Despite how much I might challenge or critique America's church, there are plenty of things that I actually like about it. Yes, the church is imperfect and makes mistakes, sometimes costly, hard-to-forgive mistakes. And while I believe it's of utmost importance for us to recognize, own and correct our failures, I believe it's also important that we sometimes celebrate the good that the church in America accomplishes. Here are five things that I often like about the church.
A Good Sermon
Perhaps I'm in the minority, but I love hearing people - especially those who are well-studied, hold provocative ideas or approach subject matter from a unique perspective - talk about God's story. Even when I don't agree with a clergy's conclusion or theology, if that man or woman is gifted at delivering a sermon, I usually enjoy engaging a different opinion about Christian subjects, Scripture verses or Biblical characters. Good sermons change people's ideas about how to live and what and who to love. They can seep into the deeper parts of our stories and alter how we view the world, each other and God.
The church performs some of its best work after or amid natural disasters. Maybe it's because natural tragedy is easy to recognize or perhaps because these kinds of events can help us to forget how we are different and help us simply work together for a common good. Regardless of the reasons, America's church shines bright when we unite and work together to help bring light and aid to a suffering community. When Hurricane Katrina hit, the church was able to rally together and bring aid and assistance far quicker than many agencies and nonprofits. For the most part, the church's disaster relief comes with pure motives and without proselytizing – it’s just the church helping people navigate a very difficult path.
The Church Singer
The church is jam-packed with awful singers who think they can carry a tune. However, the church also helps to hone the vocal skills of some of the best singers in the world. While our effect on the arts and creativity pales in comparison to what it once was, some of the music world's best vocalists perfected their talents in the church. While that fact doesn't necessarily save the world, it does showcase the small but influential role that we get to play in popular culture.
Good sermons change people's ideas about how to live and what and who to love.
While our "study of God" is certainly an area that gets the church in a lot of trouble - i.e., making some of us seem uneducated, unmerciful and very unforgiving - it's also one of the church's more important roles. Despite all of the crazy that "studying God" can stir up in people, I still am enthralled by theology and find the conversations, debates and theories to be fascinating. Today's playing field for the engagement of God is much wider and freer than in the past, allowing for far greater diversity of ideas and thinkers to be included in the conversation. Hopefully that trend continues, so all people, regardless of background or creed, will feel welcomed to engage the story (and study) of God.
When God Becomes Personal
At Starbucks a few weeks ago, I overheard a homeless man say to his friend, "My church takes care of me. They feed me and give me new clothes to wear. They've really helped me." I love hearing those kinds of stories. The church is always at its best when it's helping to make God personal and tangible in the lives of people. When we stop talking about "good news" and instead, become the Good News, then the Gospel becomes capable of changing a person's story. When I hear a story about an addict finding love and acceptance from a church community or when I receive an e-mail from somebody whose church helped them get through a difficult season by helping them pay their mortgage or when I have a conversation with a lesbian couple who, for the first time in their adult lives, are being welcomed with open arms as members of a church community, that's when I feel really grateful and honored to be a part of the living, breathing body of Christ.
Such personal stories don't erase or negate the pain and sadness that the church often causes, but they do remind us of the good that can happen in the lives of people when the church is doing what the church should be doing: loving God by loving our neighbors.