I was talking with a long-time friend from the Akron, Ohio area some time ago. As often seems to be the case, he was seeking my counsel and advice about his church situation.
He said they had chosen to leave their church home, where they had been actively involved for almost 30 years when the church leadership made several decisions that seemed to thwart the ministry of the body in reaching their community for Christ.
Those leaders had restricted access to the church gymnasium, refused to allow finances for outreach ministries, and sought to discourage certain individuals from coming back to their pristine facilities, primarily because they were leaving scuff marks on the gym floor.
The ensuing debates over these issues brought about a sense of disruption to the body rather than unity, and the whole church has suffered ever since.
In conversations with various individuals who have chosen not to be involved in their local churches, over and over again I hear that one of the major reasons they do not attend is because of the church fights. Even though every church I know proclaims loudly, “Visitors Welcome!,” a person can get into some real hair-raisers of disputes by walking into some churches, with the wrong attitude, wearing the wrong clothes, or even scuffing the wrong floor!
Oftentimes, it is very easy for us to lose sight of our mission and our goal in the midst of building or remodeling or facelifts, or simply just existing for the time. And when we lose sight of our reason for existing, we will often redouble our efforts, and look for others to blame for their ineffectiveness.
In a word, the enemy of our souls is having a “hey-day” in disrupting the very unity of the body. And that unity is one of the most effective tools we can have in reaching those who are in need of the Savior! And yet, God calls us to be one! Jesus Himself is praying for that very thing to occur! (Check out John 17:21-23)
We are all different! None of us are perfect. Yet, God has called those who are followers of Jesus to be ONE!
The late columnist Mike Royko wrote in his book “One More Time” about a conversation he had with Slats Grobnik, a man who sold Christmas trees. Slats spoke about one couple on the hunt for a Christmas tree. The guy was skinny with a big Adam’s apple and small chin, and she was kind of pretty. But both wore clothes from the bottom of the bin of the Salvation Army store.
After finding only trees that were too expensive, they found a Scotch pine that was okay on one side, but pretty bare on the other. Then they picked up another tree that was not much better—full on one side, scraggly on the other. She whispered something, and he asked if $3 would be okay. Slats figured both trees would not be sold, so he agreed.
A few days later Slats was walking down the street and saw a beautiful tree in the front window of the couple’s apartment. It was thick and well rounded. He knocked on their door and they told him how they worked the two trees close together where the branches were thin. Then they tied the trunks together. The branches overlapped and formed a tree so thick you couldn’t see the wire. Slats described it as “a tiny forest of its own.”
“So that’s the secret,” Slats asserts. “You take two trees that aren’t perfect, that have flaws, that might even be homely, that maybe nobody else would want. If you put them together just right, you can come up with something really beautiful.”
When I read that statement, I immediately thought of the verse in Ephesians 4, which says, “Under his direction, the whole body is fitted together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.” (Ephesians 4:16).
This verse and the verses leading up to it teach that the individuals who follow Christ, and therefore, who make up what is referred to as the Body of Christ, or the Church, all are gifted with spiritual gifts which the Church needs in order to function as it should. And as “each part does its own special work” (emphasis mine), the body will grow into “something really beautiful.”
So our challenge is to remember our mission — that we are indeed called to “show tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3).
By the way, that “special work” may be a Tuesday evening pick-up basketball game in the church gymnasium, and the floors might get scuffed! It is still “something really beautiful!”
Chuck Tabor is a regular columnist for the News Journal and a former pastor in the area. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.