Sometimes I ask myself if church is worth it! I mean, it takes a lot of effort to keep a local church community together, and there are a lot of resources caught up in this local institution. There can also be a fair amount of frustration. And some disappointment.
On doubting days, I wonder, might it be more efficient to use all our effort and all these resources more directly, in some sort of social service mode to provide needy people with material help? Is it right, rather, that we go about the slow and oft times difficult work of gathering, building up and sending out a congregation of faithful people we hope become productive servants near and far?
Of course, we who are gathered to be this church, no matter how materially-provided for we are, we’re needy too. I believe the needs that get met at church, our needs for acceptance and a place to fit in, for forgiveness and second chances, for help, support, and love — those are every bit as real as material needs. But, you know what I mean, right? Sometimes, knowing that sisters and brothers are lacking the food and clothing, medical care or shelter, I feel silly talking about my non-material needs…
And my doubting days, when I wonder if it’s worth all the trouble, they often occur when I am struggling with some of the particular challenges the church faces in our time. When it feels like everyone is too busy and church is a secondary commitment for most people, so that there aren’t enough volunteers and leaders to do what needs to be done. But things still need to be done.
So far, I’ve kept at it, for over 30 years now. Why? Well, on my more confident days, I can’t think of a better place than the church to invest my time and talent (such as it is!) and treasure. And that’s because of a peculiar capacity of the church.
Do you remember the fairytale Rumpelstiltskin? For the comparison I want to make, I am not interested in the whole story — the bragging of the father or the dealmaking of the imp or the fronting of the young woman who becomes queen. I’m just focusing on the actual trick of being able to spin straw into gold. Because that’s what I think the church can do with the gifts that we offer. Or more on point, that’s what I think the church can do with us. Take us as little more than straw and by some magic turn us into gold.
I often say, the few times I do the blessing over the collection, “Lord, take the gifts that we can offer and magnify them that they might accomplish all you need of them and us.” That’s how I believe the church works. It’s almost a magical machine. Or maybe not magic. We put in our humble gifts, we offer ourselves, and somehow, by God’s grace, they are accepted and in being received made more than we offered… they and we are spun into something unquestionably precious. It’s somewhere in the compounding that happens when all our contributions come together and then the magnification that happens when they are touched by God.
In this understanding, where else could I possibly wish to invest what God has made available to me? It seems a better bet than the stock market and a surer deal than pretty much any place else I might give my time. I get the benefit of all that you have to offer, and then the value added of God’s hand in the mix too.
I am not starry-eyed or naive, but I do think that something happens here at church that is rare in our world. Something happens that leaves us and the world we serve and affect, even transform, better than we could claim were it not for our having been touched by God. Even with some doubting days and some difficult times, I will keep working through the church.
Where I hope to see you too,