First and foremost, I want to say this is not a piece bashing the church. Did the church fail me? Were there consequences? Yes and yes. What am I doing now? But most importantly, what did God do?
September 2019 marked two years since my world fell apart. It wasn’t the typical tragedy you hear about in the world. I didn’t lose a spouse, child, or close family member. I was in good physical health. A natural disaster didn’t obliterate my home. It wasn’t even a catastrophic break-up with a man I hoped to marry. Two years and some months ago, I lost my church home. I lost my church community and felt like my world came crashing down around me.
But people leave their church every day, how is this different? This was my first church home as an adult, on my own. I grew up in a tiny country congregation that was comprised of at least 40% of family members. As most do, I went wayward and rebelled against my holy teachings. I never quit talking to God, but He definitely was not a major presence in my life. Fast forward and I found myself going to early services, purposely late to skip “happy hug time”, but still showing up to hear the Word and get my worship on. After a year or so of hiding out in my third-row pew, I signed a piece of paper and the rest is history. The Connections minister quicky plugged me in and like Lazarus breathing again, my world was transformed. The hole in my heart was filled and my life had a purpose that I would have never dreamt of. I had a community around me that believed as I did, loved as I loved, and served as I served. I began to understand what it meant to have a real relationship with God and being complete in Christ was really all about.
No church is perfect, sometimes called a hospital for sinners, the church is a place where broken people become healed. When I left, it was my own decision, but I truly felt like I had no other option. I sent fervent prayers asking for guidance and peace with whatever may happen. Staying meant the community I loved would be ripped in half like a baby in front of King Solomon. It became clear I had to go. Earlier, I asked if the church had failed me. Yes. Quite simply, the church failed me. Piousness, pride, politics, and a lack of urgency from church leaders ignited the end of my time at the church. But broken people, hurt people and the church is full of people, none of which are perfect. I did manage to keep some amazing life-long friends with me, but even they grieved over their account what had happened. It was like a tornadic wrecking ball demolished our lives. What we knew and loved so fiercely was destroyed.
As the dust settled I was numb and broken. I had an array of emotions and felt lost. How could God let this happen? Especially in His church? How could people who claimed to love God and serve Him do such horrible things? How could those who felt chosen by the Lord to shepherd and minister to His people, not protect them? How could they fail so hard?
Even writing this out is hard. I don’t want to dwell on the darkness, but I think it’s important to acknowledge it. Even though the emotions might not be pleasant to go through, they are all part of the process and teach you something. I’ve tried multiple times over the past year to say I’ve healed completely and am ready to move forward, but then I realize, I’m not always letting God truly heal my heart. As I slowly rejoin church life, I look back on the past two years, multiple tears, and long talks with God. Here is what I’ve learned to do when the church fails you.
- Acknowledge your feelings – it’s very easy to auto-pilot a prayer for God’s sovereignty to help ease what you are feeling. But take the time to express your heart respectively to God. Even when Job lost everything he replied to Zophar by saying, “What you know, I know. I am not inferior to you. But I would speak to the Almighty, and desire to argue my case to God.” I pleaded, argued, and cried to God for a solid year. I believe God already knows my heart but expressing it out loud was like lifting away the layers of hurt. I went through ALL the feels… Anger, resentment, denial, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. For me, the acceptance came through worship, I’d blare my favorite worship songs with tears streaming down my face and joy filling my heart. The acceptance was that I was a child of God and that even though this pain, there was a triumph to come.
- Seek wise counsel – your close friends, family, a minister, a co-worker, or even a counselor. Don’t go to your BFF Betty who loves to gossip and complain. She’ll only make it worse. It’s okay to vent and let out frustration, but… listen to me now… Staying in your own mind is toxic and will keep you away from the Lord. Proverbs 12:15 says, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” By not staying in our own minds and talking to someone wiser, we are able to not only get out our pain but gain direction from a person who can point you back to God.
- Know that you have failed as well – this is not true in all cases, again… hurt people, hurt people and we live in a very broken world. But in my case, there were ways I failed others. I began to value my work over my worship and time with God. I put my leadership and my community above God. I created an idol out of the life God had carved out for me. By taking ownership of how I had failed, I began to let go of the anger I felt of losing something and grew closer to God
- Don’t fall out of love with God – This is the MOST important of all. God loves you and doesn’t leave you. Even when you are furiously mad and resentful to him, He is still there. Matthew 28:20, “I am with you always, even to the ends of the earth.” When the church fails you, it can FEEL like it’s all coming to an end. But God hasn’t left and He relentlessly loves you with reckless abandon (Jeremiah 31:3). Don’t give up because of your pain. Keep your relationship loved and talk to Him. It’s by far, the most important relationship you will have.
I’d love to say as of this publishing date, I’m a new member of a fantastic church where I’m plugged in and part of a deeply rooted community, but that hasn’t happened yet. Being a migrant single for the past two years has added a layer of complexity to solidifying church membership. I am ready to find a community that I can walk through life with. I am ready to trust God to lead me to the perfectly imperfect congregation that I can call my church home. So, this afternoon I’ll go visit a friend’s church. And Lord willing, it may be the one.