The bad thing about church
Churches are not always happy places. People are cruel. They lie. They steal. They betray you.
Sometimes, you go to a church for years, make friends, go to church members’ houses, babysit their kids, and spill your deepest secrets to them, only for them to turn around and stab you in the back. Suddenly, those people you knew so well awkwardly avoid you when you run into them at the grocery store.
Or maybe a church realizes a pastor has been caught up in a secret sin for so long that it affects the entire church. People leave, the pastor is fired, and a few members are left with the broken pieces of a church, wondering what happened.
There are thousands of other situations that turn what should be a great experience with the body of Christ into something with potential to be some of the most heartbreaking things you could ever go through. So lots of Christians turn their back on a certain building, a certain denomination, a certain set of theological beliefs, the entire church, or God himself. These people might just hole up in their houses, hiding so they won’t be hurt like that ever again, or they might set foot in any building but a church forever.
Don’t get me wrong – bad behavior in church is completely inexcusable. The model for the church in the Bible never included any of this. But I think sometimes we put standards on church that are too high. I would never expect a Christian to be perfectly holy and never sin, like the biblical model. That’s our goal, and some people get closer to it than others, but it we won’t be fully perfect until we reach heaven. In the same way, I shouldn’t expect every single thing in a church to be perfect in every single way.
(Side note: just like a Christian who habitually sins has something seriously wrong in his or her life and needs to repent, a church that has something seriously wrong and does things against the Bible isn’t a place you should stay and hope that it gets better. You should make sure your church is encouraging you in holiness and follows the Bible as best as it can.)
The church is made up of people. It’s imperfect. Praise God that he uses us anyway and doesn’t just leave us by the wayside! But I think we should take a more realistic view of the imperfect church on Earth and not allow a few hurt feelings to make us run away from it altogether.
I used to go to a church that had some things seriously wrong with it, and I didn’t fully realize just how weird it was until there was a big brouhaha and I started going somewhere else. I don’t think my time was wasted there and God used it for good, but I wish I had gone somewhere else in the first place so I didn’t have to go through all the drama from leaving. Even six months later, that drama still rears its ugly head every now and then and I’m reminded of how awful it was at the time I left.
Some of the things that happened hurt some people so badly that I can’t be friends with all the people from that church like I used to. I can’t go over to their houses like I could before because there’s a lot of awkwardness. I didn’t get into a fight with anyone and my leaving was, thankfully, a lot less ugly than it could have been, but I still feel like I lost some good friends I’d had for three years in college.
After all that, I felt hesitant to get too involved too fast at another church. In reality, it’s probably smart to give a church a chance to make sure there’s not anything crazy wrong with it before I get super involved, so at first, I think that’s okay.
That’s just it, though. I didn’t realize how wrong my old church was until I had been there three years. You don’t always see these things until you’re deep inside and it’s too late, and hurt is unavoidable by that point.
It’s tempting to let that get in the way of really being in church. It would be so much easier just to go on Sunday mornings, leave without saying more than “Hi, how are you?” to a few people and not really get too involved with them. Low risk of getting hurt.
In fact, it would be way easier just to not go at all. I could sleep in on Sundays, hang out with whoever I want and not have to deal with people who might not be exactly like me, and never feel anything uncomfortable.
Without church, though, I’ll miss out on God’s best.
Don’t get me wrong. God can and does work outside of the walls of church and outside my circle of church friends. But he’s chosen the church as his primary method of getting his message out and giving his people encouragement. Who am I to let my fear of hurt get in the way of God’s work?
If you think about it, too, isn’t every relationship a huge risk, church or not? People always fail you, but some fail more massively than others. It would be easier to be a loner in life.
But what if my parents had been too afraid of being hurt to get married? Or what if my best friend had been too afraid I would be mean to her to talk to me?
Let’s be real – life is a risk. Church is a big risk because you can get so heavily emotionally invested in those people and be completely crushed. I don’t know that the church I’m at won’t hurt me like the last one I was in.
But maybe the church I’m in now will make me more like Christ. Maybe it will encourage me to witness more and lead others to Christ. Maybe it will help me make the best friends I’ve ever had.
I think the advantages outweigh the risk. Also, if you read the New Testament, it doesn’t even seem like an option not to go to church, so we kind of have no choice as Christians.
We could get into “What is church?” another time. It doesn’t have to mean show up at 10:00 AM on a Sunday morning, sing some hymns, greet each other with a handshake, listen to a sermon, and go out to lunch at Mazzio’s afterward.
But there’s no excuse for a Christian not to be involved with a community of believers with a biblical organization of authority (see 1 Timothy 3) in order to accomplish God’s purpose on Earth. We can’t let what happened in the past with one or more sinful people color our view of the body of Christ. It’s not about us, anyway.