In one week the term church hurt enters my world five separate times.
1. At a friend’s house for a dinner party…
Painful experiences with a hypocritical Christian leader that all but capsized their young walk with God are shared in conversation.
2. At a restaurant with a colleague…
Discussions about a recent volatile church staff meeting where territory wars, behind the scenes slander, and a fight for control left them with the sense that the church as a whole is an unsafe place.
3. Over breakfast with a friend who is a Christian counselor…
‘Religious trauma’ is now an official diagnosis in the counseling world.
4. Catching up on the phone with a friend who pastors with her husband…
A family they poured into, personally covered medical treatments for, and spent holidays with informs them via text that the church isn’t meeting their needs and they’re leaving to go somewhere else. Pastors’ kids are heartbroken asking, “Why would someone would do that?”
5. Monday night I turn on my TV…
The on-demand guide offers me the Hillsong Documentary, the Oscar winning movie, Eyes of Tammy Faye, and the (Pastor) Gwen Shamblin Expose all at the same time.
[church hurt]: a fingertip-term heard almost everywhere, among Christians and non-Christians alike.
There is pain and heartache. There is deep confusion and anger. There is finger pointing and judgment. There are broken lives and broken families.
The term is being used to identity what has come at the hands of those in leadership positions and church-goers alike that lead and live out of brokenness, rejection, control, manipulation, and fear. All of it permeating church cultures cut from the same cloth, leaving a wake of causalities behind it.
Sitting there in each of these situations this past week my gut wrenched. My heart hurts for the people who have been wounded, abused, and left disoriented with God and with ministry. I feel a grief over the experiences some have had in a place that was meant to be transformative. I hurt for the brokenness of the Christian leader that believes they are doing what is right.
But mostly, I hurt for the Bridegroom Jesus as His Bride, as a whole, is cast over and over again in the offending role.
The experience at the hand of one is being charged to all.
The indictment and verdict of ‘guilty’ is easily and aggressively pronounced upon every church and every pastor everywhere. And even in our ‘hyper-sensitive to labels’ age—no one seems to bat an eye at this. And I picture Jesus, being present for all of it.
Slowly, they begin to come to me:
“…Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” —Ephesians 5:25
“…For zeal for your house consumes me.” —John 2:13-16
“…I am on fire with passion for your house and the hard things which are said about you have come on me.” —Psalms 69:9
It’s now Sunday morning, and I’m standing with my local congregation. The whole place is worshipping together singing, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus,” and I can almost see with my mind’s eye the spiritual material and vibrancy that is dancing in the atmosphere of the room as we sing with the faith we collectively have when we worship Jesus as one.
And it comes to me in a new way—that the Church is a living thing. It is His living Bride.
No one church, one pastor, or one church-goer gets to define what His bride is.
We are a living body, unto Him-the Bridegroom, and we are truly defined by only Him. It was in that monumental moment with Peter that Jesus announced who His Bride would be.
“Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” In that single reference, “…my Church,” He revealed that He takes it personally. And of course He does; the church is His body.
The bible describes His church as:
- -A house of prayer
- -A house of worship
- -A house of restoration
- -A place of equipping
Paul laid out the plan for the gifts that would lead, oversee, serve, and prepare Christ’s Bride. From apostles and prophets to pastors, teachers, and evangelists—these gifts are given to men and to women of God’s choosing that are called to walk worthy of the gifts they are given. Not for status but for service.
I have known of crooked bankers, but it would be ludicrous for me to assume that all bankers are crooked just because some are. I have known of sheister politicians, but to assume all are would make me biased, short-sighted, and simply unjust.
Without a doubt, there are and have been guilty parties who have held positions of authority within a church and who have sat in the pew, but the few don’t get to define the whole. To indict the church as a whole and convict all pastors, leaders, and churches everywhere is not only unjustified, but it is dangerous for us all. Why? Because this pattern always ends with a generation relinquishing something the blood of Jesus paid for us to possess.
- -In the 16th century, many gave up belief in the authority of the church.
- -In the 17th century many ceased to believe in the authority of scripture.
- -In the 18th century many lost their faith in the divinity of Christ.
- -In the 19th many relinquished the belief in God as Judge.
Which makes me wonder: what will this generation be willing to give up? Will we really walk away in hurt, sacrificing the power this world needs so badly that comes from being His Bride?
In this current age with the stakes so high. Amidst all of the voices decrying the church—when I listen deep down, I hear another sound that is coming, and it is the sound of the church healing.
Because healing is a label that belongs to the church as a whole.
“He took stripes on His back that we were healed.” Let the church be healed.
Monday night I shut off my TV, and laid back on my couch. My heart was processing it all, and my mind began to drift back to the church I grew up in.
The scenes begin to play back to me one-by-one:
- The church I grew up in is where I asked Jesus to come live in my heart in my Sunday School class.
- It’s where I watched my Dad and Mom raise their hands worshiping God and praying together every Sunday.
- It’s where my little brother’s back was healed of a debilitating disease.
- It’s where I was baptized on a Sunday night and filled with the Holy Spirit.
- It’s where I experienced God’s power so personally as a teenager.
- It’s where I received a call from God on my life for ministry.
- It’s where I watched God change the people that I knew.
- It’s where my Pastors cared for us at family funerals, prayed over us in crisis, and celebrated our victories.
That is the church I grew up in.
The church is a living thing.
The church is His bride.
I am His bride. You are His bride.
We are all the church: the Bride of Christ.
May it be so in this generation.
The church is healing.