So I'm not a big fan of Brussel Sprouts. No, I didn't come from one of those homes where my mom made me clean my plate, no matter what awful green vegetable was on it, but I was exposed to many different foods and expected to at least "try it." Sometimes I liked it, sometimes I didn't. Dinner usually looked like having some foods I liked, some foods my brother liked, some we didn't...and so we lived with a mixture of favorites and unfavorites all the time. If there was something on our plate like, say Brussel Sprouts, we just tried one and left the others there. And so we knew that there would always be things we didn't like so much at dinner...that was ok.
I find myself concerned that the American Church is unable to live with Brussel Sprouts...
In my sixteen years of doing ministry, I've found that there really is no perfect church, no perfect congregation, no perfect church leadership team. Still, our successful consumer culture has created what has been termed by some, the "Cafeteria Church", (which goes well with my metaphor of Brussel Sprouts). The typical church-goer is going to a church because of what that church brings to their personal life. The teaching, the worship, the children's program, the youth program...one or more things "fit" what they need in a season of life. I totally understand this as I have preferences also, but I've learned that a self-focused church attendance misses critical things for our Christian journey.
Sadly, what we miss is the necessary ingredient of COMMUNITY. what I mean by community is not just gathering on Sundays, but developing deep relationships with other believers. Relationships that go beyond the surface and involve knowing the unattractive issues in our life. This type of community takes time, and investment. Theologians like Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who shaped much of our current thinking, have written in summary that Christian community is a necessary part of becoming a mature Christ follower. I tend to agree.
Today, the disturbing trend is that many Christ-followers do not hold community as a value...at least not above personal preferences. If something goes wrong relationally in the church, they just pickup and leave, there's always another church down the road. I don't mean to sound overly critical, but I believe this is a massive blow to the Church in America, as well as our own journey with Christ. For us to be formed into the image of Christ, we must stick it out with each other. Those uncomfortable relationships will help transform us. Those disagreements with leadership or programming, when talked through, become the laboratory of forgiveness and understanding. We become more like Jesus by leaning in to the broken relational issues we face, rather than running from them.
Yes, sometimes it means enduring worship that isn't your favorite, or teaching that isn't what you'd pick...but when the community is your primary value, then God will use you in other people's lives and they will be used in yours. You become "part of the Body." Heard that idea before somewhere? (hint: 1 Corinthians 12)
I'm saddened when I hear someone leave our church...not when they feel called to another ministry, but when they leave over preferences or relational differences. Community falls way down the list of priorities....down where Brussel Sprouts reside. Without community ("Communal Unity"), the Church is weaker, which the enemy loves. Without community we cannot mature and grow. My personal belief is that there is no such thing as a "personal relationship with Christ." We've done people a dis-service by coining that term in America. It must be a community relationship with Jesus...because that is where we are changed and transformed. That's probably why community is so prevalent in Scripture. That's why we're called "a Body of Christ."
So when you look at your church and see Brussel Sprouts, just try one. If you don't like it, just leave the rest on your plate....don't go looking for a new cafeteria...they really are all the same in that some of their food choices are good, some not so good. Don't let community become a byproduct of attendance at a church, make community a Christian value you strive and fight for. In the end, you'll be a better Christ-follower for it, and the church will be blessed by your long-suffering investment in relationships!