Church is a little bit like a local bar—folks are there for all kinds of reasons. You’ve got your regulars, who are straight out of Cheers, who come because it’s where everybody knows their name. You’ve got some who come out of social obligation, maybe they were invited or they think it’s where they are supposed to be. You’ve got some who come out of desperation, who feel like they are at the end of their rope and there’s nowhere else to go. And you’ve got people who come looking to meet someone, to be seen and found and known.
No matter the how, no matter the why—we ended up here at Restoration together.
I mention this because I read something tremendously sad this week. Pastor and writer Russell Moore recently left his leadership position with the Southern Baptist Convention, choosing to direct the new Christianity Today Public Theology Project. In the wake of his decision, some letters have surfaced that detail his reasons for leaving the SBC: mainly denominational leaders’ resistance to acknowledging or responding to sexual abuse allegations and issues of racial reconciliation.
I don’t bring this up to condemn the denomination or to pretend that we are free from similar conflict and failure. Far from it. This is a story that’s been told since the very beginning of the church, as we read in Paul’s letters. We may be Christ’s body, but, as individuals and as an institution, we are still subject to sin and its fracturing consequences.
Instead, I bring this up because of one particular line in Moore’s letter. In 2020, Moore was invited to speak at the Anglican Church in North America’s national gathering. He writes that after speaking, he went to his room and “shook with tears.” He continues:
That’s because, as in virtually every one of such meetings, I was greeted by person after person after person who, like me, grew up in Southern Baptist churches…They were nostalgic and wanted to remember a denomination they loved…The thousands of young people I encounter on college campuses who are now non-denominational don’t do exit interviews…Instead, they just look at the rage and the bigotry and the cover-ups and the buffoonery and they shrug their shoulders and say, “I guess they don’t want people like me.”
This is my story. Not entirely—I didn’t witness scandals or cover-ups or abuse in my Baptist upbringing. In fact, I’m incredibly grateful for the intentional discipleship and biblical teaching that nurtured my young faith. But I did become frustrated and disappointed. I felt displaced, dislocated, and, like those students Moore encountered, came to wonder if the church wanted someone like me.
That’s how I ended up here. Anglicanism is far from perfect, but it’s helped me keep my faith not just in Christ, but in the church. For me, it’s the insistence that what we believe can never be divorced from how we worship. It’s the liturgy of our service that de-emphasizes the charismatic preacher standing in a spotlight. It’s the intentional alignment with the long history of the church across the globe that defuses the sense that we have some ‘secret sauce’ no other church has. These things don’t just run counter to what has frustrated me in other churches; they also work against my own ego and my own proclivity to make my faith about being right or being superior.
I know we’ve all walked our own path to end up at Restoration together, but this is a well-worn one. Many of us have come to Restoration after becoming disillusioned with the church. For some, it had more to do with national politics. For others, it was a home church that didn’t feel like home anymore. For a few, the scars are more personal and more deep.
As you know, this summer we are working our way through Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, talking about the church in practice. It’s important for us to remember that the church is always practicing. We will continue to get it wrong; we continue to quarrel, disagree, and disappoint. But we are the bride of Christ, for better or for worse. During this season after Pentecost, we live into the reality that the church is God’s plan, that we can’t join God in the restoration of all things apart from being joined to his church.
This week, take a moment to recognize God’s grace that you are still here, still connected to the body of Christ. There were so many times when you could have walked away for good. There were so many encounters that could have pushed you away forever. But in his mercy, God has led you here—to this place, to these people—to practice living out the gospel of Christ. Join us again on Sunday, and let’s practice.