Love Your Church Within Its Limits

Love Your Church Within Its Limits by Kelly M. Kapic for Christianity Today

Why accepting a congregation’s shortcomings is key to developing its strengths.

Church can be so disappointing. We want it to be healthy and vibrant, growing and missional, faithful and generous, but we often see more problems than triumphs, more fear than courage, and more weakness than strength in our local congregations. We are not always an attractive lot.

When we look outside the walls of our church, we see so many needs in our communities and across the globe: We want to care for the poor, proclaim the gospel, fight injustice, support struggling families—the list is endless. Our imagination is excited by what the church could accomplish, but then we often feel let down at how meager our work actually is. Are we destined to be perpetually disappointed by our churches?

Every church has limitations and challenges: Physical location, finances, narrow networks, and history shape each and every church. The long COVID-19 pandemic has increased the difficulties for many congregations, resulting in less church involvement and more mental health challenges, less relational connection and more political polarization.

If we are honest, it can make us feel hopeless. But what if, instead of looking at a church’s limits as mere hindrances, we begin to see them as signs of God’s work and promise? What if recognizing our limitations could nurture love, real community, and healthy mission? I would sign up for that. Three principles can help us avoid romanticism, liberate us to see the larger work of God, and ground us in God’s promises.

Reality vs. romanticism

Recognizing our church’s limits anchors us in the reality around us and prevents romantic illusions. Years ago, someone told me the story of a man who dated lots of women but kept breaking up with them. One woman was brilliant but couldn’t relax. Another was beautiful but had an annoying sense of humor. Yet another had an amazing career but didn’t share his intellectual interests. On and on it went. This man had a mental picture of the perfect woman, but she was a superhuman, not a real woman. What was the result of his thinking? He walked a path of loneliness and disappointment rather than finding real love with a real person.

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