Recently, I’ve had a lot of conversations with friends about the Church—that imperfect group of people who are the Body of Christ. More and more, I find that people are angry with the Church or feel hurt or betrayed or misunderstood by them. Honestly, I get it. I’ve been there too—frustrated and hurt, filled with questions, wondering what the point is.
The Church is messy and deeply imperfect. We are a mosaic of broken people attempting to represent a good and perfect God to a watching and wondering world. Sometimes we forget that we’re not a place or a physical building, and we don’t exist for ourselves.
There’s a lot that could be said about our mistakes, our shortcomings, and our failings. Certainly, there’s also plenty to be said on the other side—our kindness and grace and love that help make this world better. But these days, I don’t think the good is the first to come to people’s minds.
To many, the Church represents judgement and exclusion. It represents this idea of not being good enough or hypocrisy, and this breaks my heart. This wasn’t who Jesus designed us to be. In His final moments with His friends, Jesus told them that the watching world would know they were His disciples by their love.
By their love.
Not programs or services or pastors or size, because that’s not what’s most important.
In the last few weeks, I’ve had the absolute gift of being welcomed into the homes of refugees in Chicago. I’ve been to this particular neighborhood so many times, and every interaction with the families there molds my heart a little bit more into something more beautiful and holy.
These families remind me that while our stories and histories might be very different, we’re more similar than might seem. And that incredibly humbling position they find themselves in isn’t something they asked for. It’s simply their reality, and they’re trying to hold onto joy in the midst of a whole lot of change—like our friends who moved from a village in Burma to a small basement apartment in Chicago.
When I first visited this sweet family, I almost missed their door. My friend, Bob led me down a flight of stairs to their basement home. Their living room was small, cramped, and dark. Although plants and flowers littered the space, there was very little natural light, and I couldn’t help but think of how different their new home was compared to the almost constant sun and heat of Burma.
Our visit was a sweet time of encouraging and praying with a family who finds themselves in the trenches day after day, but the greatest act of love came later when we were in the car. From the front seat, I heard my friend on the phone with another refugee who is an incredible artist.
“I want you to paint something for her apartment,” Bob said. “Her home needs a little beauty. It’s dark and needs the light that your paintings bring.”
As I listened to the conversation, I was overcome with this simple yet extraordinary act of love. Is there a holier picture of the Church than what unfolded that night?
The world will know you by your love.
Our friends from Burma don’t need this painting. They need food and a stable income to pay the bills, and people are walking with them in these needs. But our friends’ souls need beauty. They need joy. They need light and life. They need hope.
They need reminders that they are not forgotten.
They need reminders that they are remembered and seen.
On the hardest of days, they need reminders that they are loved.
On our hardest days, we all need these reminders. We are not forgotten. We are remembered and seen. We are loved. This is the heart beat of the Church isn’t it—to remind people, to remember and see people, to love people at their very worst and their best.
More and more I am convinced that this is the role of the Church—the beautifully imperfect group the Father designed so very long ago. The Church looks like visiting the homes of the hurting and marginalized around us. It looks like bringing bags of rice and bottles of oil or a plate of cookies. It looks like pausing long enough to find out how our neighbor is really doing. It looks like filling their home with conversation and prayer.
And it also looks like bringing all of our gifts and talents to the table—like painting a picture of flowers for our neighbor. Because these Holy Spirit given gifts have an incredible power to bring light and life. These gifts are how we love. And the world will know we are followers of Jesus by our love.
This is the way the Church was meant to be.
“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”