Who here has been hurt by the church? I have, and I feel confident that if you’ve been in church for any length of time, you’ve probably been hurt too. In my thirty years of church involvement, I’ve witnessed enough hurt to call it quits—plenty of it.
I’ll share one experience.
Throughout my childhood, my family faithfully attended a small church. The church had a lot going for it. Not only was the gospel preached, but we knew how to worship. (Hallelujah! Praise Jesus!) It was wonderfully multiracial. But it lacked an organized children’s ministry. On Wednesday evening the adults met for prayer meeting while teenagers had youth group and the little kids watched VeggieTales. I was twelve at the time. My friends were older and in youth group, but because I was not yet thirteen, I wasn’t permitted to attend. I went in with the little kids and watched VeggieTales.
The vegetables sang. The vegetables danced. The vegetables had no appendages. I couldn’t take it anymore! I wanted to chop up Bob and Larry and throw them into a salad. I left the room and read the book I’d brought for back-up since this situation had been ongoing. I strategically read right in front of the youth group door. When a youth group helper came by, he asked what I was doing out there. I explained. He thought my not being allowed to attend the youth group was silly and ushered me in. I felt the unwelcoming glares from the leaders. After group, they met with me and said, “We’ve talked it over and decided you can come to group, but you can’t participate in anything.” I was crushed.
Although this was not by any means a serious offense, it still hurt, and the devil used that experience to fill my head with lies: There’s no room for you in the church. They don’t want you there. Not even your own friends will stick up for you. You should just stay home. The church REJECTS YOU.
Several years later, I became friends with one of the leaders. I told her about my experience, and she sincerely apologized. She explained that they were just doing what they thought was right. I’m not sure where they thought a flock of twelve-year-olds would come from to invade their youth group, but I gladly forgave them.
Bob and Larry, on the other hand, still give me a craving for salad.
That was almost two decades ago. I’ve attended several churches since then (church-hopping was kind of a hobby of mine for a while), and I’ve experienced a wide range of ugliness. I’ve seen my pastor sent to jail because of a sexual offense, my small group excommunicated from the church because of “politics,” a church leader discovered to be hiding a life of homosexuality, and a church leader stealing money from the church. Then there’s the more common ugliness of self-righteousness and a nonchalant attitude and the blindness of personal sin, which I deal with in my own life—daily.
That old feeling of church rejection has come up recently, but my church-hopping days are over.
The church is meant to be a respite from a sinful world, a place to worship and spur one another on in the faith. But the church made a gruesome mistake—they let people in! The church is made up of sinful people, including its leaders, all of whom come from a broken world and all of whom are in need of a Savior. Church leaders encourage spiritual growth, but they are still in the process of growing themselves. No church leader has ever “arrived” in ministry.
Because the church is made up of imperfect people, mistakes happen. When the mistake is made against you, your foundation will be tested.
If your faith is in your pastor, small group leader, church friends, or anyone or anything other than God, you’re headed for catastrophe. People are bound to let you down at some point, and when they do (because they will), you can either be outraged and forsake the church or you can use that hurt as an opportunity to show Christlike grace.
Which response will you choose?
“What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar.” (Romans 3:3–4 ESV)
Audrey Guerne’s sanctification is in overdrive thanks to her three young children ages 4, 3, and 1. She and her husband of six years are working out their salvation with fear, trembling, and laughter. In her writing, Audrey preaches to herself and invites others to learn from her mistakes and be pointed to the cross. She can be found under the handle Peanut Butter Waffle Mom at AudreyGuerne.Wordpress.com.
Photograph © Bettie Sotomayor, used with permission