Church wounds. Pastor wounds.
I’m learning that these wounds are common among us who are involved in church and are especially common among us who have been awakened by grace in a context where such a thing is considered dangerous and unwelcome. The thing about grace is that it makes you really honest. Raw even. Mostly about yourself. Let’s face it,showing up to the party naked is offensive. People will be more than happy to make sure you don’t do it again. That’s always painful and awkward.
Church is a scary place for many. Sometimes it comes to a point where they need a break. It’s just all too much. Too raw, too difficult, too beyond hope maybe? I read a blog recently that I honestly loved and hated. A woman (that I do not know personally but can tell she loves Jesus a whole lot) wrote a break up letter to “The Church”. (BTW, this blog post is NOT a “Hey, let me correct her post with my thoughts” at all.) Her post was real and raw and honest. It was obviously from a place of pain and frustration regarding her experience in the Church. I loved it because I identified with it. I cried the whole way through, because she was right. The church sucks at handling messy people. My heart resonated with how she felt and the way she said it all. So incredibly gracious. I have been there. I am there (I’m just way less gracious).
I haven’t written much about leaving our previous church of 10 years. In part because I want to honor the Lord, keeping in mind that particular church is His. He bled and died for her. Jesus loves that church and the people inside. How dare I slam or trash what belongs to Jesus? It’s also to be respectful to a pastor who was responsible for shepherding my family for such a long time. We left over the issue of grace and law/gospel distinctions. We saw more to the reformation than just Justification by grace- ALL of the Christian life is by grace, period. Just ask Martin Luther. Which, by the way, doesn’t mean that we don’t believe in obedience, as it has been presented as of late. That’s a misrepresentation completely. (More on all of that, soon to come.) I know this pastor loves Jesus and is teaching what he believes is the right thing. For us it came to a point where we realized what we were trying to do is change our pastor’s mind about things. He didn’t agree with us- and it’s best to part ways than to cause him trouble, stirring up division. (If you can no longer sit under your pastor’s authority and/or teaching, it’s time to go.) But, if I’m honest, being quiet about it all so far has been to avoid the drama. We tried as hard as we could to “live at peace with all men” and to go quietly and graciously. It was hands down, one of the most difficult decisions we could ever make. It’s heart-wrenching, leaving a church. It really is. Even when you know the Lord is calling you elsewhere, it’s hard. It’s especially hard when you do everything you can to keep it on “good terms” and people want to make it difficult. The wounding begins.
Here’s the part I hated about that dear sister’s blog. I hated that she was right and it made me sad. She had something that I could relate to. It’s awful that we have these wounds. A church is for broken people, right? It should be, anyway. Then WHY do we go after one another in our brokenness and just kick the crap out of one another?! Heard one pastor say that believers don’t shoot their wounded, they decapitate one another. He’s absolutely right! Why do we say to someone’s face “It’s okay that we don’t agree on these points, you are free to go, you have my blessing” and then lie about them from behind the pulpit? When did slander and defamation of character become acceptable behavior in the church? As if the pulpit is “safety” and you can be completely irresponsible with your words just because you are standing behind it? The truth makes us uncomfortable and self likes to save face. So we judge motives and spread it around as truth like wildfire. We throw giving the “benefit of the doubt” and “Love believes all things” right out the window under the guise of “protection”. Real damage is done. The scars are deep. It shouldn’t be this way. I’m not saying that I’m innocent in this. I just don’t have wooden platform to speak from so I usually just take my frustrations to Twitter.
Shot gun, aimed at my heart, you got one
Tear me apart and then some
How do we call this love? -Rixton Lyrics (Or the Apostle Paul in Gal 5:14-15??!)
It’s so easy for us who go to church to sit back and judge those who find it too difficult for a time because “that’s not what I would do”. I’m glad that you don’t understand the pain that makes some walk (or run) away from the church, I wish that I didn’t. Honestly? It’s hard for me. Just when I get into the groove and feel safe again, some person from my past throws a dart and hits me in my back. Wounds gash open all over again. I want to throw in the towel on church. It takes absolute dependence on the Lord to walk into our new (to us) church on Sundays, heart pounding away, fear raging, and try to look like a normal, functioning person. I’m not sure if I’m pulling it off or not. Building relationships with people in our new church is hard (even though we’ve been there a year). I’m terrified to let people in. It’s not that I don’t have a longing for community, because I do. I’ve just been lit on fire by people who said they loved me and that it was ok to move on. Every time I think those embers have finally burned down, the wind picks back up and I’m ablaze all over again. I never see it coming, though I should be used to it by now. As a result, I hold every sermon at arms length and process it first before I let it anywhere near my heart. It’s not that I’m not teachable, I’ve just been hurt so it’s difficult. I’m there even when I don’t always want to be. More times than not, the fear subsides and I leave praising the Lord that I went that morning.
OH! WHAT’S THAT!? I walk in obedience even when I don’t want to!? I thought the “heretical grace teachers” taught me that was wrong? Guess you were told wrong, then.
I know I’m not alone in this pain and fear, so I’m sharing now in hopes to encourage those who want to run from the church and throw the towel in on it altogether. I’ve learned so far that a new church with new people will come with it’s own set of problems (like for instance, you have trust issues and you don’t know anyone.) I was encouraged greatly by a new friend that I have made who understood my struggle. She simply said, “One step at a time..” First of all, the fact that she “got it” made all the difference in the world. My guard came down, immediately. But that advice was just what I needed. It’s okay that this is hard. It’s natural for us who have been through a crap storm to be skiddish, even skeptical.
I think what the Lord has been pressing into my heart as I am in the thick of the struggle is that I don’t have to have faith in the church. Really, it’s unwise to. The church will always fail in some way. It’s made up of sinful people, including myself. If someone else doesn’t ruin it first, I will. What I can have faith in, is the fact that God’s got this. I can trust him with my life, even my life within the local church. Jesus loves his church. Though she may be messed up seriously, He calls her his bride. How?! With all of the wounds we have, the disappointments, the scandals, the brokenness?!! How can Jesus love this mess? Grace is how. I don’t have a cut and dry answer for those of us who are struggling. The only thing I can say is that Jesus died for his church. It was worth it for him. There is worth and good in being in a local community even though it can be hard for some of us. I talk a big game about grace until it comes to people who choose to continually bring hurt into my life. Is grace for them too? Even if they hate grace? Even if they are terrified of grace to the point of calling people heretics who preach it? Even when as a result, people that I’ve known for over a decade choose to distance themselves from me? Yes. Grace for them even in that. When I hear stories of pain the church has caused others, and I think of the pain it has caused me, I tend to get discouraged. Then it hits me: What I’m longing for is a time when I can fully relax, let my guard down and trust people without fear. In a word, Heaven. When we get to Heaven one of the most amazing things we will enjoy is true fellowship in every sense of the word with one another. We won’t be inhibited by fear or sin. Our wounds will be fully healed. Our hearts mended. Our tears wiped from our faces. We will have perfect unity in Christ with each other. Forever. Ah. Hope!
Until then? “One step at a time…”
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. Ephesians 5:25-27