Lessons From the Church

As I sift through some things on my heart these days, I’ve uncovered a deep-rooted bitterness towards the church. I almost feel inappropriate writing it down, for church was a place I was raised in love and truth all my life. Growing up, I saw the precious side of things the church has to offer – the redemption, restoration and kind smiles at Sunday night potluck dinners. The truths of Scripture were embedded in my heart at an early age, and when grief struck our family in the form of death when I was merely 4 years old, I absorbed how to process tragedy in light of the character of God. I learned quickly to surrender my questions to a God so big I could never comprehend His ways, and to grow content in the promise that He works all things together for good.

It was the perfect primer for elementary through highschool, which would reinforce and strengthen those beliefs in me by way of classical education. Somehow in the middle of debates on predestination and reading Grudem’s Systematic Theology from cover to cover, the Lord was moving in a more simplistic way in my heart, smoothing rough edges and giving me a deeper love for Him.

In my world, drinking was unheard of, and I cringed at the sight of beer in the neighbor’s fridge. I didn’t know any non-believers except those that existed within my own family tree, and I was conditioned to think there was surely nothing I could do about them. Blended families were a rarity, cussing a severity, and purity was placed on a pedestal.

You might imagine the stun that overcame me as I slowly uncovered the depths of the dysfunction and addiction running rampant in my own home. It went on for years. The very sins I believed to be the most offensive of all were happening beneath my very roof, and years of turmoil culminated in divorce, and it’s not a label we wear with pride.

What I’m getting at is that following the Lord in the confines of a small, Christian circle is easier. I don’t say easy, because following God never comes detached of hardship, but it is easier. Easier than being raised in a public school, or not in the church at all. But here’s where it gets a little messy: when growing up in and around “the church” is equivalent to a standard of legalism and the lie that perfection exists in the lives and homes of other believers. That is what I saw my entire life – a parade of pseudo-perfectionism and a lack of humble authenticity that accompanied the raised eyebrows and hushed tones surrounding her new boyfriend or his foul language. So when sin was so blatant in my life and in my family, I never felt more isolated and alone, and my inclination was to protect myself no matter the cost – to assuage the ache alone, to shy away and live in fear of judgement.

Being an adult has only made me hyper-sensitive to these things and increasingly aware that I am not alone in my perception of the church. And there is still so much fear tied to vulnerability for me, but the reality of the story that the Lord has written for my life is that it is so much a story of innocence slighted and purity stolen, of grief manifested and heartache realized. So these last few years I’ve spent in the trenches, fighting and sorting and seeking and searching. And I’ve come up with a lot of questions that I am powerless to reconcile. Questions that go deeper than my head knowledge of God’s character and reach farther than any Christian platitude can palliate. My questions need more than to be reminded that God is good and want answers as to why His church is so often so bad at imitating Him.

I know that’s a big, broad, finger-pointing statement, and if fingers are to be pointed, the best place to start would be the mirror. Hear me when I say that I am so guilty of a lack of love for people. I am really good at loving people when the situation is tailored to my talents and experience, but when it isn’t, my tendency is to leave it to someone else. And experience tells me I’m not the only one. So while there is a time and place to serve others with our gifts, the call to emulate Christ means sharing a meal with sinners, even if cooking isn’t your specialty. It means serving in any capacity that we are capable, even if it’s uncomfortable. It means praying over our enemies and loving our neighbors. And it always means embracing those that are least like us and making them feel known, accepted and seen.

And that sounds very pretty and tidy, but its reality can be messy and unpleasant. The call to bear one another’s burdens often comes at the cost of our own convenience. It means more than just listening – it means walking, grieving, and carrying it too. It means seeing people not as an interruption, but an invitation to be Jesus to someone in need. Walking with the broken means you might hear words like drugs, alcohol, abuse, sex, rape, suicide, abortion, death, doubt, and hate. And our jaws cannot drop and our feet cannot flee if we’re loving like Jesus.


So today, I go back to the basics. Back to the place I grew up – the place that fueled my heart for worship and fostered my love of leadership. And I ask the Lord to pluck the root of bitterness from my spirit and give me fresh eyes and fresh love for the Church, for His church. I pray that it would be a place where the broken can be broken, and be met with a sincere “me too.”  I pray it’s a place of safety for those that need respite from the endless work that is maintaining a polished exterior, a place where people feel their belonging is secure. I pray it is a place where unashamed worship is welcomed. And I pray that we are those worshippers, those welcomers. That grace would always be more offensive to us than sin. That we would leverage our stories and our skeletons in order to help others feel known. I pray that we would be people whose lives and actions point always the cross, and that the cross would point always to a God whose love is so evident, that His people aren’t left begging fragile, fickle humans for their scraps. I pray we would be burden-bearers, humble servants, and bold vessels for His glory.

And I thank Him that His ability to use me really has nothing to do with me at all.