Many worship leaders consider themselves artists. Translation: We are typically passionate, idealistic, opinionated, and sensitive.
We have specific ideas about how things should go and can let those preferences affect us deeply when things don’t go the way we hoped they would. While our convictions and zeal can be some of our greatest strengths, they can also set us up for a constant stream of frustration and dissatisfaction with the church.
And the potential for frustration with the church is by no means limited to worship leaders.
There is no ideal church. Churches are made up of and led by mere humans, finite and fallen. People are broken. You are broken. And this brokenness can lead to messiness and hurt.
We all want to “arrive” at our ideal church, whether it’s in ministry or as members. The problem is that it doesn’t exist. There may be a honeymoon phase when you arrive at a church, but before long, the conflicts and complications will arise.
Our great hope is not that someday we will arrive in this life at that perfect, ideal church. No, God has something much greater in mind. He wants to use those imperfect people, places, and positions to sanctify you toward the perfect image of his Son.
Paul knew how frustrating life and ministry can be. In 2 Corinthians 11, he speaks of all that he is suffering for the name of Jesus and the sake of the gospel, and after writing of all his beatings, imprisonments, shipwrecks, and constant dangers, he says that he has to endure the “daily pressure of his anxiety for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28).
He recognized that it would be easy for him to boast in all the ways that God was using him. By all modern opinions, after all he had endured, he had certainly earned the right to settle into a comfortable position at one of the churches he had planted where he would be well thought of and well provided for.
And yet, he goes on to say that in spite of pleading with his Lord to stop the suffering, Jesus allowed it to continue in order to show the sufficiency of his grace and perfect his power in Paul’s weakness. Paul’s response is not to grumble and complain about it, but rather, he says,
I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9–10)
God is at work in your imperfect church, in your less-than-ideal situation. He is at work in your frustration and hurt. He is doing the work of making you more like Jesus, who was himself made complete through suffering (Hebrews 5:8–9).
Your imperfect church is God’s way of loving your idolatry out of you. He is showing you the fleeting, false hopes that are powerless to satisfy you. He is showing you all the things you are trusting in that will only let you down. And by his Holy Spirit, he is working to remove in you those things that are destroying your joy.
Are you constantly grumbling and complaining about your church? Look for the evidences of grace for which to thank God in your situation. Then make an honest assessment of how you are contributing to the frustration. Unrealistic expectations? Sinful elitism? Feeling that you have already arrived and don’t need people giving you any advice? Now is always the time to repent and believe the gospel.
Are you always discontent, waiting on the next big thing, dreaming about some ideal church you haven’t yet found? Take time to praise God for what he is doing now. Then ask yourself why you struggle so much with contentment. Even if you got what you wanted, chances are you likely will still be looking for the next thing. Learn to be satisfied in Christ and then water where you are currently planted.
Finally, ask yourself where you need to grow. None of us is as good as we think. Take inventory of your gifts. Ask wise council for honest feedback, and try to listen without getting offended. Don’t ask those who are just going to tell you what you want to hear, but those you know will shoot you straight. Sometimes the most thankful and contented people in the world simply lack the skills for certain roles of service. Find out where you can improve and do the hard work required to grow.
Whatever the reason God has you where you are right now, do not despise it. Embrace it as a gift from him. Even if everything seems senseless and you feel like you’re wasting your time, your wise and loving Savior is never clocked out or away on vacation. He is at work in and through you, shaping and sanctifying you until the day he returns. He is at work in your weakness, waiting to display his strength in ways that would never happen if he just gave you the perfect church.