when the church lets you down
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What to Do When the Church Lets You Down {Series Introduction}

when the church lets you down

This is the introduction to our series What to Do When the Church Lets You Down. You can see all the posts here.

I grew up in church until I was six years old. I don’t remember much about it except we got to run across to Dairy Queen on occasion, and we had to wear dresses and keep our hair long.

I prayed beside Mama as she knelt at the foot of my bed and sang gospel tunes with my Daddy as he strummed on his guitar.

Then it all changed.

We left and my Mama bought me a pair of 6x blue jeans and signed me up for gymnastics at the local gym.

I remember feeling so empty and so confused. 

I remember trying to reconcile life apart from what we’d always known.

I remember the questions and the feeling of emptiness that was left in the wake of conflict, conflict among believers.

I was six and confused, but my Daddy said it was best for all of us, and Mama said we’d find another way.

We did, but it was painful.

In the Spring of 1997, I gave my life to Jesus. I heard the gospel for the very first time without any additions, and I said yes without reservation.

My life changed forever.

And it’s been a journey, a long one, one that I don’t know will ever make sense this side of Heaven.

I’ve been a part of three churches since giving my life to Christ. Now I don’t go to church. Instead my little family of 3.5 sit around the breakfast table and read Bible stories and do “Sunday School”.

Then we cart the toddler off to the couch for a video to go along with what he learned while Mommy and Daddy listen to a sermon on the iPhone.

We’ve done this for two Sundays in a row and it’s sort of like being back at my Daddy’s feet singing to Jesus.

But there’s a hole, a feeling of emptiness left in the wake of conflict, conflict among believers.

I am twenty nine and confused, but my husband says it’s what’s best, and I believe in my heart God has a plan.

Saying this aloud, like this, on the blog, it’s risky … and scary.

I’m not bashing churches, or the ones we’ve been apart of. My extended family is still at the first and my friends still go to the latter. I’m not bitter.

I was, but not anymore.

I am at a point of surrender. I am at a point of seeking.

The Word says if you seek you shall find, knock and Jesus will answer. I’m knocking.

No wait. I’m pounding!

Scripture doesn’t say anything about pounding, but it does say Jesus loves me. So I’ll stick with pounding for now. I think He can take it. I want answers. I want to know where I fit.

I want to know why Jesus loves His church so much He’d die for it and we forget that and think it belongs to us, the body.

I was reading in The Jesus Storybook Bible tonight (to my toddler of course, not at leisure … though I’m sure that would still be beneficial).

We were reading about the Tower of Babel. It was as if God was saying, “This is your answer! This is why you struggle among believers!”

You can read the full story in the big kid Bible in Genesis 11. But the idea is at the beginning of time there was only one language among the people. They talked to each other and understood one another. With time they got this brilliant idea, that wasn’t so brilliant, to build a tower to Heaven.

They thought they could get back to Heaven in their own strength and by their own works. Wrong.

They also wanted to be noticed and seen for their great works so they could say, “Look at me! Look at me!” In essence, they were looking for self glorification. Bad idea.

God had to cut this little plan off quickly before it got too out of control and so He made them all wake up one morning speaking a different language. They couldn’t finish the tower because they couldn’t understand one another. Hence the name Tower of Babel.

That’s when the Spirit whispered, “It’s the same today.”

We may speak the same written language, English in my case, but we speak a different language from one church to the next, from one Christian to the next. I don’t have to speak Swahili for the person in the pew next to me to totally misunderstand me, and the pastor doesn’t have to speak Spanish for me to miss the point altogether.

Sin divides. Bottom line. My sin. Your sin. The church is full of sinners who need the redeeming blood of Jesus.

I’m slowly seeing that I am the worst of them. I finally get Paul, the holy one who makes me want to smack him in all his contentment talk. I get this:

For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. ~1 Corinthians 15:9-10a

So what do we do with our modern day Tower of Babel?

I don’t go to church, but that’s not the end. It’s part of the journey, yes, but the end? No way.

Part of that journey is processing what to do when the church lets you down (when Christians let you down).

I’ve been on this journey of processing for 23 years. And I think I have a few answers, and a few more to learn along the way.

So will you join me in the journey? It’s painful one for me because I don’t really want to talk about it, but I think it needs to be discussed.

I’ve put together a ten part series on what to do when the church lets you down. We’ll start next Monday with Part 1 – Remember Who God Is.

Update 2014: Since writing this series, we have found a wonderful church home – the one we’ve been praying our whole life for. It’s not perfect, but it’s home. As you continue through this series, you’ll see the rest of the story unfold.

Update 2018: It’s interesting to re-read this so many years later and realize that this burn was the one that God used to set my feet on solid rock. The one that caused me to fall head over heels in love with His Church. My heart bleeds for the church, yearns for the church, and is eager to see His church thrive in the midst of this sin-torn world. Oh how my heart loves the church in a way it never would have if I had never walked through this trial. 

P.S. We’ve moved clear across the country since writing this series, and … lo and behold, been burned by the church again before landing in a new church home. Oh glory hallelujah that my identity is no longer found in the people of Christ, but in Christ Himself. My heart longs for His return, but not until I’ve done all I can to tell people that His Church is beautiful and worth dying for because He said it was. Be encouraged, sisters and brothers. He is doing a new thing! Keep seeking Him through your pain and heart-ache, I promise He will meet you right where you are as you tuck into His arms and allow Him to soothe your wounds and kiss your head. He loves you with an everlasting love. And keep reading, please keep reading…Remember Who God Is.

 

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39 Comments

  1. Leigh-Ann, thank you so much for sharing this difficult and personal story. What you and your husband are going through must be hard and you are very brave to share it so openly and honestly.

    My husband and I have had a hard time with church over the last three years, having spent ten years dedicating our lives to ministry and being at the very heart of different church communities. It’s really tough. Hurtful. We have felt betrayed, let down and deeply saddened.

    I’m glad to say that we have found a church family that is authentic and is once more demonstrating what a family of believers was intended to be.

    We too have spent a period of time doing “family church’ and this really kept us going for a while. It’s not what God intends for us as we need the support and fellowship of other believers but it’s fine for a season until God guides us towards a new spiritual home.

    It is important to be authentic and stand up for what you believe in. A lot of churches masquerade as functional spiritual corporations doing business for God – hiding the fact that God came for the broken and the lost.

    This will be a great series and I look forward to following it. May God bless you and your family.

    1. Mel,

      Bravery may not be the right word, but fear of God is probably more accurate. You’re a writer – you know when you’re supposed to write something. If not for someone else, then for your own healing and processing. But I know I’m not alone, and I hope this series is helpful. Thanks for your kind words. I look forward to hearing more from you!

  2. I’m really excited for this series. 🙂 I have struggled in this area as well and usually just sweep it under the rug. Excited to be challenged and grow in this area!!

    1. Leah, I wish I were a rug sweeper sometimes. Alas it is not part of my personality, which is part of my problem and one of the reasons why I said I’m the chief of sinners. There sin on both sides of the stick (rug sweeper or rug beater), but I do think there is Biblical encouragement for us regardless of how we react to the issue at hand. I’m excited to share what God is teaching me in the coming weeks.

  3. I know the pain…and struggling with being around those who are also “unsafe” believers. In the end there are no perfect churches because there are no perfect people. But His perfection shines on and leads to fellowship, love, grace and truth. He also is able to lead us into fellowship and communion with those who are truly safe. God meets us right where we are and by His Spirit guides us into all truth. Praying for your journey. Appreciate your bravery and honesty. A couple of books I read and liked on the subject: I’m Fine With God, It’s Christians I can’t Stand and So You Don’t Want To Go To Church Anymore-an unexpected journey. In his Grace, Dawn

  4. Thank you for your honesty and boldness! It is a subject that definitely needs to be addressed but so often is not spoken about. People come and go, wounded by others and many times I’ve seen them sit alone and lick their wounds instead of seeking healing from the Lord and wisdom on how to proactively move through the hurt.

    I will be praying for you on your journey ~ for wisdom and direction…..God took us away from “church” for some time and during that season, I felt closer to Him than ever before ~ although we are back in a physical church building – church is so much larger than that and I have a totally different perspective on it now. I can’t wait to read your upcoming series! Be blessed!!

  5. Wow. Your honesty is beyond your years.

    Yes, we’ve been burned by church. It was not the religious system that we have/had the difficulty with. It was with people’s lack of compassion in the difficulties we were/are having. So yes, for two years nearly we did ‘home church’. We have found a new congregation, same belief system, but further from home and harder to get to because we are both disabled, have Social Security Disability to live on…and no public transportation in our area but they are accepting of our limitations and share with us as they are able.

    So yes, I fully understand and can empathize with your heart. Please remember though, that it isn’t the people themselves that are the ‘enemy’, but the adversary working through/with them. And we are promised that the Lord has overcome the adversary. He says we’re going to have tribulations and difficulties in this world, but that He has overcome the world. In Him, we can be over-comers as well.

    I now am on a phone conference prayer line every morning for at least an hour sometimes up to two. We pray for people seeking the Lord, we pray for those who have wandered away from Him…our families, our loved ones, country and world leadership, pretty much everyone in the world. That is my fellowship now. That and personal time with God in His word. Stay close to Him would be my counsel, and if you do, He will lead and guide you where you should go or stay from. Know that you are my Sister-in-Christ, you are loved. Blessings!

    1. ” Please remember though, that it isn’t the people themselves that are the ‘enemy’, but the adversary working through/with them. And we are promised that the Lord has overcome the adversary. He says we’re going to have tribulations and difficulties in this world, but that He has overcome the world. In Him, we can be over-comers as well.”

      Well said! I agree!

  6. What is so sad is that this is not an unusual circumstance…but like you said, this has been a battle since the beginning of time.
    Our family walked through that “fire”. We were involved in a cult-like church and leaving was very difficult. We lost our all church “friends” and were actually shunned in Wal-Mart!!
    But God is so much bigger than our sin…so much more wise than our “wisdom”.
    Praying with you as you find His way down this path. He is the healer of all wounds. There may be scars, but they are what develop us and cause us to grow and trust Him even more.

  7. I have truly been struggling with this since … before Christmas. Thank you. I’m looking forward to each part of this series.

  8. Thanks for writing about this, Leigh Ann. I haven’t really been “burned” by the church, but there certainly are times where I am very frustrated and wonder if I should even go. It feels horrible to think that! I look forward to reading this series.

  9. Hi Leanne, Thank you for your thoughtful, honest appraisal of what is so often the experience of people in church. It might not be ongoing, but it is often a part of it. I too look forward to this discussion!
    At times, when I have witnessed lack of compassion, embarrassment, and cruelty, I have often wondered, how is it, that these people seem to stay, and the wounded leave?
    It is then that I remember, that I don’t know what it was really like for Jesus to come to this earth, to live and have close fellowship with the apostles, and the disciples as well as the local church?
    How was it for him, when he had to contend with his followers wanting to call fire down from heaven because a town wouldn’t accept them?
    How was it to have jealousy and rivalry right up to the last supper because two boys wanted to sit on either side of this throne, with Mum asking thrown into the equation?
    How was it living with a thief who would steal the groups money? And to wash the feet of the one who would betray you? This is only a few examples I could write.
    He stayed with them, was seen with them, identified with them. Hmmm, so that says to me something of what I should do.
    Thank you for opening a wonderful discussion. I am sure that we are all going to be blessed and encouraged along the way.

  10. I was raised in a church my entire life and raised my children there as well. Unfortunately, in the last several years, some newcomers have made it very difficult to continue. When my husband left, and at a time I needed a lot of support, I got NONE. Then a few years later, some of the congregation decided to change the way our young people were taught and finally we just quit going all together. Right now I get my fellowship with my Bible study group and the Women’s group. I am so excited to read this series and try to move forward. I just feel so lost because this has been my church home since I was a very small child. Thank you for doing this.

  11. I don’t think I even realized I Needed this…until I started reading it.
    We (sorta) left the church we’ve been attending for the last ten years. My kids went through most of their formative years there, yet by some strange stroke of “luck” all four of them have ended up spending most of their teens down at a more conservative church right near our home. (Different denomination, completely different way of seeing things, and the way I had been going on my own without really noticing.) My husband is…lukewarm about his faith at best, and I’ve had to deal with a lot of the “spiritual issues” in our house. So while I wasn’t happy with some of the “people” problems at our old church, my husband is just happy I don’t “make” him go anymore. Two of my sons and I still play in the bell choir, more because we love the people we play with and to make beautiful music. I don’t feel comfortable at the church the boys attend youth group/Bible study at–it’s huge, and I truly don’t feel like it’s where the Lord wants me to plant my butt on Sundays, regardless of how welcomed my sons are.
    So I’m waiting…to see where God leads me…to see if he says something to my husband this time…to see if he changes my mind about the boys’ church. And maybe this was his way of telling me I’ve got some work to do on myself before I’m ready to join others again. So…thank you. I can’t wait for the rest of this.

    1. “I truly don’t feel like it’s where the Lord wants me to plant my butt on Sundays, regardless of how welcomed my sons are.”

      I love how candid you said that because it’s exactly how I would have put it. I hope this series proves helpful! Thanks for sharing.

  12. Praying for you and your husband as the Holy Spirit leads and guides you through this season. Praying He reveals Himself to you in a new light and builds you up in His image. PRAISE JESUS for your perseverance to work through bitterness and decide every day to not allow it to creep back in. Bitterness is one of the easiest things to sneak up on me, personally…and I find myself allowing Satan to rent space in my mind and thoughts without even realizing it till I’m in a full blown “rant” within my thoughts and heart… and to what purpose does that have except to take my eyes off of my Savior. (which is exactly what Satan wants to do…distract me from HIS truths, HIS words, HIS love) I am deeply and truly sorry for whatever has come between you and the blessing of having corporate worship with other believers. My heart is breaking for the hurt that must have taken place in multiple lives. I look forward to hearing what the Lord teaches you through this process and how He draws you near to Him during it. You are a precious child of the King, HIS princess ! Your eagerness and relentless effort to draw near to the Lord and His will and purpose for your life just makes Satan cringe…and Satan’s reaction will be to attack. I am praying you see those attacks for just what they are…an attempt to distract you from the Holy Spirit. I love your faith! Be strong my sister in Christ, BE STRONG! I am praying.

  13. I am a PK and understand your burnout. Although I am happy and blessed in the church I am in, it was not always so in other churches I attended. Too often, it is Christians who cause the greatest harm and hurt to the body of Christ. I pray that one day you will find the fellowship and love of a local body of followers of Jesus. Know that God understands your feelings and knows better than any what you’ve been through. He loves you and is using you…right where you are at! xo

  14. Yes, my family was burned. In fact, when I first saw CMB (a friend posted a link on Facebook), my initial reaction was, “This looks scary.” I’m not a mother, and I’m not really sure I want to continue claiming “Christianity” based on what I’ve seen and learned. I love Jesus, and I definitely want to be linked to Him, but do I really want to use a title / brand that associates my name with people who seem to focus on spreading hate? That’s something I’ve been asking myself for the last several years…. We are to be “little Christs”. But what are we to do when others’ beliefs paint a picture of God that we don’t agree with? That’s a tough question to face.

    1. Laura, that’s such a tough situation and I can totally understand the struggle. You asked: “But what are we to do when others’ beliefs paint a picture of God that we don’t agree with?” My short answer? Be the change you want to see happen. I know it’s cliche, and I’ve had to battle in my own mind how ridiculous that sounds. But through prayer and continued study (and beating God on the chest, demanding answers!), I keep getting the same answer. “Let me worry about them. You be who I called you to be.” Laura, I think this is when faith comes into full display and when Christ is most glorified in us. Praying for the Lord to bring you peace that passes all understanding and that you would know the love of Christ deep down in your soul!

      Thanks for your comment! Keep leaning into Him.

  15. I know that people hurt people, that’s sometimes one of the hardest things about working in the ministry. People totally disregard you sometimes and the efforts that you pour into them and their children. But yet I know that people in the ministry sometimes cause hurt toward other church members too.
    It’s a shame because God speaks in His Word about scattered sheep in Ezekiel chapter 34. It’s not His desire that shepherds (pastors or other church members for that matter) scatter the sheep or for sheep to leave the church. That chapter explains what God does for the sheep, how he judges those that ruin the flock (fat cattle). Then He gives a promise that Christ, the Chief Shepherd, will shepherd and feed the sheep. The context is the Israelites but I think it can apply to His children in the church.
    Our pastor always says that at some time in your life you will need a pastor and he explains that is typically why home churches do not work for very long. The only other thing that comes to my mind in which I would like to encourage you, not bash you, is to read Galatians chapter 5. This is a chapter of encouragement for people to stay on the right track when others have hurt and discouraged them. It says in verse 7, “Ye did run well, who doth hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?” Do not allow people to keep you from forsaking the assembling of yourselves together with believers in His house.
    Then in verse 10 God proclaims His judgment upon those that hinder believers by saying, “but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be.”
    Stay on your knees, God has a church home for you. I pray your husband will also seek God’s face so He might lead your family to the right place. Hugs!

    1. Thank you for these words! I have been praying through writing a “qualifying post” because I think there can be some assumptions for this series. One of which is that we left the latter church because of the disagreement/hurts/etc. But that’s not the case entirely. I think it was the icing that helped us to see what God had been trying to tell us all along – our theology/doctrine is not the same. We differ on some big issues. It wasn’t a good fit to start with, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have to sift through the hurt still, I suppose. In addition, we live in a small, very unchurched town. We don’t have a church on every corner like I was used to in the south. SO there are a lot of factors weighing into “doing church at home,” to name only two. haha! Regardless, I agree with everything you said and I thank you for your soft, humble approach to pointing me to truth. It’s always a good reminder! And thank you for your prayers!

  16. Thank you for your honesty Leigh Ann. I’m old enough to be your mom but I’m amazed at your insight. As a sister in Chrst I’ so sorry for the hurt your family suffered by a “church”. I will pray that you & your husband may be lead by the Holy Spirit to one of Jesus’ New Testament churches.

  17. Hi Leigh Ann! My name is Gennie. I am looking forward to reading this series. I too was very hurt by a church, my family and I and many other members of that church. We recovered, some others are still in the process of healing. I wanted to recommend a book to you that helped me tremendously. It is – The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, Recognizing and Escaping Spiritual Manipulation and False Spiritual Authority Within the Church by David Johnson and Jeff VanVonderen. I am in the process of reading another one that I am really liking so far. It is by Anne Graham Lotz – Wounded by God’s People: Discovering How God’s Love Heals Our Hearts. I hope that this can be of help to you and to others. Blessings!

  18. Leigh Ann,

    Thank you so much for your candor. Let me say I sympathize with your frustration. I used to think the solution was to find a better church, smaller, or bigger, different denomination, or no denomination, etc.

    Someone told me this a few years back when I was fuming over something. …

    Churches are hospitals FULL of sick people needing healing, Not full of perfect people.

    Once I truly got that, it was easier to let everything else go.

    We trust our pastor and enjoy being sheep in his flock. But beyond that, everything else is. ..well whatever it might be and we deal with that.

    We go to church to be ministered to (in service) and to be Of service where we can.

    We are putting our life blood, so to speak, in our family (raising our children, growing our marriage) and not into the church. That’s not our calling. And only those whose calling it is should.

    Keep doing church at home,even if you find a building to enjoy worshiping at or a ministry to give your tithe to, etc.

    Prayers for healing and fresh starts!