This was two years ago. I had the amazing opportunity to preach twice, and it was a blessing, a thrill, a highlight of my life even. But now, today when I see this memory pop up, it feels sour.
Chris knew he wanted to be a pastor before I even met him. We got married and he began 5 years of school, including a semester of internship. Less than a year out of school he got the job we had been praying for, and we moved our family to our small town we still love and call home. Our time at the church came to an end 6 months ago, after 4 years in pastoral ministry. We left feeling sad and wounded from our experience. We have been silent about it though, because as a Christian there is this unspoken rule that you don’t talk trash about “The Church.” If you’ve been hurt, you just hold it all in, because you don’t want to speak out and possibly skew the view of the church as a whole. We assume non Christians can’t separate big C church from little c church. If one church is bad, then the Christian Church as a whole must be bad. Obviously this is not true, but we can’t possibly confirm the widely held belief that The Church is far from perfect. I think it’s why you only ever hear the bad from people who have walked away from it all- they’ve burned their bridges and they have sworn off The Church altogether, so they don’t care about the unspoken rule.
So we are left with two views being presented by Christians. Everything is rosy, or it’s so bad I left it all behind, God included.
There is another place to land however. You can be hurt by one church- one building that is supposed to represent the character of Christ, but falls short. And you can talk about it. You can trust that the Holy Spirit will not allow your words to diminish someone’s view of Jesus.
You can stand up and boldly say that they should be better, and not feel like you are hurting the work of the church. Why can’t we believe that God is so big and so great, that even if a non believer knew everything about the fallacy of man, they would still choose to follow Him? Why do we have so little faith?
We haven’t been to church since February. Six months without sitting in the pews, worshipping together, learning together. It’s been a time of pain and loneliness, but also growth. It’s been hard- we live in a small town where the church options aren’t that vast, and we feel hesitant to step into vulnerability again. It has forced me to take stock of what I believe. I don’t have someone teaching me each week. I’m not engaging in corporate worship. I’m all alone with my thoughts, a lot of which are sad and angry. Some might say this is a dangerous place to be- vulnerable to the schemes of the enemy to plant seeds of doubt. “What is the point of following Him when his followers are so flawed that they hurt others?” “Is God good, all the time?” “Is He even real?”
It’s a place that can be very lonely without counsel- someone to guide you through it. I know this. But I’ve been persisting in the darkness for a reason. I want to put in the effort to see for myself. At our old church, following Jesus seemed so easy. Effortless. Worship music would start, and without any doing of my own, I would fall into a place of deep worship and admiration of God. Immersed. The teaching was always relevant, poignant, and meaningful. I rarely walked away without feeling like God spoke to me through the words of someone else. The community was authentic. The people were real, and they cared.
Opening my bible feels hard right now. To separate the hurt that the church inflicted from God, is difficult. It’s important work though. It’s hard work worth doing. So, we're taking some baby steps, God and I. God is not the church. God is here with me, and someday soon we can go visit church together.