AN OPEN LETTER TO THOSE WHO WALKED AWAY
“I believe in God, I just don’t have any interest in going to church.” So started off the conversation with a friend of mine as we talked about religion, Christianity, and the role of the church. After the initial statement, my friend then began to share all the reasons why she chose not to attend church and instead keep her relationship with God a more private affair.
“All the church wants is my money.”
“The church is full of hypocrites.”
“Most churches don’t engage in current social issues that impact real lives”
“Every time I turn around some pastor, from some church, is caught in a scandal. Why would I want to be a part of a place that doesn’t practice what they preach?”
“I can find my own personal relationship with God outside of church. I don’t need the hassle.”
“At one point, I went to church all the time and ended up getting hurt. I don’t want to experience that again.”
The list of legitimate concerns went on and on during that conversation with my friend. I didn’t try to argue or defend any position during my conversation; I just listened and tried in that moment to be a comforting voice in her life.
See, I truly didn’t think she was church bashing during our time together. Where some might think she was just making excuses, I began to simply realize that she was echoing the concerns of a generation coming up that is questioning the role of the church and it’s necessity in a modern, global society. After listening to her, I came to the conclusion that the same questions she has are the same questions quite a few people in our surrounding communities also have about church.
Quite simply, the question boils down to the need for a group of believers to come together if God offers a personal relationship through His son Jesus Christ.
If God is a personal God, why even need the church? Especially when it seems like the church seemingly spends most of it’s time getting in its own way and tripping over its own feet.
I believe this is one of the defining questions for not only the Millennial Generation, but also of people who are becoming increasingly influenced through a connected and more knowledgeable world.
And honestly, I believe it’s a question that is long overdue.
So why church? Before I go any further I want to go ahead and state that I am probably the biggest church supporter that you will find. I believe the local church, both big and small, has the potential to be the greatest change agent inside of local communities that exists. I believe that church, at it’s best, can help heal brokenness inside a city, bring light to the darkest of places, and can be a wealth of resources to people in need. In my opinion, I have yet to see a greater force for good than a community of believers who come together under the unity of a local church to reach out to a city and community.
I’m probably the biggest cheerleader out there for local churches, big or small. But the primary reason why I am this way may surprise you.
Let me be clear, I don’t have the view of church that I do because I have my spiritual blinders on. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I’ve been in church all of my life and while I’ve seen quite a bit of good take place, I’ve also seen a TON of misplaced priorities, manipulative leaders, wrong motives, and flat out unbiblical events as well. I’ve seen people get hurt, finances misused, marriages destroyed, the poor overlooked, the proud elevated, and the hurting abandoned.
I’ve seen all of this happen and more during my 35 years of church.
(And by the way, if anyone is reading the words I am now writing and assuming I am talking about my previous church employer of the past 5 years, this is simply not true. I have wonderful and warm memories of the people and leadership there so kindly take your conspiracy theories and drama somewhere else.)
But if I’m honest, what’s even worse than what I have seen in church the past 35 years is the personal failures, hang ups, and wrongdoings I have committed as a member of various biblical communities and in various church leader roles. Some of the very same things I moan and gripe about that happen in a local church I have actually been the initiator of! Over the course of my years involved in church my immaturities, my failures, my insecurities, and my flat out poor choices have caused hurt in others too. I’ve had wrong motives. I’ve overlooked those who God says are important. I’ve placed my needs above the needs of others countless times.
And I have been a leader in the local church for YEARS!!!!
Do you know how disappointing it is, as a church leader, to know that I can easily see the faults happening in other faith communities and am still struggling to grow past my own faults as well?
So why the local church? Why am I still a champion of it? Why do I still think it has the potential to be the greatest force for good the world has ever known?
Maybe you are asking the same questions right now. Why the church? Why should you want to be involved in something that has flaws, is run by flawed people, and at times can have flawed priorities? Why would you want to give you time and resources to an organization that at times seems to get it wrong more than gets it right?
Why support something that maybe has hurt you in the past? Why attend a gathering at a place where you can easily see the warts, the flaws, and the disorganization?
Why does the 21st century Christian still need the church?
The answer is very simple…
Wanna know why I believe in the local church with all its flaws and warts? Wanna know why I think you should also believe in the local church as well?
It’s because of one scripture……..
Ephesians: 5:25 – 27 – Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
Catch that? The church is something Jesus loved so much that He gave his life for it. And you know what, I’m pretty sure Jesus knew what He was getting into when chose the church to love just like a husband loves a wife.
That’s right, Jesus loves the church not because of its perfection, but inspite of all its flaws! He loves the church with all its misplaced priorities. He loves the church despite the wrongdoing and overlooked people.
That doesn’t mean he makes excuses for or agrees with all the negative things that go on in church. Let me be abundantly clear on that.
It just means He goes one step further and loves the church so much that He gave his life up for it and constantly works to purify it to be the spotless bride it was always meant to be.
This means that Jesus loves the church fully, loves the church deeply, and is constantly working to make it better.
So why do I believe in church? Why should you believe in church?
It’s not because the church is good. It’s because Jesus is good.
It’s not because the church has value. It’s because Jesus gives it value.
It’s not because the church is the source. It’s because Jesus loves the church enough to be its source.
It’s not because the church is perfect. It’s because Jesus is perfect and is working to make the church like Him.
It’s not because the people in church are flawless. It’s because Jesus is flawless and purifies the people in the church daily.
It’s not because the church always has the best priorities. It’s because Jesus always has the best priorities for the church.
So why do I believe in church? It’s because the flawed people in it point to the need for a perfect savior. It’s because the times the church gets it wrong takes our eyes off of people and onto the need for something greater. It’s because wrong priorities in the church can never be excused, but can always cause us to question whether we have our eyes on church or on the savior of the church.
So why should you believe in church? Why should you find a local community, either big or small, to be involved in?
Could I take a bold step and maybe look past the bold front and “got it all together” attitude that both you and I so desperately want to keep up? Could I speak to the part of you that maybe feels nervous, afraid, ashamed, or just downright angry? Would you allow me to tenderly speak to the deepest part of who you are out of love, fully admitting that I am nothing more than a flawed, insecure, and broke individual working out my walk of faith with my Jesus.
Maybe you should consider church again because you are connected to the people in it more than you, or they, would ever want to admit.
Because deep down you realize how flawed you are and need to be around flawed people who have found a flawless savior. Because you’re tired of trying to have it all together and want community with people who don’t have it all together either but who are looking to the source of all power. Because you are frustrated with masking your hurts and need to do life with people who hurt too but have found a healing savior.
You should believe in the local church because it mirrors who you and I really are: Flawed, hurting, broken people in desperate need of a grace we don’t deserve.
And I believe that is where the church of the 21st century is changing. The churches (not all, but most) of the 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s spent a little too much time telling people how great they were, only to disappoint them over and over again because flawed people filled them.
The churches that God is raising up today are the ones that fully admit their flaws but are shining the spotlight on the one who is perfect.
It doesn’t mean that churches are to make excuses for their failures, immaturities and flaws. Churches and their leaders should always be held accountable for their actions.
It just means that God is raising up local churches that are pointing the spotlight where it belongs, off of themselves and onto the Savior.
If you aren’t involved in a local church currently, could I lovingly challenge you to stop trying to find the perfect one with the perfect people? Instead, get involved in one that when you see its faults causes you to thank Jesus for His goodness, not the goodness of those in the church?
I’m not asking you to make gloss over the wrong, I’m asking you to take your focus off of people and onto the one who should be the center of attention anyways.
Do you realize the force the local church could be if people, both inside and out, began to see the church for what it really is?
The local church isn’t the focal point, it just exists to reflect the true source of light.
The local church isn’t necessarily good because it always does good things, but only because the one who is good gives it value.
If you currently are frustrated with, disillusioned with, away from, not involved with, or flat out mad at the local church could I ask you a favor?
Would you reconsider?
I’m asking you to reconsider not because the church deserves it. I’m asking you to reconsider because the church is made up of flawed people, just like you and I, and Jesus still gives it value.
You and I both need that kind of love, community, and support in our lives. Not from people who are perfect, but from people who have something in common.
We are still in need of a Savior.
All isolation serves to do is make you bitter, mad, and more determined to see the flaws that exist in pretty much every local church.
The flaws will always be there, but so will the Savior.
I want to close by asking you to take a bold step and change the way you view church. Do you have to go to church to be a Christian? Nope! Do you have to go to church to have a relationship with God? Again, no! Do you have to go to church and agree 100% with everything that goes on? One more time, no!
But if you change your expectation of church from the focal point to just a community of flawed believers who are there to honor a perfect God than church has the potential to be a life giving place for you.
If you will see church for what it really is.
Flawed and imperfect, but loved by a perfect Savior.