The other day, a friend of mine shared this message on Facebook :
As a preacher’s daughter who did lose her faith and developed real trust issues, especially with those in church, this kind of judgmental sounding statement promotes a strong reaction. This “inspiring” message brings up a whole host of complicated thoughts and emotions. I’m using this blog post to address the truth and the pain inherent in the tone of this statement.
First, let’s address what “church” means. We know the church is supposed to be a collection of believers who have a relationship with God, who have accepted Jesus Christ as savior, and therefore, represent God to the world and each other. However, the church is made up of people who are flawed, haven’t obtained perfection, and still need grace. Some people involved in church don’t have pure intentions. Their purposes for being involved in church are about manipulation and meeting selfish desires. These people are wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing and do the most damage.
Unhealthy experiences within church relationships left a strong feeling of cynicism at odds with the love God showed me and lasted for years. Self-righteousness, grudges, greediness, and just plain old pride have all played a role in creating unhealthy congregations. Additionally, I have seen real evil perpetrated by people who were in positions of church leadership who used the trust given to them to satisfy their sexual desires. But, I have also seen real love, generosity, forgiveness, and the beauty of sincere service and goodness displayed in church as well. I don’t want to be at odds with Jesus. The Church is described as His bride and includes everyone who calls Him Savior. Do I want to be at war with myself and with Jesus? I want to share some of what God has revealed to me that may encourage you if this is a similar struggle for you.
We have to be honest and willing to deal with the pain.
As a college student, I attended a young church with the intention to watch how they handled relationships and/or conflicts. The pastor’s family and congregation were so joyful and inclusive, I timidly began to get involved by joining a mixed age small group and did a Bible study with them – “Experiencing God” by Henry & Richard Blackaby and Claude V. King. I was challenged by the study’s directness regarding my willingness to trust God’s love for me, my love for Him, and obeying Him. I wasn’t ready to reveal to these wonderful people the ugliness of what was in my heart. Eventually, I was asked to teach a second grade Sunday school class where I was desperately needed. I declined to serve, and I hurt some people whom I dearly loved because of it. Because I wasn’t ready to be open and honest about my struggles, I pulled away and ran away from church again.
We are in a spiritual fight, and pride can make us vulnerable.
Years later, being a young, stay at home mom in a new place, I was hungry for fellowship and decided to join a mom’s Bible study group. The study was, “When Godly People Do Ungodly Things” by Beth Moore. This was my first encounter with a Beth Moore Bible study, and it was perfect for confronting the pain I had been avoiding. I started thinking more about how much the experiences of my youth had contributed to the bitterness that kept me from fully trusting God and His plan for me. Through this study, I realized I was just as susceptible to doing ungodly things as anyone else in church as long as I harbored unforgiveness and pride. I prayed God wouldn’t allow me to be involved in ministry until I could do so without harming the church body. I know what the scriptures mean when it speaks of love growing cold. I never want to be one of those that cause others to feel betrayed, hurt, or turned off to Christ because of my cynicism.
There’s a difference between self-righteous judgment and loving accountability.
I’ve been the “judgmental churchy” person, even while despising others for it. I have hurt others by saying thoughtless things, and by having or by being perceived as having a “better than you” attitude. When I learned this perception was part of some major relationship issues, I worked hard to get at the heart of it. I want God’s love to overflow in and through me. I have had times when a friend needed to hear the truth about a situation that could have caused her to fall into a trap. I’ve also been on the receiving end of loving accountability and was blessed by a friend loving me too much to let me go on with a wrong action. Loving accountability only works when there is mutual love and respect in the relationship.
In my soul searching, I learned a few truths. The scripture passage that describes love (1Corinthians 13), is really hard to put into practice. You have to love God with your whole heart first. Only then can you love others the right way. Without a right relationship with Him, it’s impossible to love God’s way. We need His help to connect with others, to offer accountability, to extend grace, and to forgive as God has forgiven us. Understanding this helps us allow others the room they need to hear what God is telling them. It’s God’s job to judge, not ours. We all need to support each other.
Healing is not a painless process.
Many of us, dare I say most of us, have been hurt by someone who is supposed to be a “real” Christian. When God first restored my relationship with Him, the scars and distrust of church people stayed raw for a long time. I used the pain and anger to stay apart from people thinking it would keep me from getting hurt again, but it also kept me apart from God. I couldn’t experience full healing and restoration without dealing with the damage. The ironic thing of it, I was one of the church people! Talk about being pulled in different directions. I can’t tell you how much it hurt to realize the walls I put up for protection were keeping me from growing closer to God. Slowly allowing God to break the walls has been scary and painful.
If you find your faith faltering and avoid going to church because of “church people”, I understand. All of us who believe in Jesus Christ are part of the church – the body of Christ. Pain and division in church is like cancer. And like fighting cancer, treatment is often painful. We have to allow God to heal us, to help us forgive, and then learn how to become healthy Christians. As healthy Christians, we can then help the body become healthier. Do we nurse the hurt and anger, or open ourselves up to the Great Physician even when the healing is painful?
I know God wants you to have a close relationship with Him. He can help you forgive and rise above those betrayals. I’ve got scars. I remember the pain. Some of it still remains. But now, it’s a good pain because I recognize it for what it means – A place God needs to heal and make stronger. Are you willing to give God access to the hurt places?