I like to attend Christian conferences and look forward to sharing with others in fellowship and worship. I enjoy being stretched and challenged by good teaching and generally everything about the event. Usually, when it has been a particularly good conference, there is a sense of disappointment that it is coming to an end. Often over coffee prior to departure conversations turn to what we are going back to and sometimes people talk of their church back home being dry and perhaps lacking zeal, compared to the stimulation of the conference their home church seems to be lacking something. It has a sense of Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration wanting to build booths so they could stay there in the glory rather than go down the mountain back to the ordinary.
I think it is probably true of any conference on any subject that those who attend have an interest and a motivation to attend. When everyone is there because of shared interest and is motivated to spend money and time attending it feeds the atmosphere and the enthusiasm can become intoxicating.
Friends of mine, a young married couple, exploring the idea of ministry and church leadership were asked by their local church to take on a leadership role in the church after the Pastor who had been there some years moved on. Full of enthusiasm, excitement and energy they threw themselves into the task: the people in the church were friends and the young couple were popular. After the initial rush of ideas and the first experience of ministry wore off they were left dejected, disillusioned and disheartened.
People who they once thought of as friends seemed like strangers, those they had thought to have vibrant spiritual lives now seemed like dry dusty stick in the muds. Ideas which they thought were brilliant and exciting went down like led balloons in meetings. Within three years they wanted out and frequently when venting their frustrations said: ‘Why bother?’
When challenged with the question what is the greatest commandment Jesus replied:
‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Matt 22:37
I like these commandments and want wholeheartedly to keep them: I just wish people didn’t keep getting in the way! Jesus also said:
“My command is this: love each other as I have loved you.” John 15:12
As I have loved you: he said this to a group of men he knew would let him down, to one who would betray him, another who would deny even knowing him, the rest would run off in the hour of his greatest need. As a group the disciples were awkward, stubborn, argumentative, slow to learn, jealous of each other and frustrating to be with. As I have loved you!
God doesn’t want insincere, trivial love. He wants us to display His love in the world in a genuine manner so he surrounds us with people we would not choose to be surrounded by; he brings us into contact with people who aren’t like us: ‘not our kind of people.’ This undermines any self-serving, trivial or vain intention which does more to feed our pride and make us self-satisfied. It’s easy to love people we like and who like us: as long as they don’t upset us. When they do that’s another story.
The makeup of the average church is complicated. Individuals, couples and families in varying stages of brokenness, struggling with anxiety, worries and fears
over loved ones. Churches reflect society and that can be bleak, demanding much and giving little in return which is of real value. When we come together as the body of Christ our strength is in the one we serve and whose love for us is beyond any comparison. In that loving, caring community with all its problems there is healing and recovery and blessing.
If anyone in church is ever tempted to ask the question: ‘Why bother’ we should remember what Jesus said: By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’ John 13:35