As we planted a church in western Canada then later took over an established church in Florida, we devoted all our energy to finding the best methods and strategies to build a church that would radically transform hundreds, maybe thousands of lives for Jesus.
The church we’d grown up in was no longer relevant to us and to a large part of the emerging culture. So, we set out to change things. We were going to create a perfect church.
Whenever someone talks about the perfect way to do church, the Biblical way, we always hear about the church in the New Testament. But why have we idealized the first-century church? If we look more closely at the ones involved, we see people sleeping with their relatives, stealing money, greed, envy, strife, lying, accusing each other of “false doctrine,” leaders failing to care for the poor, selfishness, etc.
We both used to idealize certain leaders and their churches. Especially the ones we thought had it all figured out. They had growing numbers flocking to their churches and conferences, so what they claimed, must be true. But the closer we got, not all was as it appeared.
Idealization is maximizing virtues and minimizing flaws. We all do it, either with our kids, a spouse or our mentors or ministry. But, over time, unchecked idealization produces disillusionment.
In his book, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor, and theologian who was executed for being an anti- Nazi dissident warned us about the dangers of our “wish dreams. Here’s an excerpt:
Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves…
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