There are no perfect churches. However, there are healthy churches, just as there are toxic churches. One of the most important and most challenging tasks we have is knowing the difference.
19th-century preacher Charles Spurgeon once said,
“If I had never joined a Church till I had found one that was perfect, I should never have joined one at all! And the moment I did join it… I should have spoiled it, for it would not have been a perfect Church after I had become a member of it. Still, imperfect as it is, it is the dearest place on earth to us.”
The Beauty of Imperfection
We all have an ideal picture of what real Christian community should look like. Often though, we become disillusioned when reality falls short of our expectations. But disappointment is not always a bad thing. God often uses our disillusionment to make us more like him.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor in Germany during WWII, said it this way:
“The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams… Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it.”
Bonhoeffer’s point is this. Most communities form around the things people have in common, such as hobbies, shared experiences, political views, similar career paths and the like. Christianity is unlike any other community because Christians can be extremely diverse. Sometimes, the only thing we have in common is that we’ve been forgiven by Jesus. That means no other type of community can compare with the genuine spiritual bond that is shared within a Christian community. But it also means that the Christian community has far more opportunities for frustration and conflict than any other.
The church’s imperfections are what make it beautiful. We’re a motley tribe—a community of people who in many ways do not really belong together. Yet in Christ, we share a grander commonality than any other community. Jesus is what we have in common. That’s why 1 Peter 2:10 says, “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God.”
The Difference Between an Unsafe Toxic Church and an Imperfect Healthy Church
The imperfections of the church make it beautiful. But how do you discern whether a church is imperfectly healthy, or just toxic?
In an article from The Gospel Coalition, Brian Croft lists four questions to ask before joining a church. These questions are a good gage on the health of a church community.
- Is this a church where my family will be regularly fed by God’s Word? While there are many different preaching styles, there is one ultimate preaching source: the Bible. If your church doesn’t teach the Bible, you should find one that does.
- Is this a church where I am convinced the care of my soul will be a priority? We’ve all seen the headlines about church leaders who abuse their position to take advantage of, bully or neglect their people. If your church leaders do not prioritize the spiritual health of their people, it’s time to look elsewhere.
- Is this a church where my family will experience meaningful Christian fellowship and accountability? We have a responsibility to reach out to others rather than wait for people to pursue us first. However, it’s essential to find a church whose people welcome newcomers with open arms.
- Is this a church where I can serve God’s people and use my gifts for its benefit? God gave you your gifts for a reason. Finding a church that allows you to develop and thrive is crucial to your spiritual growth.