The church is like a string of Christmas lights - designed to burst forth into the darkness with joy, only as bright as its weakest bulb, made all the more dazzling by its red-tipped leader...
...and destined to become tangled.
Man, what it is about Christmas lights? Every year, when I take them down, I take painstaking care to make sure to wind the string of lights properly, putting it carefully away so as not to frustrate myself the next year when I pull everything out of storage again. And yet, it never fails that when I go to get the Christmas lights, they are somehow tangled all around themselves all over again. Like something happened to them in storage in some inexplicable manner.
Yes, every year, I am forced to untangle the Christmas lights that, to be absolutely honest with you, I never tangled in the first place.
And the church is no different.
None of us wants to have conflict in our church. None of us. There's not a member of God's family who determines that they don't want to have a good, healthy, positive relationship with God's people. And yet, conflict arises in every church.
In some churches, it seems to come up over the silliest things - I know of churches that have had deep, divisive, cut-throat arguments over the color of the church carpet. In other churches, it's deeper than that. Churches are fighting over ministries. Over programs. Over the division of the church body into various cliques. Over poor leadership. Over points of doctrine.
We're fighting for a couple of reasons. First, we're fighting because we're passionate about the church. Honestly, we are. I know it doesn't always seem that way, especially when we're talking about church carpet, but the truth is that almost everyone who is willing to fight in the church does so because they believe they are fighting for the church. They honestly have the best interests of their family at heart, in some measure or degree, even if they are misguided in how they are understanding things at the time.
Second, we're fighting because we're human beings. We all have our own baggage, our own experiences, our own expectations. Any time you bring more than one person together, there are going to be disagreements; it's just how human nature works. (And some of us are really good at having disagreements all by ourselves.) A lot of times this is because we are all gifted and called slightly differently, so we have different emphases in our hearts and minds, and it can be tough sometimes to balance all of them in a community. I mean, of course the musician is going to have a strong opinion about musical worship and the teaching elder is going to have a strong opinion about the sermon and the head of the greeting ministry is going to have a strong opinion about hospitality. It's just how God created us. (Sort of. More later.)
Third, we're fighting because none of us lives in a bubble. We are not with each other 24/7/365. We each go out and live our own lives in the world with our own encounters and our own problems and our own struggles. We all have our own families and our own dynamics and our own wounds and our own hang-ups. It's no stretch of the imagination to understand, then, that sometimes, we just set each other off without meaning to, without even knowing that's what we're doing. We touch on sore spots without even recognizing it, and it creates tension among us.
We are tangled, and we're always going to be tangled. It doesn't matter how much care you treat the church with, how hard you try to make sure everything stays neat and orderly, how hard you work on your relationships - they are always going to be tested. We're always going to trip over each other. That's part of the nature of being woven together in the way that we are.
It takes patience to keep untangling us time after time after time. It takes grace to not become hopelessly discouraged by ourselves. It takes remembering who we are and what we were created for - that we're lights made to shine - and a constant remembrance that this brokenness is just something we have to learn to deal with effectively for the sake of pursuing our purpose. We have to be untangled again and again and again if we hope to continue to shine bright in the darkness.