I’m not an old man, but I’ve been in churches for going on 45 years now, and I think this is the weirdest time to be a churchman in my lifetime. I’ve been in plenty of weird churches too. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of a church that wasn’t weird in some way. I bet the same is true for you.
If we had our druthers, our churches would be more of something and less of some other things. We’d change the music, the architecture maybe, the sermon run-time, maybe even the deliverer of the sermon. And there’s the weirdoes seated around us. Who on earth thought of bringing these people together? As the old King James Version put it, we are a “peculiar people” (1 Peter 2:9), aren’t we?
Well, it was Jesus who thought of that. And even during His earthly ministry, it sure didn’t seem like He was assembling some kind of spiritual A-Team, did it?
It’s almost like He prefers losers, cast-offs, and ne’er-do-wells. Like He’s recruiting sinners, in fact. God is prioritizing broken people from broken situations to be His chosen emissaries to a broken world. Which means that as weird and messy as your church may be, you are exactly suited to this weird and messy time. There is no other church than your church to be the church to the people in your community. There is no other people than the church to be an outpost of heaven in your city, in your nation, in this world.
Once upon a time, I planted a church the same year as an older friend of mine. My church was predominantly young. We had a cool name (or at least, we thought it was cool). We had newer music. We had a cool space and did cool things. My friend’s church began with just a handful of old people. They were in a traditional space and did, well, “old people” stuff. I remember visiting in those early days and thinking, “How in the world is this going to work?”
A few years later, my church didn’t exist. I attended an anniversary service of my friend’s church, which had grown to several hundred. I remember my friend remarking, as part of their commemoration of the milestone, this way: “When we started this church, we didn’t have anything to offer but our brokenness. We were broken people gathering together and offering up ourselves to God. And when broken people offer their brokenness up to God, He does miraculous things.”
This is good news. As weird and messy as your church is, there is only a miracle to be gained by offering up your very selves to the Lord who made you and loves you. It’s no guarantee your church will grow numerically, of course. But it is a guarantee that the Spirit’s strength is perfected in weakness.
On this rock
I think of that staggering exchange in Matthew 16:15-19:
“But you,” he asked them, “who do you say that I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus responded, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven.”
This is Peter that Jesus is talking to. The Peter who, doubting, sunk into the sea. The Peter who chops off ears. The Peter, by the way, that Jesus knows is going to deny Him three times. And it’s to this Peter that Jesus says, “Upon this rock I will build my church.” There must be something optimal about being sub-optimal in submission to Christ.
And this is why, by the way, I don’t think the most reasonable interpretation of Matthew 16:18 is that the “rock” immediately being referenced is Jesus Himself but rather the Peter who is confessing Jesus. I was always taught in my churches that the rock Jesus is referring to is Himself—and in a very vital way this is true—but that is not the plainest reading of the text. Jesus is saying, “I call you rock. And on this rock I will build my church.”
Now, Roman Catholicism of course base their system of the papacy in part upon this reading of the text and say Jesus is establishing Peter as the first pope. You have to piggy-back a whole lot of assumptions and a whole lot of extrabiblical theology into this verse to make it mean that. But I think evangelicals have often overcompensated trying to avoid that interpretation by saying the rock in question isn’t Peter at all. But if we understand the theology behind what Jesus is doing here, we shouldn’t have a problem with it.
The body of Christ
In a way, this is a parallel to what Paul develops further in Ephesians 2:22, that “In him you are also being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit.” So is the church being built upon sinners? Sinners who confess Christ as Lord and their only hope for escaping hell and conquering death? Yes. With Christ as our chief cornerstone, the church is being made up of all kinds of sinners all over the world, Jew, Greek, slave, free—anyone and everyone who is able to confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. He builds His church up out of the redeemed.
This is simply another way of saying that you and I are part of the body of Christ.
So how can He say this? How can He say that He is building His church on “rocks” like Peter—and like you and me? Because anyone who confesses with their mouth that Jesus is Lord and believes in their heart that God has raised Him from the dead is an unconquerable, unstoppable person.
Brothers and sisters, we are a part of a kingdom that will demolish all pretenders and will fulfill in furious fashion the promise of redemption already sealed for us through the atoning work of Jesus Christ. Not because we are strong, but because He is. Not because we’ve got it all figured out, but because He is “sustaining all things by His powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3b).
Isn’t that weird? You don’t have to be cool, big, strong, technologically savvy, politically fashionable, or culturally relevant. You just have to repent of your sin and commit your weird, broken church to its King. It’s the sinners He wants. It’s the losers He’s choosing. Your weird, messy church—in a pandemic or out of it—is God’s Plan A for your world. And there is no Plan B.