By raise of hand, who here has been hurt by the church? *raises hand. If you’ve been in a church for any period of time I feel confident in saying that you too have been hurt. In the past thirty years of my church-going experience I have witnessed plenty enough hurt to call it quits. I’ll share one experience:
Throughout my entire childhood my family faithfully attended a small church. The church had a lot going for it. #1 They Gospel was preached and #2 We knew how to worship. Hallelujah! Praise Jesus! … It was wonderfully multi-racial. What it lacked was an organized children’s ministry. On Wednesday evening the adults met for prayer meeting while the teenagers had youth group and the little kids were put in a room to watch Veggie Tales. I was twelve at the time. My friends were older and in youth group, but I was not yet 13 so I wasn’t allowed in. I went in with the little kids and watched Veggie Tales. The vegetables sang. The vegetables danced. The vegetables had no appendages. I couldn’t take it anymore! I wanted to chop Bob and Larry up and throw them in a salad! I left the room and read the book I had brought for back-up in case I got bored, as this had been an ongoing thing. I strategically placed myself in front of the youth group room and read my book. In walked a youth group helper. He asked what I was doing out there so I explained. He thought that was silly and ushered me in. I felt the unwelcoming glares from the leaders. After group, the leaders met with me and declared, “We’ve talked it over and decided that you can come to group but you can’t participate in anything.” I was crushed.
Although this was not by any means a serious offense it still hurt. The Devil used that
experience to fill my head with lies: There’s no room for you in the church. You’re not wanted here. Not even your own friends will stick up for you. You should just stay home. The church REJECTS YOU! Several years later I became friends with one of the leaders. I told her of my experience and she sincerely apologized. She explained they were just doing what they thought was right by following the RULES. I’m not sure where they thought a flock of 12-year-olds was going to come from and invade their youth group, but I GLADLY forgave her. Bob and Larry on the other hand . . . they still give me a craving for salad. My children are Veggie Tale deprived.
That was almost two decades ago and I have attended SEVERAL churches since then (church hopping was kind of a hobby of mine), and I have experienced a wide range of ugliness. In no particular order (so don’t even try to guess the church) I’ve experienced: my pastor being sent to jail because of a sexual offense. My small group was excommunicated from the church because of “politics.” A church leader secretly hiding a life of homosexuality. A church leader stealing money from the church. Then there’s the common ugliness of self-righteousness and the nonchalant attitude and blindness of personal sin, which I myself deal with DAILY. Then there’s that old feeling of church rejection which still likes to pop up, but my church hoping days are over.
The church is meant to be a place of respite from a sinful world, a place to worship and spur one another on in the faith. But the church made a gruesome mistake- They let people in! (including themselves). The church is made up of sinful people, from a broken world, in need of a Savior. Church leaders are there to encourage spiritual growth, but they too are still in the process of growing. No church leader has ever “arrived” in their ministry. If they had then they would die, because God would have completed His work in sanctifying them and call them home. Since the church is made up of imperfect people, mistakes are made. It’s when the mistake is made against YOU that your foundation will be exposed. If your faith is in your pastor, small group leader, church friends, or anyone/thing other than God, you’re headed for catastrophe. People are bound to let you down at some point and when they do (because they will!) you can be outraged and forsake the church or you can use it as an opportunity to show Christ-like love and BE the church.
“What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written.” Romans 3:3,4