No Pain No Church
I continually stay committed to running and working out. I know that it is good for me physically and psychologically. It gives me energy, releases stress and builds endurance, but it just hurts and reminds me I am not a 17-year-old cross-country runner anymore. Many of us have heard the adage “No Pain, No Gain.” If I am to stay in optimal running shape, there will be a certain level of pain. That adage is true about most areas of life. If you want a great marriage, there will be seasons of relational pain. If you want to raise godly kids, you will need to lean into appropriate discipline and healthy boundaries. If you desire to excel in your job, there will be some level of pain associated with getting the best education and incorporating the best principles into your life. “No Pain No Gain” is generally true.
Any time you gather a group of people together, you are going to have a high potential for pain. All of us have very different backgrounds, personalities, preferences, genetic wiring, and spiritual understanding. We are male and female. We are young and old. All this creates great opportunity, but also great pain. Church (All Organizations) hurts because conflict is always part of community on this side of eternity. When you get a bunch of different people together, there will be pain.
I Want Us to Be Like the Early Church
Do you ever sit back and dream about the Good Old Days? When gas was only $1.00 a gallon (I personally do not remember those days, though during the Pandemic Stay at Home Order I found Gas for .99 a gallon!), you could not be reached 24/7. We tend to have a skewed picture of the past. We think if we could only go back to how church used to be, we would have no pain, no struggles, and no conflict. The good old days of the church in biblical times must have been some utopian experience. Really! Was it? No, what we discover is that Paul wrote a vast portion of the New Testament letters to the church to help them resolve the pain, the conflict of church. The New Testament Church was a hot mess!
I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. -1 Corinthians 1:10-11
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. -Galatians 1:6-7
For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers, and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach — and that for the sake of dishonest gain. -Titus 1:10-11
Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. -1 Thessalonians 5:12-13
These are just a few of the many verses that indicate conflict in the early church. It ranges from personality conflicts, preferences over what preacher people liked, theological and financial issues, to honesty, and issues over membership, to name a few. The fact that church hurts has always and will always be true because church is a community of flawed human beings, and authentic community is crazy hard.
If church has always been so painful and messed up, why not just flee church? In fact, one of the largest segments of Christians, growing every day in the United States, consists of those people who say they know and love Jesus, but have given up on the church thing. Again, fleeing church is not a new thing. This is addressed in Hebrews 10:24-25.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
For multiple reasons, some believers had been wavering on gathering as the church (Online is a legitimate way to gather and is not in contradiction with Hebrews 10, but there is something powerful and incarnational about in-person gatherings). The author of Hebrews is clear in verse 25 that we must not give up meeting together. You do not usually give up on something unless it has become too hard. For various reasons, from internal conflict to external persecution, some had begun to flee the church. But fleeing the church is not an option, because you can’t fulfill the mandate to spur each other on toward love and good deeds while being alone. You need community to have church. We flee way too easily. For many, church becomes no different than shopping at Lowe’s. If you have a bad experience at Lowe’s, you can always drive to Home Depot, and if that becomes a painful reality you can drive to Menards (at least in WI). But church is different.
When pain emerges in church, don’t flee, because if you do, you will miss out on the true wonder, joy, intimacy, and power of what Christ intended church to be. If you flee, you miss out on church as community. Pain in church can be a reason to get out of Dodge, become negative, participate in gossip, create an undercurrent of bitterness, become disillusioned, or go church shopping. Or pain in church can be an opportunity for personal and corporate growth. Communal pain allows us to learn forgiveness, engage the ministry of reconciliation, and grow in humility.
The truth is if you stay at any church for any extended number of years, you will experience pain. The pastor will disappoint you. One of the church leaders will annoy you. You won’t agree with every decision that is made. A program that you love, and think is core to the church will end. The music will change. The church will get bigger or smaller. A close friend will leave the church. Someone will offend you. A friendship will be broken. You won’t get the call back. All your expectations won’t be met. This kind of thing will happen because we are broken people on the pilgrimage called Christianity, existing in this community called church, and we are constantly leaking out the truth of who we must be as Christians. Church will always have some level of emotional and relational pain. Yet Jesus compels us to be unified even in the middle of the pain of church.
Jesus prayed for you! In John, Jesus prayed for us, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.” Never forget that Jesus prayed for you. That is amazing. Jesus knew we would get upset in church community. He knew we would be discouraged and so He prayed for us. He prayed that we would see the pain through and be unified. Is there a greater encouragement? Think about your life. Did you ever have a coach you respected encourage you on the field, or a boss give you some props, or a person you respect breathe hope into your life? Those are key moments in our lives. Jesus, fully God, fully man, Son of God. Jesus, the central figure in all human history. Jesus who always was and will always be. Jesus, who died for us, who conquered death and established his church. Jesus, who will someday usher in the end inviting all followers to exist in a new heaven and new earth. Jesus Christ prayed that you would be unified, knowing the challenges of biblical church community. That’s encouragement!
Paul knew pain in church, but he also knew of the power of Christ in church, and so we end with his words to the church – to our church, and to the church:
Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. -Colossians 3:11-14