International Church: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly-ish

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He believes what?

She’s convicted about that?

They don’t agree about this?

You’re moving overseas, packing what you didn’t want to live without, and leaving behind family and loved ones to follow God. You’ll settle in, ready to build community.

Maybe you’ll find an international church, maybe the only one, where expats and locals migrate to worship. Depending on where you are serving, you could find a variety of nationalities gathered for a worship service.

And it’s beautiful. Until it’s difficult.


We’ve been a part of an English-speaking international church for over ten years. Peeking out over the congregation, you’d see a full deck of nationalities, old people and young, families and unmarried adults, new believers and those with a long history of service in the church. My husband and I love meeting newcomers, and feel honored to meet people who have recently come to faith in a dark nation.

But with a multitude of nationalities comes a multitude of church backgrounds and denominations and preferences and cultural expressions. There jare ust as many opinions and perspectives about proper worship, adherence to doctrine, and leadership. [su_pullquote]I…urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:1-6[/su_pullquote]

Trust me. It’s way easier to be around people who think the same way you do, who worship the same way you are comfortable worshiping.

And yet, I don’t think the unity God calls us to is an easy one.

In an international church–perhaps more than other churches–there is a working out of our faith that sometimes means looking again at why we hold to specific traditions, or why we are more comfortable with this leadership rather than that leadership.

Love that stays put

You might be tempted to say, “Let’s find someone else who thinks just like I do. I need this to be easier.”

And there are reasons to leave a church. But I have also found reasons to stay and be challenged–to love beyond what’s easy and comfortable.[su_pullquote align=”right”]I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 1 Corinthians 1:10 [/su_pullquote]

Our church is treading through a season of significant secondary issues; by secondary, I mean issues not pertaining to God’s character or salvation. My husband and I have the opportunity to consider why we believe what we do, why we hold the preferences that we do, and what we think is essential. Around many a cup of tea or coffee, we’ve leaned into conversations with people of varying perspectives.

Emotionally exhausting days and weeks have ensued. These are days I wanted to throw my hands in the air and say “Let’s run away from it all. Fast, and with feeling.”

But I’m thankful we’ve been able to continue to worship with this church.

When few choices mean more holiness

Through it all we have had the opportunity to see the people behind the opinions. I know the woman who wants the church to worship in this way, and the man who thinks it needs to be that way. I have a good friendship with the one who says, “Does it even matter?” [su_pullquote align=”right”] What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? 1 Corinthians 1:12-13 [/su_pullquote]

But if there are only a few options for church, you think hard before you walk out.

When you decide not to walk out because you want to be in a church, you figure out how to worship and pray and love people who are different from you.

When you must love people different from you, you depend and freshly comprehend God’s love and unmerited kindness.

In situations depending on the Lord for unity that you can’t make with your own hands, you see the Lord exalted.

When we see God exalted, we lean in for more.

We might not always agree with other believers. And when we don’t agree, we can consider whether this disagreement needs to be divisive.

Perhaps part of your witness of God’s faithfulness in a dark place is doing the hard work of pressing into unity.

Put in the effort for the hard and beautiful work of unity before you walk away.

Sarah serves in Egypt with her husband and four children. You can catch her blog here–and don’t miss her post on Go. Serve. Love about what she wishes she would have known.

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