I thought I had found the perfect church. Five years ago, I found myself on the leadership team for a new church plant called RISE. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced. We were focused on radical welcome, embracing everyone and advocating for social justice.
The ragtag community had wonderful energy. Our motto was Receive Love, Give Love, Repeat. After suffering maliciousness, societal posturing and boredom within other churches, I had finally captured a glimpse of God’s beloved community.
Within the first several months at RISE, I had decided that we, the leaders at RISE, had figured out the golden equation for faith communities. I felt assured that we had gotten it right!
Slowly, painfully, cracks began to form in my golden church idol. People were needy. Some of us were selfish. Leaders disagreed. We got comfortable. Ritual became rote. Feelings were hurt. People left. I was tired. Right sometimes felt wrong. Ideals collided with reality.
But this isn’t a story of church collapse; it is a story of beautiful, messy, unusual thriving.
Perspective has allowed me to move past a passionate infatuation with getting church right to a lingering love story that includes chaos, confusion and communion.
I’ve learned that there is no such thing as doing church the right way; there’s only the courage to dance with the unrestrained Spirit and be willing to fall on our faces. The key is authentic community, where we pick each other up and laugh at ourselves and say, “You are not alone there falling on your face.”
I was angry with RISE. I was disappointed. I wanted to leave many times. It was hard. But I stayed. And I loved it in an infuriating, passionate way. My life shifted geographically and now here I am, loving a different church with a mix of dissatisfaction and indescribable awe.
And this, I think, is what I’ve learned about church and relationship and community: The best, most worthwhile things can sometimes feel like the worst things. When we take that chance to love deeply, to commit wholeheartedly, we open ourselves to a vulnerability that can be both painful and restorative. Love is risky business.
I’ve figured out that the things I love most are also the things I sometimes despise. I’ve learned to love being wrong. The churches I see that are thriving are the ones who don’t have all the answers, the communities who don’t claim to do it right.
Church works when people are both frustrated and motivated; when people are willing to hold steady and willing to change.
Let’s stop worshipping the concept of doing church the right way.
There is no right way to worship, no formula to figure out social justice or small groups or spiritual renewal.
We can fall prey to shiny idols with finish lines and all the answers, or we can sit at the intersection of pain and possibility, inviting the Spirit to shake us to our core and envelop us with a chaotic peace.
Stop looking for answers. Let church be the question. Let church be the journey. Let the Spirit come and deconstruct the institutions and buildings we’ve constructed to contain the truth.
Love your church, and hate it sometimes, too.
Brittany lives in Charlottesville, VA with her wife Lindsay and their skeptical dog Eliza. She enjoys dancing, deconstructing destructive dominions of dominance, and alliterations. Above all else, Brittany tries to keep it real.