I don’t go to church anymore because someone offended me five years ago. I can’t sit there and pretend nothing happened while she’s right across the aisle. There’s no way I’d ever go back there.
Sound familiar? Have you ever heard an argument like that? Maybe you’ve even said something like that yourself. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people give that excuse for why they don’t attend church anymore. Oftentimes, it boils down to something rather petty, too—a fight over carpet color, a comment taken the wrong way, someone who was offended for not getting a thank you note… Look, none of these are insurmountable. Sure, they might cause hard feelings at the time, but they cannot be used to justify leaving the church entirely. And I find a strange thing at work here—very often, the people who have been hurt the most, those who have the greatest cause to leave, are the ones who stick with it through their pain. They know something important—it’s not Christ who is failing you—it’s His people.
There is no such thing as a perfect church. All churches on this earth are made up of sinful people. We are the people of God, yes, but we are still people—sinful, stubborn, even stupid at times. We say things in the heat of the moment we don’t really mean, we do unwise things, we offend each other. But when those things happen, as they will, who is to blame? We are. It all falls back on us. God isn’t the one failing His people. Just because a fellow member does something meanspirited, that doesn’t discredit God’s saving work on our behalf. Think about your family—you fight with them, too, don’t you? You make each other mad, you insult each other at times, and you disagree with one another. But you’re still a family. You learn to forgive each other and carry on. That’s how it should be with the family of believers. Sure, we may disagree at times, and honestly, yeah, there are some people we may not even get along with, but we are still a family.
The tricky thing about “church” is that there are two definitions. My sister in Christ, Cheryl Magness, rightly points out in her article When Church Work and Family Collide that there is a difference between (lowercase) church and (uppercase) Church. Every church has its own unique blend of personalities, and some churches almost seem to want to be mean. I’ve been at churches like that. It’s not pretty. But the Church of God is the invisible Church, made up of all true believers. Even if you’re at a church that is unwelcoming or has hurt you, the true Church of God is still there for you. God is still there for you.
I know pastors and other church workers who have been removed from their positions in the most hurtful and cruel ways imaginable. I know people who remained loyal to their pastor being removed and now have to sit there with those who were vehemently against that same pastor. I know people who have been informed that the position they held at their church is being given to someone else with no explanation. Undoubtedly, these people have been hurt. Their families have been hurt with them. Their children see the pain caused by fellow “Christians” and wonder what to make of it. Families are hurt and confused and scared together.
If you’ve been seriously hurt by someone in your church, I am truly sorry. I’ve been there myself. It’s painful. It’s confusing. It’s hard to explain to your children what really happened. But please don’t turn your back on your faith because of it. There are other congregations out there. Sometimes it’s best to find a new church home where fellow members accept and embrace you as you seek healing and comfort. Find a faithful congregation that points to Christ and His saving work on behalf of all of us sinners.
If, on the other hand, you’ve been offended by someone over something fairly minor, set an example of reconciliation instead of holding a grudge. I have also witnessed forgiveness at work between members who had been fighting, and it is a beautiful thing. Forgiveness always is.
Unfortunately, this side of heaven, we will never find a church without problems. But take heart. God’s Church lasts into eternity. Remember that the failings and shortcomings of sinful humans point us all the more to Christ, who alone can never fail us.