Worth Risking On
Words by Ann Swindell
Some of my earliest memories of church are infused with deep pain and confusion. A pastoral affair had ripped our congregation in two, and while, as a seven-year-old, I didn’t know why the church was in such turmoil, the reverberations of broken trust and grief trickled down to even the youngest members. I remember my parents crying about church, and I remember realizing that families I knew had left the church, because I didn’t see some of my friends anymore. A new pastor arrived and I didn’t really understand why. I couldn’t articulate it then, but I internalized something that had the potential to create a wall around my young heart—that church is inevitably a place of pain and brokenness.
But due to the grace of the Lord and intentionality of my parents, I also internalized something else: church is still worth it.
I learned this because in the middle of the pain and the heartache, the fractured friendships and the broken trust, my parents didn’t leave the church.
Instead, they kept showing up. They kept going to church, beleaguered and broken as it was. My parents kept talking about Jesus and singing about Jesus and loving his people and being a part of the Body of Christ in their daily and weekly lives.
It was a testament to me, even as a young girl, that church was worth a great deal. Their actions and their lives pointed to the truth that while pain in the church might be inevitable, leaving does not have to be. They showed me that there are some things worth risking on and worth fighting for, and church was at the top of that list.
Why? Because Jesus showed us that the Church was worth risking on to the highest degree: it was worth his life.
Scripture points to this reality many times, and one powerful passage about his great love for the Church is tucked in the middle of the well-known marriage passage in Ephesians. Here, we see the purpose behind how and why husbands are supposed to love their wives—because it is how Christ loved the Church:
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish (Eph. 5:25–27).
Christ loved the Church so much that he “gave himself up for her,” with the understanding that she needed to be sanctified, cleansed, and presented without the spots, wrinkles, and blemishes she started with.
This is humbling to me—to realize how messy we are as the Church. He knew that we would be so full of “blemishes” and “spots” and “wrinkles” that he would have to make the ultimate sacrifice to redeem us at the cost of his own life.
And so we, as his people, get to give our lives for the Church, too. If Jesus determined that the Church was worth risking everything on, then my parents were right to keep showing up, to keep giving their time and their hearts and their lives for the church in all of its brokenness and glory.
I didn’t stay in that church forever—by junior high, I was in a healthier congregation. But as a family, we never stopped participating in church, no matter where we were. The model that my parents gave to me was one that reflected the heart of Christ: to choose to love God’s people rather than walk away.
This is the same model we can give our children—and it’s true that actions speak much louder than words when it comes to the value we place on being a part of the Body of Christ. We confirm that we agree with Christ’s value of the Church when we keep participating in the life of the Body of Christ up rather than walking away when it gets hard. While this can look many different ways in our local churches, it might include things like giving generously, attending (and possibly hosting!) small group, and showing up on Sunday in the middle of the baby’s nap.
It also means having the hard conversations with fellow church members when we don’t see eye-to-eye. It means respecting our leaders and also asking questions when we don’t understand their decisions.
It means giving our children the beautiful gift of seeing the church up close and loving the people in it anyway, just as they are choosing to do the same for us. It means learning together with our kids that while church is always messy—because it’s made up of saints that are both sinful and beloved—it’s always worth it, because Christ says it is.
Ann Swindell is the author of Still Waiting: Hope for When God Doesn’t Give You What You Want. She has been joyfully married to Michael for over a decade and they are raising their two blue-eyed kids in Texas, where he is a pastor. Ann loves helping other writers grow in their ability to write their stories beautifully and powerfully through her ministries, Writing with Grace and The Writing Mom Course. Connect with her here!