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Dear Christians, It’s Time to Let the Church of Your Dreams Die

By Stephen Altrogge

I think to really love the church in front of you, you have to die to the church of your dreams.

Stephen Stills’ advice that “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with” is perhaps dubious relationship advice but closer to the mark when it comes to church.

There are a variety of reasons you can’t be with the church you loved, or long for, or wish for, but you can be with the church you find yourself.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writing from the past, seems to nail our church culture today: “He who loves his dream of community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.”

We don’t mean to do any harm, we’re only dreaming. But unintentionally we can wreck everything.

Regularly in the New Testament letters, the church is exhorted toward the “more excellent way” of love for one another (1 Cor 13). The church is exhorted to love even the differences and sharp edges of Christians living together as the church (1 Cor 12). The church is charged to see with wonder what God has done to bring these very different people together (Eph 2) and then seek to live in light of the unity God has brought about (Eph 4). The believers are exhorted to love their church well.

But doing this sometimes means killing a few of your dreams.

THE CHURCH OF THE PAST

Over the years I’ve talked to several folks who were getting connected to our church with an unusual habit: they’d bring up their previous church, not just sometimes, but very often.

As we were all talking about a church activity they’d speak glowingly of how their church had done the same thing only better, had pursued community only better, had started a women’s ministry only better.

Now I love and thank God for their previous churches–in fact after hearing them described I wished sometimes I could be a member there too. But after a while, I started to wonder if they could ever be happy in the real flesh and blood church they were standing in.

The church I serve in now has roots that go back to the ’70s and was founded in the early ’80s. That’s a lot of history in the books before I became a pastor around 2010. One of the hardest things to move beyond was actually one of the best things about our church: our history.

It was easy to compare everything we did to the high-water marks of the past. Even if we had some new visitors, we still weren’t what we used to be. If the Spirit seemed to move in a powerful way, it wasn’t as powerful as in the ’80s. When a church gets stuck there, it’s often caught in a spiral down, unable to lift its head to look to the present or the future.

What God did in the past should be remembered and loved, but not at the expense of remembering and loving what God is doing right here and now.

THE CHURCH OF THE FUTURE

I live in the future. When I became a pastor at my church I spent a lot of time dreaming and longing for what the church could be in 5 years. I thought I saw where we needed to go and I wanted to help get us there.

But there was a problem: I was constantly frustrated with the bumps in the road to get there. If someone objected to a plan I felt defensive. If a pastoral care need came up in the midst of trying to launch a new initiative I felt frustrated.

Chick-fil-A Summer Skills Camp Stirs Up Controversy With People Calling it “Child Labor”

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After facing relentless bullying and harassment over the past school year, 12-year-old Flora Martinez ended her life on May 7. Now, her parents are demanding change from schools and administrators after the bullying persisted, even once she was gone.