This past week I have ended up spending time with or talking with people who are either not thrilled with the church or have been wounded by it at some point or another in their life. Let me be clear that when I say "the church" I am not referring to any one church, I am referring to the Body of Christ in general. These people come from many different denominational backgrounds and their experiences occurred in various denominational churches. So I have been contemplating why God put me in these clusters of conversations with these various people as well as what can a person learn from bad church experiences?
There is no perfect church. There is no perfect denomination. There are no perfect Pastors. There are no perfect church people. In fact the church is full of sinners saved by grace and that is why people get hurt. I have grown up in the church. I came to know Christ when I was 4 years old and I too carry scars from past church experiences. Here's the thing, people often leave the church they are in because of their hurts or the things they disagree with and go in search of another church they can attend that does not have those problems. What happens? They end up in another church with it's own set of problems! Then they get frustrated because they can't find the perfect church.
But there is NO perfect church! In every church there will be gossiping. In every church there will be immaturity. In every church there will be some leader along the way with their own hidden agenda. So what do we do? Where do we go? What really matters? This is what has captivated my thoughts most this week... what really matters? What is worth staying for?
These are the questions that I have been asking God. It's been three days of questioning and wrestling. When you have old scars from past church experiences it makes it easier to feel like giving up on church altogether when you come across something that angrily reminds you of what you have been through before. There have been times when I find myself wincing or recoiling at such reminders and struggle with wanting to run for the hills or throw in the towel! But I have had to learn that I can't allow myself to be focused on those things or those church people that make me want to do that, or I will miss the very things that God wants to use to shape me into the person He wants me to be! God wants us to focus on following Him as individuals. Our own personal relationships with Him matter. So in this sense it's not our job to concern ourselves with the rest. We must be concerned with following Him and His work in our lives so that we can be His hands and feet to others in the ways in which He has uniquely gifted us to do so.
The presence of God is worth staying for. As long as a person can continue to grow in their relationship with Christ, as long as God shows up in the services, as long as a person can continue to serve God with their gifts, and as long as the truth of the gospel is being preached from the pulpit... stay. All the other things that are not right, leave up up God to deal with. It's His job and even though it may seem to us that He takes His time in doing it, no one does it better than Him!
God is what really matters. As long as He is present and we are at church FOR HIM we will be okay. To be at church for any other reason is to set oneself up for hurt and disappointment. It goes back to what God seems to be drilling into me in this season in my life. So I leave you with this encouragement... don't forget who you belong to! He is the one sure thing when all others fail you and when you feel like you don't matter to the church, remember that you matter to Him!