All churches have qualities worth celebrating. I enjoy hearing from people about the attributes of their congregations that bring them the most joy.
On a recent excursion back to my home state of Iowa, I got to have lunch with a couple of friends from college, Russ and Becky. They are now married and have two little ones. Russ and Becky are the kind of dynamic, creative people that transform a quick summer lunch at a BBQ joint into a highlight of the summer.
As we ate our sandwiches, Russ said with a huge smile, "Becky, tell her about church!"
Their faces lit up as they both described the wonderful congregation that they have grown to love over the past year. It's a smaller-sized congregation where children are genuinely welcomed and encouraged to participate. My friends described a warm, compassionate elderly woman who takes time to say hello to their 3-year-old each and every week.
Russ described how, soon after visiting the church, he set up a time to get together with the pastor to engage in some authentic conversation. My heart was bursting with joy as I listened to how much my two friends loved the sense of belonging they experienced in their church.
After lunch, we parted ways, and I headed out of the parking lot of Jethro's BBQ 'n Jambalaya. Our time together reminded me how important it is to celebrate the joys of congregational life.
It's sad but true that sometimes it seems easier to complain about our congregations than to celebrate them. Instead of lifting up what we appreciate about our churches, I hear a lot of people and pastors (myself included) focus too much on what annoys, bothers, confuses and irritates us.
No church is perfect. And it's certainly good to strive toward new goals and aspirations. But it's all really valuable to give thanks for the great qualities of all our individual congregations.
During a recent children's sermon, I invited the kids to think of some ways in which we could welcome new members and visitors. One 4-year-old friend said, "We could tell them we want them to have happy hearts when they are with us." Brilliant response!
Isn't this our hope for every person in every congregation, for new members and existing members alike? It is our shared hope that when people are participating in congregational life, their hearts have plenty of reasons to be happy!
What makes your heart happy these days about your family of faith? Perhaps you love the way your church serves within the community. Maybe you're like Russ and Becky, and you love the way your family of faith encourages the participation of young people.
I encourage you to reconnect with what you love about your church. Avoid sidebar conversations filled with negative gossip, and steer clear of complaining around coffee tables and in church parking lots. It might feel strangely satisfying in the moment, but it sucks the life right out of a healthy community.
After his resurrection Jesus promised that he would be with us always. One way in which he is present is through local congregations. Let's rejoice in what we love about the body of Christ.
I'm extremely thankful for my time with Russ and Becky. They reminded me just how valuable it is to take time and rejoice in what makes congregational life so great.