The older I’ve gotten, the more people I’ve watched walk away from churches after being hurt or disappointed. Many of my friends have severed ties with the Christian faith altogether, while some have just grown disillusioned by the institution of church and decided to practice their faith on their own. It’s been disheartening to see so many of my friends leave the Church, though I’ve understood their struggle. Nearly a decade ago now, I was wounded deeply within the walls of a place that was supposed to be a safe haven. I wanted to leave. Someone convinced me to stay. I’m not sure that I made the right decision.
I don’t hate the Church at all. I love her, in fact. I love that Christ has called together a group of imperfect, messy believers who can only make it through this life with Him and with each other. I love corporate worship. I love hearing the Word of God spoken and opened for discussion. I love sharing in the struggles of my brothers and sisters in Christ, and I love celebrating their triumphs. I love that no matter where I go on this great big earth, I can worship the same God and you can join me.
I don’t love the games. I don’t love the politics or the hidden agendas or the shunning of people who have sinned or believe differently than you. I don’t love that so many churches exist just to entertain you, and if you weren’t entertained then that church has failed. Or that we’re still actually checking off boxes if we attended Sunday School and brought our Bibles, because that somehow means we’ve accomplished what God has called us to do.
Mostly, I don’t love that I was hurt again. And that cynicism threatens to harden my heart every day.
My home church of over ten years imploded earlier this year. People I’ve gone to church with every week for a decade have scattered to various new homes. A small group was left and began meeting in a park, and I couldn’t go with them. I believe in what they’re doing wholeheartedly–gathering to worship together, to live in community, to serve others–but the whole thing came with so much baggage for me that I just had to start anew.
So here I am, wandering around like a stray puppy, and I just can’t stop thinking about what the Church is meant to be. I’ve long thought that we were mostly missing the mark. But as I’ve continued this journey around the sun year after year, I’ve come to believe that we’re really, really missing it. I don’t think Christ intended for us to erect huge buildings to house more programs as we fight over politics and pews.
I think Christ intended for us to love people. I think He intended for us to be in community with our neighbors and co-workers and family and friends, and to build relationships where honest and sincere love can be shared. My liberal friends think I’m too conservative. My conservative friends think I’m too liberal. I’ve started to describe myself as conservative in politics and liberal in love. Because I believe we can stand on truth and still love scandalously and with fervor. I believe that’s how Christ has loved me.
I’ve been visiting different churches every week for the last few months, and every weekend I’m reminded with a pit in my stomach of how much I hate the process of visiting churches. And I don’t know if I’ll ever want to join a traditional church again, but I still keep visiting because I still love the Church. From the time I was a youth and forbidden to go to church, I have longed for that community and hated when people took it for granted.
But I don’t want to just be part of an institution; I want to be a part of a living, breathing community of people who are just as flawed as I am, and who love anyway.
I’ve been silent for the last few months because I really didn’t know how to articulate what I was feeling, and I was still licking my wounds. But I don’t want to grow bitter and cynical about the body of Christ, so I decided it was a silence worth breaking. I’m confessing to you now because I want to open the door for discussion, rather than wall off my heart. So what is the answer? I’m honestly not sure.