The church of disappointment

Published 10:00 pm Wednesday, August 27, 2014

If you have been part of a group for any time at all, you have encountered disappointment. If you haven’t encountered disappointment, then you haven’t been part of that group for long. We have a “gift” for disappointing each other.
If you are a part of a religious congregation you may be even more acquainted with the disappointment to which I am referring. When it comes to church or other religious groups, our expectations are high (if we have any), and often times unrealistic. Disappointment comes quickly with unrealistic expectations, and not far behind is disillusionment. This sad story is told time and again.
Hypocrisy has been one catalyst for church-disappointment, resulting in the cliché: “Churches are full of hypocrites.” But if you have visited a church lately, you know this is not true. Churches aren’t full of hypocrites. Most have room for a few more. As the Baptist preacher, Tony Campolo, says, “Yes, churches are made up of hypocrites, and that’s why you’ll fit right in.”
Churches are made up of people like you and me, and that means churches are just as flawed and broken as we are. This is nothing to brag about or make light of; it’s a confession. I often hear that people are looking for communities where honesty and authenticity are valued, and I can’t understand why our churches aren’t more honest and authentic in communicating our shortcomings. Besides, if any of these individuals actually come to our churches it won’t be long before they see the truth for themselves.
Nadia Bolz-Weber, pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, CO, makes sure she warns her perspective members about the truth of disappointment. She writes, “This community will disappoint them.  It’s a matter of when, not if.  We will let them down or I’ll say something stupid and hurt their feelings.  I then invite them on this side of their inevitable disappointment to decide if they’ll stick around after it happens.  If they choose to leave when we don’t meet their expectations, they won’t get to see how the grace of God can come in and fill the holes left by our community’s failure, and that’s just too beautiful and too real to miss. Welcome to House for All Sinners and Saints. We will disappoint you.”
“We will disappoint you” is not only a disclaimer, it’s a promise we can keep. I guarantee it. Stick around us long enough; get to know me well enough, and you will be disappointed. That’s how it is with groups composed of humans. We are bound to disappoint. This leads some to conclude, “If we could just get rid of all the people, then we might actually have a shot at following Jesus.” But it doesn’t work that way; we’re stuck with each other.
And if we stick with each other long enough, through disappointment, and all the other stuff that comes with human relationships, we might be surprised to discover that God shows up in unlikely places, even the church. The beauty of church is not found in the perfection of the people who make it up. The beauty of church is found when the disappointing and the disappointed stick around long enough to move from disappointment to forgiveness and reconciliation. Forgiveness and reconciliation are gifts of a God gracious enough to love people like us.
If you are wise and humble enough to admit your own hypocrisy, and are willing to stick around even when disappointment shows up, you are likely to discover that there just might be something to this thing called church.
-Rev. Jeff Harris

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