I had a dream in which the Lord appeared to me and asked, “Preacher, do you want to lead the perfect church?”
I responded, “O Lord, you know all things. You know I want to lead the perfect church.”
He said, “O mortal, let us journey together to see if such a thing exists.”
We traveled some distance, and we happened upon a beautiful church building filled with worshipers. At a glance, the Lord showed me years of congregational life. People always got along. The pews were always full. Offering exceeded budget every year. No one argued. All believed exactly the same. It seemed a picture of peace and harmony.
The Lord asked, “Mortal, would you like to lead this church?”
I replied, “Who would not like to lead this church?”
The Lord responded, “Perhaps your eyes see a perfect church, but what would happen if you challenged this group? Do you think they would be receptive? All agree in all matters. If you were to challenge them to grow deeper, do you think they would respond? If you challenged them to see something from a different perspective, do you think they would embrace you? If you broke one of their deep traditions, do you think they are capable of forgiveness given that they all agree on everything?”
I hung my head in shame, for this was the dream I had of the church. It was the church I had dreamed of leading, but I now knew it was not the perfect church.
The Lord and I traveled further, and we happened upon a run down church facility. Sloppy attempts had been made to fix things up. Some things were simply patched together. The Lord again showed me the history of the church in a moment. The people here were much different. They fought constantly. They were back-biters. They remained angry with each other. The church was less than half-full every week. The offering coffers barely had enough to pay the bills–if that.
“Mortal,” the Lord said, “Would you like to lead this church?”
“Who would?” I asked.
The Lord replied, “No one would like to lead this church, it is true. And it is not the perfect church. However, these people, I love too. These people need a change of heart for they do not know of my great love for them. They do not know the cost I paid to redeem them. Their hearts are hardened, but this place needs the Gospel. Judge them harshly if you must, but I hold out hope that one day they may hear the good news and learn to forgive.”
Once again, I hung my head in shame for I would never have considered leading such a church. I could not have seen this as an opportunity for grace. I only saw the difficulty and stress.
The Lord and I traveled once again. We came upon another church. It wasn’t immaculate or run down. It was nice, but still needed some repair. The Lord showed me the history of the church in a moment, and this is what I saw: it was a congregation of various people of many backgrounds. They did not always agree. At times, they fought and were openly hostile. At other times, they worked together brilliantly. There was still back-biting and gossip. People still got angry. Yet, they managed to pull together for worship each week. Despite hard feelings among some, there was a willingness to forgive and give second, third, and fourth chances. It was not perfect by my standards, but I had learned enough to wait upon the Lord, and He did not disappoint.
“Mortal, would you like to lead this church?”
“It’s not a perfect church.”
“No,” the Lord responded, “it is not. The only perfect church is the one in heaven above, but look at this church and you will see something absent from the others. In this church, people do not always agree. They argue about Me and the nature of the Truth, but they are humble enough to know no one grasps it fully. They argue about how best to run the church and respond to the world around them–they know the world is ever changing, and the unchanging Gospel must be proclaimed to it in different ways. They know deep down that none are righteous–none are perfect–and forgiveness must be a staple even with those who have hurt them deeply. They understand that imperfect people must proclaim my perfection, and they do not point to themselves, they point to Me. At the center of this church is the cross of Christ. This church is in a constant battle to die to itself and focus on that cross–to live in Me. Until I make all things new, this is where the church must stand. It will never be perfected. It must struggle to die to itself and find itself in Me. Will you lead this church?”
“I will, and I ask you to help and guide me.”
The Lord replied, “I will, and I will guide that church for in such a church, I can truly transform lives and make people holy.”