believer, I now describe myself as one who loves the church but not the institution. Let me explain.
I genuinely love the church; the community of God's people who are together striving, and often failing, to pursue Christ and his mission. I love the men, women, and children that I share my life with, worship with, and serve alongside. I have even found myself feeling an unexpected love (although not always) for a critical church member complaining in my office, or the cantankerous person who seems to delight in disagreeing with my perspective on even mundane issues. Admittedly, mine is an imperfect love of the church, but it is real.
What I don't love is the 501c3 tax-exempt institution we incorrectly refer to as "the church." For decades we've heard the old adage, "the church isn't a building, it's the people." We've come to recognize that the brick and mortar structure isn't the church, but somehow we haven't had the same epiphany about the intangible structures of the institution. In many peoples' imaginations the church remains a bundle of programs, committees, policies, teams, ministries, initiatives, budgets, and events. Most people speak of "the church" the same way they refer to "the government" - it's a hierarchy of leaders managing an organization that they engage but remain apart from.
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