Church Flock Shock
By Jill Briscoe
Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. ~ Ephesians 5:25
A group of young people and I were talking to some kids as we wandered around a theme park. As we tried to tell them about Christ, they showed interest as long as we kept the conversation on Him. They were all for Jesus Christ, but as soon as the subject of the church came up, their interest waned, and some became downright hostile.
“I’m all for Jesus, but you can keep the church,” commented a kid who I discovered had never once been inside a church building! How could the church have had such bad press? I wondered. And how, as my husband often says, can you be all for Jesus Christ but not all for what He is for? As we talked with these youngsters, most of them had a horror story to tell about the church. They were suffering from a bad case of “flock shock.” The flock of God, the church, can heal and help, but it can also dismay and disappoint.
When I first became a Christian, I had never attended a church. My school taught Scripture and took us to church at Easter and Pentecost. However, the headmistress had let it be known that she didn’t believe much in the church, so we students followed suit. Growing up in postwar Britain, no one in my age group and circle of friends actually made a habit of going to church regularly.
Then I came to Christ! Once I was born again, I was told I ought to join a church. That was okay by me, so I went home at the college semester break and told my folks I had become an active Christian and wanted to join a local church. I will always remember my parents’ puzzled looks as they strove to understand what I was telling them.
“Which church will you join, Jill?” my mother asked me.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “What do you think?”
“Well,” said my mother very seriously, “we’re Presbyterians!”
I was delighted. “I didn't know,” I said. “So where is our church?”
My mother looked it up in the paper, and the following Sunday I went off to “our church” for the first time. I was excited. However, by the end of the day I was in flock shock!
There were about ten people scattered around “our pews.’" The “flock” was certainly not flocking into this establishment. I couldn’t hear anyone singing “our songs” because of our thunderous organ. When the poor minister got up to preach, he couldn’t see a soul because we were all out of sight. How discouraging for him, I thought.
After it was over, I went up to him and introduced myself. I told him I had had a conversion experience at Cambridge and wanted to join the church. He looked exceedingly doubtful and said I would need to start attending for a while before that would be possible.
As I complied and met the church people, I moved into a state of shock. Was this what Christ died for? There was no welcome for me and no encouragement to join this particular flock. I realize now that they didn’t know what to do with me. I think it had been a long time since anyone “unchurched” had come near.
Fortunately, someone introduced me to a lively group of young believers at another church in the same denomination. My new Christian friends tempered my first bad impressions.
Loving and Serving the Church
As I was exposed to life as it ought to be in the body of believers, I began to understand the meaning of “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). I understood that I was a member of His body, and He was the head. I saw in the Bible that the church is God’s method of operation in this world, so I had better learn how to love and serve it!
But that is easier said than done. I kept bumping into people who had been hurt by the church. I found out at my own father’s funeral that he had been upset in his youth by a split in a church that I didn’t even know he had attended. He had sworn never to darken the door of a church again! He never did. “Flock shock” did him in.
Loving the Flock
How do we love the people in the church? Paul says, love will squelch the spirit of competition, stop the backbiting, and silence the slander–things about the church that turn more and more people off. Love is humble, and that is a virtue that our world strangely appreciates (perhaps because it sees it so seldom).
Paul took the Corinthians to task for taking sides. There were three great preachers around: Paul, Apollos, and Peter. Different groups chose their favorite and then the groups argued with each other about which preacher was the best. They compared them to each other, created a spirit of competition, and caused great dissension in the church. And all of the preachers had humbly presented the gospel of Jesus Christ! These preachers thought nothing of themselves. They were servants, but the people tried to set them up as heroes.
We are such “hero makers” today. We follow the lives of our “Christian stars,” avidly reading everything about them. We compare teacher with teacher, saying one is better than the other. We join classes and insist that ours is the best leader instead of appreciating each unique gift. If each of us would humbly consider others as better than ourselves as we are told to do (Phil. 2:3), then there would be a sweet respect for everyone, and the world would see a huge difference.
Ask the Lord to help you to look at people with agape love, to look at them as He looks at them. Wish the best for them as you talk with them, ask them if you can pray for them. Learn to accept your fellow Christians as God’s gifts to you, whoever they are. Actually, sometimes it is easier to love those outside the church than those inside!
Sometimes the Lord will use the strangest circumstances to put us together with people that we need to practice loving. I have a right to choose who my friends are, but not the right to tell God who my sisters and brothers in Him will be. Of course, it doesn’t always work out that we end up loving (or even liking) everyone we work with in the church, but He intends for us to love with His love—agape love. He has given us His Holy Spirit and told us that “God has poured out his love into our hearts” (Rom. 5:5). Our job is to learn to use all that available love to love the church!
Love Is Not an Option
Years after I first came to Christ, I found myself in the United States of America. I was asked to work with women. I didn’t like working with women; I liked worked with kids! However, out of duty, I complied. I taught a Bible study and began to organize a women's ministry and saw them both grow. One day a friend of mine pulled me aside and said, “You are very good at what you do. You have a lot of shepherding gifts, but you do not love these women!” Ouch! She had caught me. She was right. I knew it, and I felt humiliated that apparently the flock knew it too.
So what should I do about it? I wondered. I could continue doing this job efficiently, all the while waiting for someone who had the “gift” of love to come along and love them. Or I could come to terms with the fact that love is not an option but a necessity! Jesus commanded that we love one another, so I needed to obey. If my gifts in women’s ministry were to amount to more than a hill of beans, I needed to do what I had done years ago when I worked with youth: Ask God for the love I was incapable of myself. So I asked, and he gave. I look back on thirty years of women’s ministry with joy. I could never have done it if I had not submitted my poor human love to Agape’s control. He fueled my love for women all these years.
Who are you trying to love in the church? Are you coming up short? Submit your human love to agape, and watch Him transform it into a life-changing agent in other people’s lives!