Last week a client asked me watch videos of their “Body Life” series of classes, designed to introduce people to the church and its culture, and suggest ways to revamp the material into a shorter, more conversational video project. It was one of the best investments of time I made this month – and not just because I’ll get paid for the work.
Over the course of the five-week class, the teaching pastors and other leaders teach on Jesus’ prayer for unity in John 17 and tie this prayer for “echad” or oneness back to the Trinity and the nature of God himself. They do some of the traditional (and good) things typical of these kinds of classes, like explaining spiritual gifts and discussing opportunities to get involved. But I was blown away by the other stuff they chose to include.
One week is devoted to Cloud & Townsend’s teaching on boundaries, along with how to say yes and no to leaders at the church and how to hear the yes and no of others. They offer examples of “language that preserves community” like “Do I have permission to push back on you about that?” and “Can you help me understand this situation?” One week the leaders teach about the importance of conflict resolution, not only as a biblical mandate but as the only way to protect and maintain unity in the body. They explain the whole Matthew 18 thing better than I’ve ever heard anyone else do it AND — wait for it — share real-life examples of staff members experiencing conflict with others and how they worked through it.
Don’t miss that – they actually talked about the time one of the pastors swore a blue streak over the headset during a worship service when something went wrong and how a volunteer (!!!!) confronted her and helped her own the bad decision and apologize to the team. They actually talked about a situation bad enough that a group of leaders had to confront a staff member about his sarcastic attitude and then featured that staff member’s testimony about how it changed his life for the better.
I was blown away.
On vacation I spent a lot of time with The Message version of Matthew 11: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.” I’ve written before about the need for Christians to learn to deal with conflict, but often it seems we’re worse at it than people who don’t follow Jesus. For every healthy Christian leader I know, I can name another one who’s toxic, and for every way the body of Christ has blessed my life I can name another way it’s wounded me and people I love. Add in almost twenty years of working for ministry-related organizations and it’s probably not surprising I’m pretty worn out with the church and burnt out on religion.
But this church gave me new hope, hope that not only can all those passages about the New Testament church really work in real life, but that there are people out there actually trying it. This church is not perfect, but it’s refreshing that they own their imperfections, admit this level of “body life” is difficult, and proactively, unapologetically, FIERCELY create a culture that encourages accountability, honesty, and respect. It’s contagious – I have never, ever wanted to work at a church, but I found myself wondering what it might be like to work at this one.
Ultimately, only Jesus can truly help you “recover your life,” but he created the church to be part of this process, not opposed to it. “The way we love each other is the way we represent Jesus to the world,” the pastor said in one session. “So we take it really, really seriously.” I wish every Christian I know could could watch these videos and do the same.