I’m guessing you’re reading this because you identify with this hurt. Maybe the pain is something that you carry around with you, or maybe the pain was just enough to make you close the door on that part of your life and walk away relatively unscathed. As much as the Church tries to heal and help, it also breaks and wounds. Some of this is because there are churches that have gone off in their own direction; people calling themselves followers of God who are actually self-serving power seekers. And some of it is caused by genuine Christians who think they’re doing the right thing and hurt people in the process.
Sometimes by accident. Sometimes on purpose.
The hurt comes in all shapes and sizes and the careless words, abuse and loneliness all cling to you and create an anger that resides somewhere in the background. There are those of you who have been treated as commodities rather than people, who have been used for your youth-leading skills or musical ability, and have come out the other side burnt out to the point of exhaustion. There are those of you who have felt judged by the Church. In the one place you should have found acceptance and love, you were pushed away and left with a wounded self-image. There are those of you who have had controlling and manipulating people in leadership over you. These people are hungry for power and have tried to mould you and the Church. There are those of you who feel left out – who see the community, the breakthrough and the spirit moving, but from the outside looking in. You desperately try to take part, but just don’t fit. And there are those of you who look at some of the cheesiness and the cliquey Christian sub-cultures and think there must be more to Church. This can’t be it.
I get it. I’m there with you. I’ve been hurt too, particularly from my time at theological college – although I learned so much, too. It took time for me to let God back in after a few years of building up walls up to protect myself. I don’t want to make excuses for the Church. I don’t want to sit here and say that what you’ve felt is ok, because it isn’t.
But what I do want to say to you is this.
We need you. And whether you realise it or not, you need the Church. Often the people that feel left out and get pushed away are the most perceptive and most creative. Those who get what it’s really all about. Those who have no clue stay in our churches, still hurting people. We need help to build one of the most potentially healing and freeing places on the planet.
There are those of us, and I know this because I am sometimes one of them, who almost enjoy the fact that we’ve been hurt by the Church. It gives us an excuse not to attend and not to be involved, which almost feels noble. We have not rejected the Church, it rejected us, and so we can live our lives for our own enjoyment and not have to worry about getting involved with something that might get messy, and quite honestly, is something we don’t want to do. It’s almost like having a ‘get out of church free’ card, meaning we can take a step back without feeling like we have rejected God and Jesus. This is not how it works. God cares about what you’ve been through and there’s grace over taking time out, but living for Jesus quite simply is living for the Church. The two cannot be separated. And we can’t do this Christian life on our own. We need the Church as much as it needs us.
What’s the point in getting involved in something so broken? Unfortunately, that big and loaded question comes with a big and loaded answer. The Church is the whole reason we are still on this earth today. I’m not talking about your Sunday services, your fellowship lunches and your worship songs. I’m talking about something deeper. Church is actually about getting back to how we as humans were created to live: in community; putting others before ourselves; lifting up the broken; putting God at the centre; living life to the full. In this lost and broken society it can and is supposed to direct people back to life. It is worth all of our fight, energy and passion. We can’t follow Jesus on our own. We will drift away. Whether we like it or not, we need other Christians. And if that’s not big enough of a reason, maybe this is. Jesus told us to.
Church will inevitably hurt. There is no scenario where the weakest and most broken of society can come together and attempt close community, and not create a place that hurts. Any relationship with real depth hurts. And I’m not saying let’s be pushovers. I’m not saying let’s stay in places that hurt us. Yes, find a church that fits you. Yes, find support that builds and uplifts you. But don’t be scared of the dark places. Help create a place where people won’t feel the hurt that you felt. Help create a place where you yourself can find community and healing. Your painful experience will give you more empathy and more of a clue how church works than you will ever realise. Create church the way you think it ought to be. Because the Church is worth it.
So come back. Take small steps if you need to. Start by talking to a wise Christian you trust. Find a good church. Go simply to absorb and heal at first if you need to. Ask friends to come with you. Whatever you do, whether you’ve left the Church physically, or just in your heart and mind, please come back.