This excerpt is adapted from Trillia Newbell’s new book United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity (Moody, 2014).
I love my church. Without question it’s a community unified in worshiping the Father, ministering to our surrounding environment, and encouraging one another to deepen our faith. In some ways, though, I’m nothing like this body of believers. I look different. I have a different cultural background. There certainly are churches I could run to where everyone looks like me. That might be easier. Or I could find a church that sings and worships the way I prefer to—or one with a preacher who addresses his congregation in my favorite style.
But ultimately, I know all those preferential things are just that: preferences. If a church doesn’t teach sound doctrine, after all, none of those preferences matters, since my soul could be at risk. I want to be in a place where I know I’ll be fed the solid Word of God. This promise keeps me returning each Sunday morning; I need to be reminded that my greatest need is the good news, and that Jesus’ redeeming love and resurrection is for today—for me today.
Of course, I might be able to find a local church where everyone looks like me, where each aspect of the worship service is exactly how I’d desire, and where sound teaching is proclaimed. But is that really what I need most? How can we fulfill the Great Commission to go and make disciples of all nations if we all only seek churches that make us feel completely comfortable? Does God call us to have every felt need fulfilled?
Jesus sacrificed comfort for us. The God-man lowered himself into the womb of a virgin. The ruler of heaven and earth could have easily put an end to his sufferings, just as he put an end to the sufferings of those around him, but he didn’t. To the point of death, he didn’t. He sacrificed all comfort on our behalf.
To be clear, I’m not comparing my minor inconveniences to the deep sorrows Jesus experienced. But I do long to emulate his loyalty to and fellowship with his Father. He was devoted to his call because, ultimately, he was devoted to his Father. He set his eyes on Calvary for the church.
Though I’m not perfectly comfortable at all times, my soul is fed and my life is enriched through my predominantly white church. Jesus’ example is compelling because it helps me remember my calling—to love my neighbor as myself and to love my God with all my heart. I’m not meant to do this alone or to retreat into a comfortable place. God wants me to be with his body.
The churches I’ve attended haven’t been perfect. We’ve had our fair share of problems. Yet when I experienced the tragedy and pain of miscarriages, church members were there encouraging my faith. When my first baby was born, they were there with food and sweet advice. When I started writing more frequently, they were there with Starbucks gift cards. They have loved and served me well. I’d like to think I’ve done the same for them. The love of Christ compels me. The love of Christ compels them.
Members of a church community aren’t always going to get along. It’s probably safe to assume you’ve experienced this disagreement in some form. As we live real life together, conflict is inevitable. I’ve experienced this difficulty in past churches. But though we didn’t always agree, the gospel always prevailed. I share this example only to stress that while God has used the church to mold and grow me, it hasn’t always been easy. I don’t want to give the impression that because I’ve had great friendships and solid teaching, I’ve always been content. I haven’t always rejoiced in God’s goodness in and over the differences. As a matter of fact, such differences have periodically challenged me to evaluate my priorities. And staying has been worth it every time.
I’m convinced many of our problems with the church result from running away from difficult or uncomfortable situations rather than persevering through them. Since we don’t enjoy facing our fears or finding ourselves in challenging circumstances, the thought of escape brings great comfort.
Why attend a church that doesn’t meet all of your felt needs? Because “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). I go to church because God loves the church, and I want to love what God loves. God loves the church universal, and he loves the church local. He loves the megachurch, and he loves the little church that meets in a school. And he loves the church because it’s composed of people—his people. On the cross, the Lord Jesus bore wrath of his Father to establish his blood-bought church (Matt. 16:18). And you and I get to be a part.