People and relationships are messy.
Churches are groups of people in relationship.
Churches should be messy.
And yet churches often try to be these perfectly well-oiled machines. We put on a smiling face and try to minimize issues and eliminate the potential for any sort of conflict.
Is that healthy?!
When people get together, it seems there are only a few ways to keep things from getting messy:
1) Make sure everyone is the same.
I like me. I like people who like the same things as me. I never have conflict with people who always see things the same as me. The more a group of people is the same, the less messy conflict there will be.
And so we form churches where everyone is as similar as possible: race, political positions, theological beliefs, parenting strategies, economic class...
Can you imagine trying to worship with people who voted for the other guy (especially if he's the antichrist)?! Can you imagine trying to run a smooth nursery for families with radically different parenting expectations?! Can you imagine trying to plan worship music for those who listen exclusively to bluegrass and those who listen exclusively to rap?!
We often can't. And so we don't.
We pick one culture and go with it. Whoever fits that culture sticks around, and the others find another place. Either way, messiness averted.
2) Let people avoid each other.
Alright, so we may have differences among us, but we don't have to let them cause conflict, right?
If we just separate people into like-minded groups, that helps.
Let the Baptists hang with the Baptists and the Methodists with the Methodists.
...the donkeys worship with the donkeys and the elephants with the elephants.
Let's have a service for the bluegrass crowd and a different (alternative?) service for the rap crowd.
Let the women have their women's group and the men their men's group.
...and for goodness sake, let's keep the kids away from everyone!
Or maybe that's overkill.
If we're honest, we realize that people have learned to avoid each other well enough on our own. We don't need any help. People do a great job showing up for church on Sundays and not talking about the controversial stuff.
We have learned not to discuss politics, money, race, parenting, sex, or anything else that might make relationships icky between us. And if we can all just keep our opinions and personal experiences to ourselves, we may just all not realize how much we disagree with or dislike those we worship with.
3) Sweep it under the rug.
Even the best avoiders, given enough time, find their way into conflict. If we stick around a group of people long enough, we are bound to have a problem with someone. What then?
Well, in the interest of avoiding messy, you can do the "good Christian thing" and stuff it. Ignore it. Try not to be angry or frustrated. It's not Jesus-like (or so the story goes).
...and if that doesn't work, you can always just go find another church and start the cycle over.
EXCEPT...none of these things are what we see from the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus revealed!
Jesus was all about messy!
Jesus left the comfort of heaven and came to this messy earth (John 1; Philippians 2).
He reached out to the outsiders--the messy people everyone else tried to avoid (Mark 2:16).
He commanded his disciples to work things out with people they had conflict with (Matthew 18).
And we see a picture of heaven where people from every nation, tribe, people and language worship God together (Revelation 7:9).
Can you imagine that?!
Heaven sounds like a mess!
Maybe our churches could learn something.