Four anonymous questions (edited for length) —
– Why do people try to make being a Christian harder than it already is? … That is daunting in itself if you’re prone to doubt and self-loathing … On top of THAT we’re expected to be smiling faces, loud singers, waving our bibles and screaming the Word from the mountain tops…
– Hello … I do not attend church due to unhealthy amount of judgement and alienation .. I am constantly made to feel I’m an abomination because I do not want to be a housewife or a mother. I am a writer, an illustrator, introverted. I’ve also fallen into depression and this feeling of alienation, even damnation, has gotten worse.
– I’ve left church for about a year now because of a friendship … which developed many complications … I felt that somehow God would want me to go back to church but pride (or whatever it is) is stopping me… Something feels amiss but I can’t figure out why. I do miss fellowship. Any thoughts on this?
I’m really sorry each of you have been made to feel this way.
As St. Augustine supposedly said, “The church is a whore, but she is my mother.” He probably didn’t say that, but I agree.
Please know: I feel exactly what you’re feeling on both sides of the pulpit. I’ve been in backroom meetings with church leaders and I know all the horrible language they use to talk about the congregation. I’ve visited at least forty or fifty churches in my lifetime, which is probably not a lot, but enough to know how little they preach on grace or Jesus. I have enough dirt on at least three ministries to ensure they never receive support again (let’s just say I know how to press “record” when the drama starts). I’ve been in places where you are ridiculed for not following “their rules” and it’s just an inch away from being a cult.
There are preachers who preach grace like crazy, but act like complete a-holes behind the scenes. My mom (not a Christian) visited a church where the pastor offered to sleep with her. I’m not kidding. I’ve been recently hurt by church so badly that, as of this writing, I’m currently not involved in any church staff (I was a youth pastor for three years and on staff for five, and admittedly, I never thought I was a very good pastor). However bad you think it is, it’s even worse.
Yet I still love her. I still love the church. I am not mad about these things anymore — I am just grieved and heartbroken.
As difficult as she can be, the church is still God’s idea. Jesus said “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). I often get questions like, “Do I have to attend church since ___? Why do so many Christians suck? Can I just pray and read Scripture by myself?”
My answer is always the same. God created us to be in community together (Hebrews 10:19-25). There’s no avoiding it. It will not be easy, but without it, we will never be the fully formed individual we were called to be, nor can we become the collective countercultural force for good in the universe.
There are certainly guidelines to consider before committing to a home-church or leaving one — but please, find a church and build your roots. As crazy as she is, we’re called to be part of God’s body for His glory.
While I can’t hope to answer all your specific concerns, here are a few things to consider. Please feel free to skip around.
1) Those hypocrites and critical Pharisees might just be baby-Christians on their first lap of faith.
No church is ever fully represented by mature Christians, and certainly no church can fully reflect God. Some churchgoers are growing, some backsliding, and there are few who actually get it — and they’re not perfect either. Even the pastor or church staff could be grossly immature in their spiritual walk. But we shouldn’t be too hard on THE church because of a few bad fruits. And seeing a five minute fraction of a person’s spiritual walk says nothing about what God is doing through them.
2) Given time + relationships, you will end up hating your church, which is when you can most learn to love.
When you find a church you embrace (more on that in points #3 and 4), the first few months will be the honeymoon period. When that’s over, you’ll find faults and flaws all over the place. It’s inevitable, and like a devoted wife or husband, this is when we must persevere.
I’m not talking about if the church uses you, abuses you, or goes sideways theologically. You can walk out on those. I’m talking about negotiating all our personal preferences. Those are bound to be bruised, and though it’s not wrong to have them, they’re not reliable.
The best I can say is: Prepare for the season when you begin criticizing your church. Get ready to start being judgmental about the praise team, the sermons, the mission, the people. Sure, it’s good to be discerning, but Satan is constantly trying to divide us: so be on guard when you have an overly critical eye. That’s when you will learn to love — not when things are fine, but when things go sour. Love bears all things, and if you’re committed to your church, you’ve made a vow as solid as marriage.
3) Finding a church is like finding a spouse: one bad experience doesn’t mean they’re all bad, but there is one for you.
Not every church is for every individual, but there will be a church for you. Which means: don’t be too offended if a church doesn’t seem to accept you. It doesn’t make them all bad; it just means you haven’t found the one yet. Around the corner, there’s a church who will absolutely love you just as you love them, flaws and all.
A really good handle on this is to see how they serve. Some churches only exist to perpetuate their programs. You’ll find others that really go out of their way to serve others, however imperfectly.
4) A church culture is bound to feel threatened if you’re culturally different — and you’ll feel threatened by their feeling threatened.
Please hang with me on this point.
Every single person is bound up in their cultural ethos — upbringing, background, tradition, beliefs — and the second you walk into a church, you are bringing your culture into theirs. So collision is bound to happen. Whether you are an “activist,” “creative mind,” “liberal,” “introvert,” or “hipster,” you will clash with some and be welcomed by others. We all have a spiritual sensitivity that does not immediately embrace different walks of people (Romans 14).
The thing is, I used to believe that we could transcend this sort of stuff. I thought every church should be for everyone. But I don’t believe that anymore. I believe certain churches exists for certain contexts within certain cultures in their era. Some churches will be diverse; others more homogenous; and God is using them both.
God celebrates unity AND diversity, and that can’t be made more clear than in His own Trinitarian nature.
This is why I’m no longer impressed when someone bashes the megachurch, because a small church can be just as greedy, moralistic, and hypocritical. One of my dear friends is being trained as the next keyboardist for the praise team at Passion City Church (alongside Chris Tomlin), and I have to say: my friend is one of the sweetest, most wonderful Christians you’ll ever meet, and the megachurch has done fine by her. No one can convince me otherwise.
Sure, many churches will appear cold, but usually it’s just their culture colliding with yours. Unless they’re called Westboro or Nazi Crossing, all the clique-ness is part of our human nature to identify with a similar culture, and this does NOT always mean that a church lacks grace.
It means that God has the imagination to interlock different shades of paint for unique paintings, and it takes time for certain hues (like yourself) to find each other. Some churches do this better than others, but let’s not rag on that process or wait for perfection. Paul touches on this in 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4.
I’m all for being racially and spiritually diverse under one roof. It has nothing to do with “ethnocentrism.” I still believe that even after Jesus comes back to reign, we will be ethnically diverse. But I believe we can find a church where your identity as a whole is not merely tolerated, but celebrated.
5) The church is full of crazy, which is exactly why we need the church.
Please remember: as much as the church is a lot to put up with, so are you. So am I. So are we all.
My first pastor endured me for years. I was a rebellious, horny, arrogant atheist, but he loved me anyway. And as disappointed as I have become with the modern church, I myself am SO much more disappointing to others — because we are imperfect people clinging to the mercy of a Perfect God.
One of the main reasons for church is that God puts a whole bunch of idolatrous people together to learn patience, grace, empathy, and love — and without that sort of rock-tumbler environment, we would never have a mirror to understand who we are. We would never become polished jewels in Christ. God aims for us to crash and collide until we can see each other as He sees us: broken, thirsting, and beloved. That’s when God is glorified, through a people who love each other anyway.
At times it will feel like you’re being crushed instead of polished. It will indeed feel like other “Christians” are making this too hard. But what God really wants is that you begin with you. If you really want a revival in your corner of the world, it won’t begin by pointing fingers or the blame-game or setting up “us” versus “them.” It begins with you and Him.