Hurt by the Church?
If the Church is a living body united to the same head, governed by the same laws, and pervaded by the same Spirit, it is impossible that one part should be independent of all the rest. –Charles Hodge, scholar and author
By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward. Hebrews 11:24-26 (NASB)
Anyone who has ever been involved with Christianity on a local can probably share at least one painful story of having been hurt by the church. The same could be said about any type of relational environment, but when it comes to churches, we expect something more. If people are truly following Christ, it stands to reason that they should reflect His love. Perhaps, though, there’s more to the story.
People Are Broken
By their very nature, churches attract broken people. There will always be those individuals, I have learned, who connect with a church only to serve their own interests; they have no intention or desire to grow. But even for those on the path of restoration, the process can be unpleasantly slow; selfish and immature behavior is inevitable.
We also face the difficulty of dealing with a church as an organization. Because people are broken, policies must be set in place. In addition, needs are often overwhelming, with pastors and other leaders still being subject to their own human limitations. Most pastors face a real and ever-present temptation to try to do ministry without actually walking with God.
I’ve Been Hurt by the Church
Debi and I have been members of the same church since 1984, and during that time we have experienced firsthand the selfish and callous behavior of human nature. Personally, I have been financially cheated, unjustly accused, and unfairly abandoned. (Dare I mention my own failures as well?)
I also co-labored in ministry (outside of our church) for several years with a man whose life was little more than a bold-faced lie, leaving me devastated when the truth finally surfaced. If I chose to dwell on the hurts, I could fill a book with the gory details of all of my negative experiences.
Why Stay Involved?
Why have we stayed involved with our local church and with Christian ministry through all of these years? For a lot of great reasons!
We have longstanding friendships that we value highly. Our lives have been enriched far more than they have been damaged. In fact, each and every one of our negative experiences has helped us to mature as overcomers in Christ; branches of spiritual growth often flourish in the midst of relational challenges.
Most importantly, we love the church because Jesus loves the church. She is His passion to the point of being called His bride (2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:25-27). Because we love Him, we will never stop seeking her welfare.
Those who have been hurt by the people of God (or nicely dressed imposters) do not stand alone. Moses paid a similar price of ill-treatment, and yet, through the eye of faith, he recognized a glory greater than any measure of human brokenness. Under the New Covenant, we have something greater still. Even in the midst of relational struggles, the potential for richness runs deep. Many a wilderness season can be put behind us simply by connecting to a healthy local expression of the body of Christ.
Our love for God can only be adequately expressed as we live out a practical love for one another, and without one another, we’ll never fully mature to be the people God has destined us to become. In fact, if you’ve never been hurt by the church, you’re probably not connected enough to have healthy, growing relationships.
We Need Each Other
I freely admit that in seeking out a local expression of the church, we must choose prayerfully and wisely. The intent is to connect with a life-filled body of believing Christians—not a local expression of Stagnant Waters Nonfellowship.
I don’t think God cares much whether we participate in a traditional denominational church, or something more like a house church, as long as the life of God is present. What matters is that we corporately live out His love for us. It all comes down to being connected with the people of God.
A sparkling treasure of the wilderness is the realization that, as Christians, we are all in this together, that each is a weak vessel struggling to honor God in spite of our human propensity to sin. Regardless of any current (or recurrent) imperfections on her part, Christ has not abandoned His bride—and neither should we.
This post is drawn from Chapter Forty-Seven of Bob’s devotional: Champions in the Wilderness—Fifty-Two Devotions to Guide and Strengthen Emerging Overcomers