I walked out of church during a service with no intent to ever go back.
I was twelve, maybe thirteen. We were visiting my Grandma and she went to a church that believed in “faith healing.” The guy preached a “good” sermon (I say good because every time I hear the story I hear that it was a good sermon). He preached, he prayed, and then he started healing people. He’d call one guy up and then he started talking about him and whatever his disease was. Then he hit the guy upside the head, said some word I’ve never heard of and BAM the guy fell over. I remember my brother’s eyes got really big. Then the preacher called up another person (I think a woman this time). My mom grabbed my wrist and started pulling me towards the door. We were Baptists and we didn’t believe in what was happening so we were leaving.
As an adult, I’ve thought about leaving the church. I’ve thought about just walking away and calling it a career. I’m serious. My “reasons” list is long and colorful:
- I’ve been lied to in church
- I’ve been lied about in church
- I’ve been hurt in church
- I’ve had things stolen from me in church.
- I’ve heard some of the meanest, nastiest, most terrible things in church
- Some of the meanest, cruelest, nastiest people I’ve ever met have been in church.
- I’ve seen grieving mothers told to “just suck it up and get over it” at church.
- I’ve seen relationships stop because of where someone went to church
- I’ve seen mass emails sent out as prayer requests because of church
- I’ve sat through numerous gossip sessions prayer request times
I’ve tried to paint the broadest of strokes there in order to protect the innocent and the not so innocent. After our last church, I really thought it was time to leave. There were so many problems, my wife felt used and abused and I wasn’t too far behind on her that path. The truth is there are so many problems in the church. Right now, I have at least five friends that are all thinking about getting out of ministry completely. Not just leaving their church but leaving church completely.
Here’s the problem. They can’t. You and I can’t. Seriously, we are the church. We are this thing that gives so many of us so much trouble.. We can no more leave the church than we can leave the human race. We’re in it. We ARE it. Short of death, it’s still there. Even if I stop gathering with other believers weekly, I’m still part of the body. There is no “out clause” in Scripture. It’s a vicious circle. Railing against the church is like railing against oxygen. It just isn’t all that profitable. Now, I know it’s cool to do it now a days. I even realize that I’ve done it too often. Kary Oberbrunner is the first one to make me stop and think about how I do it.
And how God might view it. In his book, Journey Toward Relevance he says this:
It went on like this for several months. In fact more people knew her than I first thought. It became an opening line to talk about this girl. I even went to parties and initially met people by communicating my distaste and shame for this girl.
Then one day I ran into her guy. It was not cool, let me tell you. I didn’t expect to see Him. I just kind of bumped into Him. He turned around and just looked me in the eye. He said to me, “Kary, why? How could you talk about her like that?”
I felt really low. I could see how much He loved her, and I could feel how much I hated her. I guess I just felt wounded by her. I felt judged by her….
That book started my healing and my wrestling. Because we have to wrestle with this animal called the church. We have to figure out how do we love the Bride of Christ when it just absolutely drives us nuts? If you haven’t read the book you should.
The problem is that I need the church. I need other believers around me. I need to be in community with those other people. My list of things that I want to see change is long, but I’ve learned there just isn’t that much to be gained by going all “Ken Silva” about stuff I don’t like.
About two years ago a friend recommended a book where the central question of the book was/is “What if God designed marriage to make you Holy not happy?” That question changed much of my life. It also drove me to change how I view church. I’ve already talked about how I think you will be marked by regularly gathering with other believers if it is important to you. But this goes further than that. What if God designed church to
work like marriage? What if God designed church more to make us holy than he did to make us happy? Now, hang with me here; God could have done this thing we call church any way He wanted to do it. He is God after all.
I mean He didn’t have to create church this way. He could have done it another way. How many people in church annoy you? How many people in church are just irrelevant to your life? How many people are lying to you? How many are cheating on their spouse? How many could care less if you can’t pay your bills this month?
So why did God design it this way and why should we stay. What are some common problems in the church and how might we wrestle through them? I hope to address those questions and more over the course of the upcoming weeks. I am going crazy busy with school, work and family right now, but I think this is important. What would happen if we looked at church more as a means to make us holy than we looked at it as a means to make us happy?