The name for this blog comes from the Hebrew word merchab. Merchab is a masculine noun that appears most often in the Psalms of the Hebrew Scriptures. It means a broad or roomy place, an expansive place, a wide place. Read more...

March 11, 2010

Why Don't Churches Work?

Churches like any human organization are messy places. We more often get it wrong than we get it right.

It is tempting to wonder why churches don’t work.

I suppose the simple answer would be to say, churches don’t work because they are made up of people with whom we are required to be in relationship. And the fact is, human relationships don’t work very well much of the time.

Human relationships are deeply complex and confusing. We are filled with fears, doubts and insecurities. We build complex barriers around ourselves in an attempt to provide an illusion of safety.

But the barriers we erect only increase our confusion, deepen our doubt and reinforce our fears. We lose trust and it becomes difficult, perhaps impossible, to communicate with any depth or genuine honesty.

So, perhaps “Why Don’t Churches Work?” is the wrong question. Perhaps, a better question would be, “How Do I Respond When Church Doesn’t Work?” For the word “Church” you could substitute any human relationship or community. The important thing is that the focus is not on why doesn’t this human connection function smoothly and easily, but on my response to the reality that it is not working.

I can choose to withdraw into splendid isolation hiding in my safe corner where I feel sheltered from the painful realities of human interaction.

I can attack the perceived source of my pain, beating it into submission so that I never again need to feel threatened.

I can redouble my efforts to get the chaotic forces of life under control doing whatever it takes to fix the situation and alleviate my suffering.

I may choose to be an isolationist but I know the pain of human connection will always find me. I may become the biggest bully on the street; but eventually someone bigger and meaner will come along and upset the safe shelter I have fought so hard to construct. I can be the best manager in the world; but one day something will happen that I simply cannot control.

Isolation, bullying and management only work for so long.

So, is there a fourth option in response to the painful brokenness of human community?

The fourth option is to recognize that the brokenness of the world exists to bring me to the place where my heart breaks open. The frictions I confront in relationship with other people can cause me to soften, to become more gentle, to cling less tightly.

Difficult relationships are God’s gift to pry open my heart. I can resist this work, or cooperate. If I choose cooperation, then every struggle becomes a source of new depth, light and love in my life and in the world. That is the purpose of church.

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