Christ’s Church is a Mess…But I’m Not Bailing

I don’t want to shame or brood. I’m no ex-evangelical, but I am an exhausted one.

I’ve spent the last few years watching many trade principles for partisanship. I’ve watched ministerial heroes of mine fall hard. I’ve watched people die on theological hills at the expense of church unity.

I’ve overheard gossip and been cut down by people I trusted. I’ve felt a lack of understanding—and an internal contentment to misunderstand what others are saying (which is even worse).

More so than any other time in my life, I look around and I feel like Christ’s church is little more than a big, fat mess.

Others have felt this tension before. They’ve proposed a few solutions.

I could go to a mainline congregation that cares about social justice and caring for the vulnerable, but to do so would require me to compromise the truths I confess.

I could bail on the institutionalized church altogether, but I’d be upending the biblical narrative to an even greater degree and be neglecting the bride of Christ—those whom God loves.

I could dissociate myself from people with whom I disagree on tribal theological points, but then I’m compromising church unity just like they do.

It’s taken me some time, but I’m beginning to understand that Christ’s church is a mess because Christ’s church has always been a mess. It’s supposed to be a mess.

And if the gospel is true, it won’t stop being a mess.

The gospel looks stupid on a hashtag

At its core, the gospel is a message of weakness-made-strong, of death-bringing-life, of division-rendering-unity. It is countercultural and unimpressive—a story of God choosing to save the world through an infant born to a scattered and unfaithful nation.

The gospel is “foolishness to those who are perishing…a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles” (1 Cor. 1:18–23). The gospel is messy. It’s bloody.

Jared Wilson quipped that “the revolution will not be Instagrammed.” He’s right. The gospel looks stupid on a hashtag. “#forgiveness” or “#noforgivenesswithoutshedblood” aren’t exactly marketable.

And if you thought the gospel message wasn’t marketable, wait till you get a load of gospel people. They sin. They fall short. The gospel is a story that forms a set-apart group of people devoting themselves to Christ’s teaching, remembering the gospel in word and in deed (Acts 2:42–47).

The church has been given a second chance to keep the law of God, even when they fail:

“Brothers and sisters, if someone is overtaken in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual, restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so that you also won’t be tempted. Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone considers himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Let each person examine his own work, and then he can take pride in himself alone, and not compare himself with someone else.
Galatians 6:1–4 (CSB)

I could spend an eternity digesting the gist of this passage, but let’s get to it: if Galatians 6 is true, it means church unity is most biblical when it looks its ugliest. If the church doesn’t look like a mess, it could be doing a bad job at being a church. It might mean burden-bearing isn’t taking place.

Put another way, there can’t be patience if there is nothing to be impatient toward; there can’t be forbearance without disagreement or distinction. It is peacemaking in the midst of conflict that shows the true colors of our unity, not peaceableness at all times.

What it means to be unified has become an afterthought as American perfectionism continues to invade the church. We’ve placed an extra-biblical expectation on our vision of friendship. We’ve let our definition of unity be marked by peacemaking rather than burden-bearing. And though peacemaking certainly fits into the puzzle of unity, it’s not the whole of it.

Instead, the church is a living organism—an organism brought forth from a fallen world filled with fallen people. Immediate frustration with the lack of unity in your church ought not convince you to leave in a huff. It ought to convince you to pursue Christlikeness where you are.

Immediate frustration with the lack of unity in your church ought not convince you to leave in a huff. It ought to convince you to pursue Christlikeness where you are. Click to Tweet

Your church is going to fail. Your theological heroes will lose their capes. Your friends will disappoint you—they’ll step on your toes and forget about you. But there’s no reason to get discouraged or bail on the church because of hard feelings. Because hard feelings are part of the church. The church is always becoming, and this means growing pains are inevitable.

And the better part is that it doesn’t stop here: God has built and is building a people, and He will call you home in perfect unity at the final day.

Cody Barnhart

Cody Barnhart (@codygbarnhart) lives in Maryville, Tennessee, and is an MDiv student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He attends Pleasant Grove at College Street, where he is a church planting intern.

7 comments

  • I am 65 years old and I have “struggled with church” my whole life – mostly with the idea that we seem to want to look like we “have it all together” and I most certainly do not. I often feel lonely in the church. I finally came to the conclusion a decade or two ago that I can’t “diss” the church because the church is Christ’s bride and He LOVES His bride. Once that got settled in my heart I was left with what seemed like the impossible task of continuing to interject myself into a body that often seems so weak, ugly, and honestly, willfully ignorant too often (eek – but then, all-too-often that describes me too!). I continue to with church and expect that will be the case until I leave this earth tent, but continue to risk and get in there because 1) HE never gives up on me and 2) I tried disobedience – bad idea. His sacrificial love is our motivation for EVERYTHING. Thank you for putting language to what so many of us feel but feel disloyal to confess. Everyone knows folks are leaving the church in droves. Leaving isn’t the answer. The answer is to be real (but not at the expense of love) and to risk right where we are in the body of Christ. Get in the mud and be willing to be part of the mess because we all are.

  • yes …thankful for the platform. these are the issues that will put the church on to a higher level and should not been seen as a disturbance but for those who are enlighten by it ..according to the book of Ephesians should take the leading step in taking the saints higher in understanding and doing. Its only that the current level of service to God is warn out. The church should step out of its nappies and walking. But who will i send ? and who will go? ask the Lord. The heavens cry out in full glory and in anticipation. Who will be stupid ..according to all…and shut the lights out and gather the holy subjects of God that was remove from the temple?
    Don’t get back fit in ..practice the vision and knowledge to the poor in spirit in example said Paul. We will conquer by love.

    God bless

  • You have put words to the prayer of my heart. I hope to get acquainted with you, and to acquaint you with my husband’s and my Consortium for Christian Unity.

    Sharing this on all pertinent platforms. Thank you, Cody!

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