Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Embracing Brokenness

Leslie Basham: When problems arise in your church, it’s an opportunity for growth. Here’s Mark Vroegop.

Mark Vroegop: If you’re trying to lead and minister to people who are fundamentally broken, you can either view their brokenness as the thing you hate, or you can use it as the thing that can actually be useful for their own sanctification and for yours.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Monday, October 14.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Have you noticed that more and more believers today seem to be disillusioned with the whole concept of church? In fact, a lot of them are deciding they don’t need the church anymore and are dropping out altogether.

Well, recently Pastor Mark Vroegop spoke to the staff of Revive Our Hearts along with our parent organization, Life Action Ministries, about what Mark called: the beautiful mess of the church.

Life Action sends teams to minister in churches around the country. They conduct what they call Revival Summits in local churches. You’ll hear Mark refer to that in this message. This message was so encouraging and helpful to me and the rest of our staff. We thought that during this pastor appreciation month, this would be a great message for our Revive Our Hearts’ listeners. If you’re finding yourself discouraged about some of the problems in the church, I think this message will give you a really helpful perspective.

Mark Vroegop is the lead pastor at College Park Church in Indianapolis. Now, here’s part one of the message we’re calling, “A Beautiful Mess.”

Mark Vroegop: I love weddings. I’ve been to many of them. The thing about weddings, when you get to do them as a pastor, is you have the best seats in the house. I also typically spend a fair amount of time with the couples that I’m marrying because I don’t "do weddings." I "put marriages together," and there’s a world of difference.

So I get into their lives a little bit, and I learn about the back stories. I learn about their families, and I see all the dynamics that are involved. Then that moment comes on their wedding day. I’m standing up at the front with the groom, and the door opens, and the bride and her dad appear. Mom, if she remembers, stands. Right? And everyone turns and looks. It is, from my seat, a glorious moment.

I love weddings. I love this moment. As the bride walks down the aisle, her dad has her in his arm. I’ve spent time with the groom and that bride, and there are times, I’m telling you, that when that dad is walking that bride down the aisle, I catch his eye, and I know what he’s thinking.

He’s thinking: I love my little girl. This is a wonderful, precious moment. She’s beautiful beyond compare. But this young guy has no idea what’s coming his way. I look at that dad, and I know exactly what’s going in his mind because I’ve spent time with her, and I’ve spent time with him, and I know this is a beautiful moment, but there is some stuff that is going to be coming down the pipeline. Right?

So, she is, as he is (I’m speaking on brides), she is broken. She’s not perfect. There’s a boat load of baggage, all kinds of issues that she’s got to work through. But the fact of the matter is, she’s still beautiful.

And I want to suggest to you there is a reason why God describes His relationship with the church in terms of marriage and a bride. I want to suggest to you that the Bible paints a very beautiful view of the church and yet, at the same time, she is not perfect at all.

The main thing that I want to drive into your heart today is this thought (and I have had to learn this the hard way): We have to love our people more than we hate where they’re at. Let me say that again. I think I’ve only said two original things in my lifetime. This is one of them, so I’m going to let you savor it because it’s all I’ve got. There will be two things that will be on my gravestone: This and the other one.

We have to love our people more than we hate where they’re at.

That statement came out of my mouth in a staff meeting one day when we were (in my former church) just bemoaning the condition of our people—what we felt like was their hardheartedness. Just after a while it got into sort of a rhythm. After negative thing after negative thing after negative thing, we were actually criticizing the bride as to how broken she was. We were forgetting that she is actually still beautiful. I wanted to remind my team and myself, so I said, “Brothers, we need to love our church more than we hate where she’s at.”

My last church was a great place of ministry, but it wasn’t an easy one. Somewhere in seminary I missed the fact that not all Baptist churches were the same. I don’t know where I missed that, but I missed it. I got into this church, and I was there as a Youth Pastor. Then at age twenty-five I became the Senior Pastor, and those folks gave me a gift.

I don’t know how in the world they let me be their Senior Pastor. This is funny: I was the youngest member of the staff, and my title was “Senior Pastor.” We all laughed about it, like, we all know this doesn’t mean anything. Right?

The reality was this church was, at the time, an independent, fundamental, King James only, Beulah land singing sort of church—if you know what I’m talking about. I remember the day after I became the Senior Pastor. I took my New American Standard Bible, and I slid it back on the shelf. I moved over, and I picked up my King James, and for the next eight years I used that translation.

I did it because I loved my people more than I hated where they were at because their translation issues. That was the tip of the iceberg. That was small compared to other huge issues. So I said, “You know what? They’ve given me a gift in being their Senior Pastor at age twenty-five. I haven’t earned this. They just gave me this gift. So I need to be respectful of where they’ve come from, and slowly over time we’re going to try and figure out what God wants us to be.”

There were times I would go home on Sunday, and I would just tell my wife, “I love these people, but, man, this is funky church. This is really weird. This is strange.”

We used to have chairs that we’d have to sit up on the front of the platform. I’m up there going, “I hate this.” Granted, there were other wonderful times, but there were also times that I was just going, “What planet do I live on? This is just really strange.”

Here’s what happened: I loved them. I loved them so deeply that I wanted to be able to help them grow and become something different. That love was hard. It was painful. It was personal at times, and yet there is something right about loving, not just a church, but The Church, and not just The Church, but a church.

So what I want to do is help you understand why the church is so lovely, and to maybe help you get a better developed ecclesiastical understanding of the church, because I know some of you. You’re in what I would call “the church recovery program.” You’ve come from really bad churches or really bad experiences. If your past is any indication of what your view of the church is, it’s really messed up. And I understand that. And on behalf of all pastors who’ve ever lived, I’m sorry for your experience. On behalf of all church members who’ve ever lived, I’m sorry, because church shouldn’t be that way and sometimes it is.

In the last thirty days, I wrote down just some of the things that I have had to personally deal with. I also did this on Tuesday with our staff. I had them take out a piece of paper and write down all the things that they’d dealt with over the last thirty days. I’m not going to share their list. It was really large, and it was overwhelming. But I just want you to get a sense of what living and working with people in a local church context could actually look like, because when I say, “Love our people more than they hate where they are at,” I’m not talking about this theoretically. I mean, like today, trying to figure that out.

So here’s just a few examples. In the last thirty days:

  • I prayed with a man who was going to prison for extortion. He has a five-year prison sentence now.
  • I counseled an infertile couple on ethical fertility treatments.
  • I attended the funeral and grieved and hugged a twenty-nine-year old widow whose husband drowned last week.
  • I counseled a woman whose husband confessed to his eighth adulterous relationship.
  • I navigated reconciliation between two leaders of ministries in the state of Indiana.
  • I provided emergency counsel for a woman who was a victim of domestic violence, and what does she do.
  • I prayed with a family who had lost a sister in the bus accident that you’d heard about in the national news in Indianapolis.
  • Then in the same time, that next Sunday, I rejoiced with a man who came to Christ on Easter and he found His God-moment. He showed up and BANG! Jesus met him.
  • I counseled a man struggling with same-sex attraction who then memorized his first passage of Scripture ever.

In our staff meeting, I listened to the confession of a couple who found out they were pregnant.

It’s crazy! So here’s what I have said to our people, and here’s what I want you to think about. It's the little phrase beyond just, “Love our people more than we hate where they are at.” I want you to think of this: That I believe the church is a beautiful mess. That’s what she is. I say that all the time. I say, “Man, this is a beautiful mess.” Those two words are strong, and they’re a little edgy when you put them together, but I think they capture the essence of what the church is.

Now, why’s this on my heart? I’ve thought a lot about this. First of all, because you’re going to see some really bad things. The second reason why I want to talk about this is: What can happen to you is you can become discouraged. You can look around, and go, “Man, this church . . . they’re a mess.” You could be really discouraged. But I just want to remind you: That’s why you’re there!

So when we went through the list of all these problems with our staff, I had them list all those things. It was a heavy moment in the room. I said to them, “Brothers, I want to remind you that this is exactly why we are here. We are here for these moments, for these issues, for these challenges, for these problems. We are not here for easy, still-water lives. We are the people who go in, in the darkest of dark moments, and we are there. We preach the gospel in the worst of worst situations, and thank God that we have this opportunity.”

You have to think that way, or you will become discouraged. What can happen, though, is your discouragement can lead, secondly, to disillusionment. You can become disillusioned. Meaning that you move from, “This church is a mess,” and you see another one, and another one, and you draw a straight line, and you say, “Most churches are a mess.” You become disillusioned with the Church in general or the church local.

And then, finally, I have seen this happen, and I have felt this before. It moves from discouragement to disillusionment to just downright disdain where you just think, “You know what? Church doesn’t even work anymore.”

Some people jet completely out of church, or they go and form their own church, and they have, “Just me and my wife and our kids, and maybe another family, and we’re just going to get together, and we’re going to do church just like us.” And you know what happens? That church has a split because the problem isn’t the size. The problem is us. It’s people. We’re a mess. And that’s why the church is a mess.

I want to help you to understand the beauty of what the church is so that you could always have a holy discontentment with the state of the church. I think there’s a healthy discontentment that you come into even in your own spiritual life, or your own church.

I have a holy discontentment with the present state of College Park Church, but I don’t want to also have an unholy demand, meaning, “It’s got to be this way, or I’m chucking the whole thing.” There’s a difference between, “I wish it was different; I want it to be different” from “It must be different.”

One of my heroes in the faith is Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who was the pastor of the Westminster Chapel in London England. He saw revival when he was young in the Welsh Awakening. He longed for it his entire life, taught on it, preached on it, and it never came. That’s one of the reasons why he’s my hero. It’s because he was always on a ramped-up footing for it. He said this: “I know I can’t manufacture revival, but I want to live my life in such a way that if God was pleased to send it, I’d be worthy of it. He could trust me with it.”

So while I have a holy discontentment for where things are, that holy discontentment turns internal as I say, “God, I want to live in such a way, I can’t manufacture it. I can’t create it. I can’t force You to do this. I want something more, but at the same time, I want to live my life in such a way that if You’d be pleased to send it, then I would be ready.”

The revival, essentially, in my view, is seeing the church come alive. When the church comes alive, you see it in its beauty and in its glory, and you see the possibility. Holding out hope for that, I think, is a worthy effort.

The reason this is important is this: Because there is always less happening than you’d like and always more than you’ll ever know.

There’s always less happening than you’d like. You look around and you’re like, “Man, I wish this was happening, and I wish this was happening, and I wish this was happening.” And the reality is, I think God covers that from us so we don’t see it all, and there’s always more happening than you’ll ever know.

The other thing is that the church is not always amazing, but she is still loved by Jesus. She’s still that beautiful bride walking down the aisle who’s fundamentally broken and has lots of issues, but she’s still glorious and beautiful.

It’s important for us to be reminded that the church was Jesus’ idea. I wouldn’t have chosen the church as the means to proclaim the gospel. It’s too messy. I would have done something else. And yet God has chosen to do it. When I look around at the people in my congregation and in our staff, and the dynamics of our leadership and all that, I just say, “I don’t know how in the world this thing has held together.”

That’s a great thing to say because it’s the Spirit of the risen Christ for the glory of Jesus. It’s His church, not mine. It belongs to Him. He holds it together. If we could figure out how it’s all held together, here’s what we’d do: We would write a book about it. We’d develop curriculum. We’d sell it. We’d write songs about it, and send it out to the world. And we would get the glory and the credit.

So the beautiful thing is the church is held together by the Spirit of the risen Christ.

Take your Bible, and let’s go to 1 Peter chapter 2 and verse 4. So what is the church?

By definition, the word church means “called-out ones.” This has an Old Testament foundation to it where the church is a group of people who are called out, and they are called out for the purpose of having a relationship and meeting with their God. 1 Peter 2:4, “As you come to him [and remember, that Him is Jesus], a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God, chosen and precious [so there’s Christ again, and then right after it, he talks about the church], you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (vv. 4–5).

So that text tells us: What is the church? It is a gathering of people, you, yourselves, they are living stones. They’re being built into a spiritual house.

Verse 9: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

If you were a Jew and you heard those words, you knew exactly what Peter was talking about. That is a reference to the Exodus concept in the Bible. To say that there are “chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession,” Peter is linking the reality of the church to the plan that God has to pull out people from bondage and to call them for Himself.

The grand story of the Bible, beginning in Genesis, is that God dwells with people. Sin mars that presence. Adam and Eve are cast out of the Garden, and God’s relentless aim is to bring people back to Himself.

We see glimpses of that in the Old Testament in the Tabernacle. We see Israel who’s brought out of Egypt. They’re gathered at the base of Mount Sinai. God gives them the Tabernacle. And in this Tabernacle, they have the Holy of Holies, which is a perfect cube. The whole Tabernacle is just double the cube, and the whole Tabernacle square just quadrupled that cube.

And the idea is this: in God’s presence, there is order. In the midst of chaos, God invites His people to come back into worship of Him so they can find what life is really supposed to be like. They can find shalom in the midst of a world where there isn’t shalom.

And that Tabernacle was a place where God’s glory comes and dwells. It was meant to be a place where God and His people could meet together, again, with the idea that eventually something else is going to come. Eventually, God’s going to take the entire Tabernacle idea, and He’s going to expand it so that the glory of God is going to cover the earth as the waters covers the sea. And then that goes into the Temple, and God comes and dwells in the Temple.

Then it comes in Christ in the New Testament who comes and gives evidence of God’s presence in the world. In the New Testament, all of that is embodied, not in a building, it’s embodied in people who now become the new building.

So when Peter says, “You’re a chosen race; you’re a holy nation,” he’s linking the Old Testament idea of a people called out of their Exodus event. He’s linking that with the idea of what it means for you to be “living stones.” That no longer is a people who go to a Temple, but those people are becoming the Temple. They are becoming the dwelling place of God.

The effect of this is that the end game is one day that bride is going to come and God is going to dwell with her, and the glory of Christ will emanate through that bride. Let me show you this.

Take your Bible and go all the way to the end, Revelation 21, verse 9: “Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, ‘Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ [So here it is—the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.] And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me [notice what he shows him] the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.”

This is the Bride. This is the gathering of God’s people.

Verse 11: “Having the glory of God [the glory of the Bride is the glory of God], its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.”

Then skip ahead to verse 22, regarding the city of New Jerusalem: “I saw no temple in the city.” Of course there’s no temple! You know why there’s no temple? Because the people emanate the glory of that temple.

Look at what it says: “For its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. The city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (v. 23). So the idea of where all of this is headed is that the church now becomes this new dwelling place for God.

Go to 1 Corinthians chapter 3, and I’ll show you this where Paul gets very specific, and he’s not speaking about the church in general. He’s talking to a very specific church, the church at Corinth, a church that had all sorts of issues, all kinds of problems. They were incredibly imperfect. Look at chapter 3, verse 1.

Paul says this: "Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not with solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh” (vv. 1–2).

Then he describes what’s going on there: “For where there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, 'I follow Paul,' and another, 'I follow Apollos,' are you not being merely human?” (vv. 3–4).

So then he goes through, and he explains: “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, [Here it comes!] God's building” (vv. 5–9).

Look at verse 16: “Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?”

And then he hits them hard because their divisions are destroying the Temple, and he says in verse 17: “If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple.”

In other words, the gathering of God’s people, and not just in a corporate sense, but in an individualized, local sense, that is the habitation of God among His people. They are the very Temple. They are living stones being built up together, and even though there are divisions, and even though there are issues, and even though there is imperfection, and even though there are incredible challenges in the context of that church, they are still God’s Temple. They are still God’s people. They are still dearly loved even though they are broken.

They are a bride walking down the aisle, full of glory, full of beauty, and yet incredibly broken and a beautiful mess.

So there are people in every church who create issues and create problems. In fact, the apostle Paul says that those divisions are very revealing. He says that those divisions actually prove who’s real. Look at 1 Corinthians chapter 11 and verse 18.

He says: “For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part.”

Verse 19: “For there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.”

In other words, part of the mess of church is to reveal who’s real—who’s real. God has chosen not to remove all of the tares from the wheat. He’s chosen not to remove the people who are disgruntled and difficult and hard, and part of the reason is because those divisions and those issues and those problems actually serve the benefit of revealing who’s real.

That changes how you view problems. You walk into a church, and instead of going, “Look at all the problems!” you can go, “Look at all the problems. There’s problems and problems and problems. What an opportunity to be able to see how people are going to respond and how they’re going to grow in Christlikeness.”

Church isn’t safe. It’s not meant to be safe. If it was safe, there wouldn’t be sanctification in it. Does that justify the sinful actions of people? Absolutely not! But if you’re trying to lead and minister to people who are fundamentally broken, you can either view their brokenness as the thing that you hate, or you can use it as the thing that actually could be useful for their own sanctification and for yours.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: We’ve been listening to Mark Vroegop, who is the pastor of College Park Church in Indianapolis. He’s been helping us realize why we should expect the church to have problems, and he’s been showing us how those problems can drive us to the Lord and help us become more like Jesus.

We’re bringing this message to you here in October, which has been designated Pastors’ Appreciation Month. I hope that today’s message has helped you think through your expectations about your spiritual leaders and has encouraged you to want to encourage your pastor.

Even if things aren’t perfect, and, of course, they aren’t, there’s still so many reasons to show appreciation and gratitude to your pastor and to his wife. I hope you’ll take time this week to think through how the Lord would want you to do that.

Here at Revive Our Hearts, we want to do everything we can to support the body of Christ, and we’re committed to the ministry of the local church. That’s why we recently hosted Revive ’13, a conference for women’s ministry leaders, and that’s why we’re developing resources for churches and small groups to use for their women. When you support the ministry of Revive Our Hearts, you’re part of all these initiatives to support the body of Christ.

This month when you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any size, we want to thank you with a special gift that I’m really excited to tell you about. It’s the 2014 Revive Our Hearts wall calendar.

This year we commissioned calligrapher Timothy Botts to create twelve new pieces of artwork for the calendar, and I think it turned out beautifully. The calendar is called “The Wonder of His Name.”

When you flip over to a new page each month, as I’m doing right now with the calendar I’m holding in my hand, you’ll be reminded of one of the names of Jesus and what it means to us and what a difference that name makes in our lives.

This is a great opportunity for you to meditate on the person, the work, and the wonderful names of Jesus throughout the year ahead. We’d like to send you this one-of-a-kind calendar when you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any size. Just ask for the wall calendar when you call to make your donation. That number to call is 1–800–569–5959, or visit us online at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Now, tomorrow Pastor Mark Vroegop will join us again. He says that a lot of people treat the church the way an older sibling treats a younger one. Find out what he means by that tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.

 

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