I have kept this with me for several years. It is something I found on a beach somewhere. It used to have a companion, a much larger cluster that still had loose sand in it and was a bit more fragile. I no longer have the bigger one because I gave it away.
A church in another state from me had become a special place for several reasons. A friend had been a former pastor there and we had connected our youth group with both his new place of service and this former church. We rotated who would youth mission adventures as it became an annual activity. We worked hard to ensure the kids had profound experiences helping others and experiencing parts of life they might not have otherwise been exposed to.
The church in question had also become a place where I had at one time felt called to serve as pastor. It was an interesting adventure where an interim had become so dearly loved that the church had become bent on keeping him even though the search team was led to believe otherwise. It got so far as a “call weekend” where I met with several individuals and groups and preached in light of a subsequent vote. The motion failed. The committee quit. It was a messed up event all around with more details not necessary for this post.
A few of the search team members and I had become quite close and remained as friends. That church hired the interim who only lasted a couple of years or so for many reasons. By the time he departed, the church was in a real mess. Some were angry, some frustrated, some ready to leave, and some quite upset because of the toxic atmosphere that had permeated the air they breathed inside the facilities. They had somehow agreed that what they needed was an intentional interim to help them resolve a heap of conflict the size of the sanctuary.
I actually had an opportunity to preach for them just prior to the arrival of their interim. As stated before, I still had friends there and had long since overcome my own pain of rejection from our previous encounter. It worked out well that their last Sunday before starting was the last day of my vacation in a place beyond where they were located. I joked that I could preach on my way back and my friends took me seriously and arranged my invitation to deliver the last message before their deep dive.
Our vacation was a at a beach somewhere (yes, it has been long enough now to forget where) and I did my usual beach combing early every morning. I always take a chair with me and walk the beach before dawn and then sit and enjoy the beauty of God’s wake-up call we refer to as sunrise. When I discovered the cluster you see in the picture, God gave me an instant word to share with the church in spite of what I had already planned.
Pictured is a cluster of broken shell pieces, molded together by sand that had hardened and become this clump. There is nothing very pretty about it. You can see some shell pieces that are a bit more whole-looking, but most are just fragments of shells that once were complete.
As I held it in my hands and turned it over and over to look in each nook and cranny, I marveled at how nature had shaped it to become something that somehow appealed to me. What God helped me see was the church. I mean the capital "C" Church! Every congregation everywhere is a gathering of souls who have been battered and tossed about at various points in their lives. The church is a gathering of broken pieces held together by a bond that is beyond us, above us, and better than us, that just so happens to deeply love us.
It’s no wonder that what remained of God’s people was called a remnant. We are the rag-tag collection of messed up people who are bound together by the sticky love of God through Jesus Christ. We are sinful, joyful, broken and limitless in what we can do together to share the Good News with the world. We are not above them nor beneath them, we are one of them.
God gave me a beautiful ocean-made mosaic that morning, then another one to to share with a church who desperately needed that message. I remember sharing this message with the church on my way home from vacation. I remember the chair of Deacons receiving this gift with such a soft heart. The church was ready to face their next chapter even though they knew it would be a painful one. They saw themselves in the shells. I hope you and your church do as well.
How do you bring your authentic self to church?
In what ways has the church caused you pain?
What needs to happen to overcome it?
What can you do to help your church family strengthen their bond with Christ and one another?
If you have left the church, what help is available to help you recapture the joy of community?