As Rich, Jonna, and I go to visit with various congregations, we often ask a question of the gathered group that sounds something like this, “What do you love about your church?” It’s a great opening topic that presumably everyone in the room can answer safely and is a nice way to set the stage for the further conversation in an uplifting and positive way. Without much variance, the answer we most often hear is, “We are a friendly church.”
Being friendly is cause for much pride for most of our congregations. As someone offers this as their description of the church, there are warm smiles shared around the room and often a few people sigh and comment, “That’s what I was going to say.” It feels good to be friends with our fellow pew-sitters. It feels good to tell them in that gathering that their friendship matters to us. It feels good to hear that someone values our friendship.
I trust that being good friends with one another is a lovely part of good community, and that is a good and honorable part of being a faithful church. But I don’t think it’s big enough. I don’t think that “friendly” is the first adjective (or only adjective, as is the case very often) that ought to be used to describe the prophetic, powerful, communities of faith that Jesus was referring to when he looked at Peter and said, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’” (Matthew 16:18-19, NRSV)
Imagine for a moment that you are Peter. Jesus knows your very soul. And as Jesus looks into your eyes and calls you into being the Church, you begin to plan for the awesome coffee fellowship that you’ll organize for next Sunday? I doubt it.
If I were Peter, I would tremble. I would stammer and make excuses about how I was unworthy and unable to do such a thing. I would question Jesus’ sanity for even considering the idea of giving to me, and the rest of us ragtag disciples of his, a copy of the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Because I would know in my bones that this endeavor of being the Church was too big. The task of baptizing new disciples and introducing the inhabitants of the world, the WORLD, to God, would be beyond the wildest imaginings of even my most egotistical dreams of success and pride.
Maybe that’s why we sometimes settle for being friendly. We’re trembling at the thought of how hard a task it is to be faithful. The beauty of our faith, however, are those gentle eyes of Jesus, who knows our souls, and invites us to follow him. He knows the way, we just need to follow.
And he calls us his friends. (John 15:15)
Blessings for the Journey,
Brigit Stevens, Associate Conference Minister