It seems like within the past month I have had many people close to me voice their various wounds the church has given them. Not one church in particular but the church as a universal, global body.
One friend walks into church every Sunday alone, finds a seat alone, says the awkward hello to the newlyweds to left and right during the stand-and-greet, listens to the message, and walks out of the doors alone. No one says a word to her unless she speaks first, and, even then, the conversations are short and awkward. She explained how it is becoming more of burden to go to church every week than a relief. There is no spiritual connection with the people around her. There is no relational foundation that is beginning to be built. And this is not at an established church; this is at a church that is barely a few years old.
Another works at a church. Day in, day out he walks the halls of the building helping create the age-appropriate environments others can experience community centered around Jesus. Yet, when he passes other staff members or volunteers, he explains how few–if any–have really taken the time to hear his story past the surface. He is a part of the system, but he is just that: part of the system. The community he creates for others, he has not found for himself. And it is slowly causing him to retreat more and more into his shell, rather than feeling more free to share who God has made him to be.
Another has hit some rough patches in life recently. Her life seems to be spinning out of control emotionally, relationally, and spiritually. She was once a solid advocate for Jesus and a strong, godly woman. But, circumstances have dragged her down to what appears to be rock bottom, a place she never imagined or dreamed she would be in. She has tried getting involved in church after church, searching for the place where she could belong–a place where she could be accepted and heal. But, three strikes have come and gone, and now she is seriously questioning the validity of Christianity, Jesus, and the church, almost to the point of giving up on them entirely.
And another has tried to get involved. She has gone to small groups, large groups, and extended hands of friendships, but she never seems to get anywhere. The people “in charge” never remember her name. No one ever invests time to follow up with her. Yet, the friends she brings on occasion will be called, remembered, and spoken to every time. There is a hurt in her eyes that I see every time we bring up the subject. She desires to be known amongst the Body, but the Body seems to be making no effort to know her.
Why are our churches unaware of these kinds of people in their midst? Why are our churches isolating those who need others the most? Why are our churches ostracizing those who need these loving arms the most?
Of course, not all the problems rest solely on the institution itself–many are a complex issue of both personal and ecclesiological matters–but the church as the Body should be doing self-examinations on a regular basis. You do not need a second opinion to tell you your leg is broken while the bone is stick out of your leg; if you see a part of the Body that is hurt, grieving, isolated, or infected, do something about it.
I am neither naive nor optimistic enough to think that these are the only four people in the world who have been wounded by the church. There are countless numbers of people who have turned their back on Jesus because of how they were treated in and by the church. The only reason I bring this issue to the forefront is not to sound bitter or to invoke pity, but rather to remind you that there are people barely hanging on by a thread to their faith they had once been so confident in earlier in life. They need you to look around. They are screaming–sometimes silently–for someone to see them where they are at and help.
If you are reading this and one of the situations my friends are in sounds too familiar to be a coincidence, this is my plead that you will believe: you are not alone. There are thousands upon thousands of people walking through the same things you are, dealing with the same situations you are, and having the same issues with the church you are. You are not the only one who thinks this way. But, I want you to remember two things. First, the church is not perfect. It is full of messy, broken people who are trying to piece together something that resembles the Divine. It is a ever evolving process that we, Christians, are still trying to do better. So, please do not give up on us, because we are in need of redemption too. But more than that: second, please do not give up on Jesus. Hate the church if you must, but please do not give up on pursuing Jesus. While it may be hard to feel His presence or understand why He allows you to be in the circumstances you are in, He is with you and will never leave you. You might give up on Him, but He will never give up on you.
I pray that wherever these words find you–whether in the inner circles of church leadership to the outer rim of fringe outcasts–that you believe that Jesus can rescue you from wherever you are. May God’s grace be showered on every step of your life and may the peace that Jesus brings comfort your soul.