You went to church seeking hope, support, love, friendship, and truth. Instead you felt like a number, were told lies, saw hateful or scandalous behavior, and felt unwanted and judged.
I know how you feel. I’ve been there.
Church is supposed to be a place of refuge and encouragement; a gathering place for followers of Christ, people who are called to love like He loved, serve like He served, and speak truth and light into our wounded and broken hearts the way He did. But too often this is not the experience people have when they go to church, and so they walk out the doors never to return. In fact some would say the number of people leaving the church because they’ve been hurt by the church has grown to epidemic proportions.
According to Pew Research, there are now approximately 56 million religiously unaffiliated adults in the U.S., a number that increased by roughly 19 million since 2007, and nearly one-in-five U.S. adults (18%) who were raised in a religious faith now identify with no religion. Furthermore, the Barna Group reports that 35% of millennials who have left church cite hypocrisy and the moral failures of its leaders as two of three primary reasons why.
And my heart breaks for these people because I know what it’s like to be let down and injured, and feel like you will never find a church that gets it right. I have been in churches where staff members were having affairs, where I felt I was only valued for what I could give, where I saw angry and hateful words spewed during board meetings, and where man-made rules and procedures got in the way of grace and ministry to the community. I have hung up the phone with pastors and cried at the thoughtless words, and walked out of church doors vowing to never return again. I have spent months not attending church because it was too hard to always be the new family, and I wondered if in our endless searching we’d ever find the “right” church.
So I want you to know, I understand your hurt and anger, your trepidation and frustration if you are in this place.
But can I offer you a bit of hope? Some good news for all of you who have left the church or are still searching for the “right church”? It exists.
The place you seek where you will find hope, support, love, friendship and truth — it’s right here in Winchester, and in Charlotte, in Bedford, and Atlanta, in Des Moines, and Franklin, Lancaster and Phoenix. The church you are looking for is within a short drive from your home. But here’s what you need to know about that church before you go:
1. There are people leading the church. OK, you’re thinking, duh! Of course there are people leading the church! But here’s the thing: there are people just like you and just like me leading the church. And maybe even some like your neighbor down the street whom you don’t like very much because they always blocks your driveway and let their dog poop in your yard. And all of us? We are a mixed bag. We make bad choices, we get angry, we say hurtful things, we forget important dates. We send too many emails and do not place enough phone calls. We are all sinners. Even that pastor standing up front each week. It’s just some of us wear our sins more blatantly than others.
If you are looking for a church where every person is kind all of the time, the pastor never makes mistakes, and you will never see sinful behavior…well that church doesn’t exist…at least not here on earth.
2. Bad things happen to good churches. As mentioned in point one, churches are led by and made up of sinners. Even the most faithful congregations can realize scandal and unthinkable hurt due to the mistakes made by a few members or leaders of their church. But here’s an important truth: One bad event or scandal does not define a church.
It may badly damage the church, it may require big changes to be made. Some people may leave because the hurt is just too much to recover from, but there is hope for redemption and rebuilding, even after the worst sin. I’ve seen it first-hand. Don’t believe that just because a church went through a scandal that church is not worthy of your presence.
3. Churches change, and people change…sometimes it just doesn’t happen at the same time. Most churches I have been to or know of have changed over the years. Whether it be through their leadership, their mission statement, their size, or even their core values, in order for a church to continue to meet the needs of their community God will likely call them to make changes at some point.
Similarly, most Christians change over the course of their spiritual journey. Through both life’s circumstances and God’s workings within your life, a Christian can only stay in the same place so long before their relationship with Christ grows stale or distant. Unfortunately, sometimes a person’s spiritual journey leads them to places their church isn’t headed for. Similarly, a church may make changes before everyone in the congregation is ready or willing to hear the call…or they may, unfortunately, make decisions that are not aligned to God’s timing (see point one).
It’s OK to leave one church for another because you are not equally yoked. This does not mean church, as a whole, is a lost cause or that ALL churches will fail to meet your spiritual needs. God will always provide a group of believers to “hold in your heart as partakers of grace,” if you are willing to let Him do the leading (Philippians 1:7, paraphrased).
As a recovered “church shopper” I can tell you that perfect doesn’t exist in the church; because perfect only exists in heaven. It took me a long time to realize this and change my check-list of requirements. In fact, I pretty much had to throw out the entire list and narrow it down to one simple question: “Lord, where do you want me to be?” Once I made that my only criteria for selecting a church He put me right in the middle of where I needed to be (not at all what I would have chosen on my own, based on my own list of wants, by the way).
Yet today, I am part of a church family that I love with my whole entire being. Where I am loved and supported, and filled with hope and truth every week, while also being stretched and challenged where I need to be.
We most certainly don’t get it right all of the time. People have come to our church and left for a variety of reasons. My feelings have been hurt by things said or done by others, and I would not be surprised if something I did or said inadvertently hurt someone else’s feelings. We don’t all agree, all of the time. But we are a group of believers who have been placed together by the Lord’s design.
It is my “right church” for this part of my journey.
Yes, it’s true, there are some “Christian” churches that really should just take the word Christian off their sign because they holistically ignore the teachings of Jesus Christ, and show no intent to change. But I truly believe those are few and far between.
And I believe the right church for you exists. God has a body of believers He wants to place you with. Ask Him to show you the way.
Don’t give up yet.
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