Tag Archives: leaving the church

Truth, not cliches

I have a problem. Or maybe I should say I have a concern.

My concern is the reputation that Christianity and Christians have  — from both non-believers and those who have left the church, but still believe in God. Folks, it’s not great.

I have been told or read the following statements:

“Christians are all just a bunch of hypocrites.”

“I believe in God, but not religion. The church just wants to judge everyone.”

“I don’t need Christianity, I can be a good person without it.”

“The church ruined my life.”

“Christianity is for people who need to believe in things that aren’t real.”

“All they care about is rituals and telling people they’re going to hell.”

“Where was God when my life was falling apart?”

I know, there are some big statements there. And I could list more. There’s a lot of hurt and emotion in those statements. There’s also some misinformation. And it makes me so sad…all of it. Because I want everyone — every single person — to know the love of God. To experience the joy and beauty of forgiveness and grace.

Because it changed my life.

There’s a lot of healing, softening of hearts, loving, and truth telling that needs to happen before those statements can be turned around. As a church, we need to come together and work on this with unity. We need to be patient, compassionate, and listen more than we talk. We also need to make sure when we do speak it’s Truth we are speaking. With a capital “T”.

God’s word has been misrepresented and misinterpreted for a long time. Sometimes by people using it to further their own agendas, but I think more often it’s good people who get stuck on snippets of scripture not read in full context, or popular phrases that sound scripturally-based, but really aren’t.

And it’s that last part I want to try and counter today. Those popular phrases or “Christian clichés” that are often said in love, and meant with good intentions, but actually cause more harm than good. At best they’re seen as “Christian-ese”, trite answers that don’t really offer comfort or provide insight into tough questions. At worst, they are promoting ideas that are just not Biblically-sound.

Let me be the first to confess that I, too, have been guilty of saying these. I heard a lot of them growing up from the adults around me and in church and many of them just sound good. I never thought to question the validity or think about how these might make others feel. But hard questions, deep hurt, and tough situations require more from us than short quips or trite clichés. They require us to sit down with the other person and listen to their hurt, empathize with what they’re going through, desire to really understand their questions, and then together look at God’s word. Dig deep and find the hope, truth, and love found only in His word.

So I’m tackling five commonly said phrases, or clichés, and countering with truth that I have found in scripture.

1. Cliché: God helps those who help themselves. Truth: God helps those who ask.

Psalm 120 says: “I call on the Lord in my distress, and he answers me.” And this is a common theme throughout Psalms and much of scripture. When we call out to God, he hears us! Does that mean we should sit in the dark despairing about our problems and not doing anything to get ourselves out of a desperate situation? No. But there is nothing in scripture that says God only helps those who first help themselves. He is a loving Father and he answers the cries of all of his children.

God helps those who ask

2. Cliché: Cleanliness is next to godliness. Truth: Repentance is next to godliness.

As a mom, I can get behind a statement that encourages good personal hygiene. However, this old saying is just so trite and I have never found any support for it in scripture.  So rather than pulling out this old, tired cliche, how about we speak some real truth into people’s lives? If you really want to get close to God then repenting for your sins is the surest way.  Luke 5:10 says, “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” The heavens literally rejoice whenever we repent of our sins! And just like the father in the story of the prodigal son, God welcomes us with open arms and celebrates each time we come to him asking for forgiveness.

Repentance is next to godliness

3. Cliché: God will not give you more than you can handle. Truth: God absolutely will give you more than you can handle, because he wants you to rely on him more than you rely on yourself.

I get where this statement comes from. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “…And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” Verse 13 uses the word tempted or tested, depending on your translation, which is not the same as bearing the weight of problems. Especially when you read in context of verses 1-12. Paul is talking specifically about the temptation of sin — idolatry and sexual immorality are specifically mentioned.  This is not the same as grieving the loss of a loved one or dealing with a cancer diagnosis. But that’s when I hear the phrase “God won’t give you more than you can handle” used the most…in those hard places of life. These are overwhelmingly hard burdens to bear. Things I can’t do on my own…things I need to rely on God for.

I think the danger in saying that he will not give us more than we can carry is implying that we alone have the strength to either fight our troubles or be crushed under them. 1st Corinthians 10:3 makes it very clear that God has to be the one to show us a way out and endure. This is repeated all throughout scripture, like in Psalm 37:39-40, “The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord; he is their stronghold in times of trouble. The Lord helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in him.”

God will absolutely give you more than you can handle, so you can lean on Him.

4. Cliché: God works in mysterious ways. Truth: God works for those who love him.

OK, yes, God’s ways are definitely higher than my ways, and that means I can’t possibly understand what he is doing, why, or how. But really, how helpful is this saying? I hear it used often when people just don’t have an answer to why something is happening in life, but I find no comfort in this saying. Instead, when we or someone we love is searching for answers, let’s give them real answers. Romans 8:28 says: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Knowing that God always works for my good is not only an important scriptural truth, but it’s much more comforting than hearing that his ways are “mysterious”.

God works for those who love Him

5. Cliché: Love the sinner, hate the sin. Truth: Love everyone, hate my own sin.

This is another cliche that I believe is said with good intentions. People are trying to promote love and say that we are all worthy of love even when we sin. However, the specific contexts in which I typically hear it used often results in feelings of judgement and alienation. “I love you, BUT I hate what you do, or how you live your life.” Where’s the love in that?

Pastor and sociologist Dr. Tony Campolo puts it this way, “I’m always uptight when someone says, ‘You don’t understand. I love the sinner. I just hate his sin.’ And my response is: That’s interesting, because that’s the exact opposite of what Jesus says. Jesus never says, ‘Love the sinner but hate his sin. Jesus says, ‘Love the sinner and hate your own sin, and after you get rid of the sin in your own life, then you may begin talking about the sin in your brother or sister’s life.‘”

In Matthew 7:3-5, Jesus says: “ “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Let’s take a cue from Jesus and love everyone, and focus on removing our own sin.

Love everyone, hate my own sin

If you would like to help me promote the idea of truth over clichés, feel free to share this article, or any of the images used throughout with the hashtag #truthnotcliches

 

photo credit: homethods Meditation Read via photopin (license)

 

 

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What you need to know if you’ve been hurt by the church

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).

God will provide a group of believers

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.

Image copyright: malyeuski / 123RF Stock Photo