Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Church Isn't For Saints But For Sinners


Do you go to church?

We know that today people in the church are leaving in near droves and with that decision also leaving behind more and more empty pews than ever before. Some folks jump up and down with outrage and upset yelling that those people need to "get over it" and realize if they aren't happy with church then that is their problem, they need to look inward… that they are perhaps expecting something out of church instead of walking in with the intent to give… then there are the folks who point fingers at the church and state it's hypocritical, it's political, it's this or that. Both sides may certainly have valid points and more than likely in many cases the views of both apply.

I was baptized as a baby and attended a Presbyterian church for Sunday service and pre-school. My parents actually taught the Sunday school class for three year olds… which to me is so incredibly odd considering we never read the bible growing up, prayer was non-existent, and Jesus was never spoken of. Their teaching Sunday school lasted one year… my dad chose to quit the church after he discovered that the woman from the church making home visitations to my grandfather stole the handmade dolls my late grandmother had made. These dolls were valuable and naturally had sentimental value as well. Upon learning of what had happened my dad and grandmother made a visit to the church and told the minister what had happened. He wouldn't help them, wouldn't intervene on their behalf and the woman wouldn't return the dolls so my parents stopped attending church. My grandparents only attended on Easter and Christmas. Years went by… I was probably in fifth grade and my family found another church to attend… a Methodist church. It was awkward and strained going to church service… we didn't go every Sunday but sporadically and yet it never felt natural. My dad always seemed angry, my mother weepy and no one talked… it was like walking to the guillotine… going in and then returning to the car… it was robotic like we just went through the motions… no one spoke and voiced their favorite hymn, no one talked about the sermon, no one chatted excitedly about their faith, about Jesus and their love for him or what verse spoke to them. It was uncomfortably silent. That eventually fizzled out and we stopped going there as well. Years later I married a man who didn't go to church but had a life application bible… unfortunately I didn't even recognize the fact he was not applying it and being the sheltered naive young nineteen year old I was I fell for him hook, line and sinker. Hindsight is always a clear 20/20. I believed in Jesus but I didn't follow him either… I didn't know him. I didn't even really know anything about him nor did I believe for a minute God loved me.

It was after my sister at the age of twenty-two in 2008 passed away due to a drunk driver that my desire for a relationship with Christ seeded and began growing. That horrific loss was the defining moment that brought me to God and wanting a relationship with him, to know him and realizing his love for me. I began watching Joyce Meyer nightly, (some people have issue with Joyce Meyer due to the prosperity gospel which I've done a post on you can read here; I started with her sermons then discovered Tony Evans and Andy Stanley) I began praying and repenting, reading my bible, devotionals, anything I could get my hands on, I read it. I joined a church with my husband and children. I have found that this path of following Jesus is hard and hard isn't even really an adequate word to use… because frankly, I mess it up, a whole lot. Maybe you do too. In the midst of "oops, oh, man, I didn't handle that right…" or  "gee, THAT was embarrassing… " I have learned there is a huge difference between conviction/healthy guilt and then the false guilt we beat ourselves up with or worse the dreadful shame the devil happily serves you up that just makes you want to disappear into the floor, that makes you believe that you just aren't cut out for following Jesus, that you're not doing good enough...

Jesus died for our sins, our debts are already paid, 
we don't have to earn his love
We want to delight in following him because we love him so much

but THAT is where grace comes in, thank goodness. Grace for ourselves and others. We are all on a path of learning here…learning the lessons in the bible and how to apply what we've learned to real life… and that is the hard stuff. We miss the mark, we may question what to do, we say the wrong thing, were impatient, were impulsive, we react instead of respond, we struggle, we are not a neat and tidy package, we are so incredibly messy… as we read his word and love him more we will change more, closer to his image… delighting in following him.

I believe we want a church that reflects we are real people. We are not drones or robots or programmed to fit into a certain look or group… we are a mix of sweaters and pearl, tattoos and rough, a culmination of liberal and conservative, we are the square peg in the round hole wanting to be chiseled, we are not perfection on a silver platter nor are we strolling into church with clean pasts… we want to be able to walk into a church if we sold our bodies for money to buy food to eat without looks of condemnation, we want to enter church with humble repentance that we committed infidelity but a delighted heart to serve Jesus, we want to be able to walk into church to open arms if we lived a past we aren't particularly proud of and want a start fresh, we want to be able to pour our hearts out to our Pastor without appraising looks of "please keep that to yourself"…. we want to enter a sanctuary without whispers because the church believes we belong there out of love not of the superior thinking: "it's about time you got here, you need it, alright"… we are the folks with bandaged hearts, we are filled with regrets and past hurts… yet in that same hurt we are undeniably over comers (!)… we are a beautiful, yes beautiful mix of damage and guarded wounds with strength and love shining through… we are possibly someone who at one time didn't believe had a need for Jesus, didn't care to know him and filled their life with everything but him… who have been knee deep in sin but now want to love Jesus with their whole heart, to love the outcasts, the downtrodden and homeless, who want to help those who are hanging by their last thread of hope… who want to give of their time and money because Jesus has blessed them… who want to love Jesus with abandon and yearn for that intimacy with him.

We want to be radical. 
And yet we maybe don't even know where to start.

We need guidance in our steps. 

We can't get there if the church is standing there telling us all the right things (or maybe not) but it's eyes are looking at us like were from Mars and need to head back there… if they don't want to hear about your depression, about your gang rape, about your abusive sociopathic spouse or your divorce… if they don't want to truly hear about the nitty gritty then yeah… you'll leave. And you don't just suffer… but the church suffers… maybe not even realizing it… but they do and not just from a lack of warm bodies in pews and tithes.

Since my divorce I left the church I'd joined… for many reasons that maybe admittedly weren't justified but I struggled in it (still do) and I believe many others have similar struggles. I now attend a different church on a semi regular basis… the bible states we are to worship with fellow believers, as Jesus Christ is the Head of the church… we are to come together, we are the sheep and are to flock together, being subject to the Good Shepherd. When we as sheep stray, when we leave the fold we become vulnerable, defenseless. Of our own accord we risk getting ourselves into a huge pickle no doubt. We as believers, followers of Christ are certainly not as effective on our own sitting at home… but we become more powerful when assembled together as a whole, a body of people to serve, pray, and praise Christ together. 

So what is the solution to people leaving the church? 
I believe it involves people and the church.  

Some of us want churches who are willing to take on the controversial, the ugly, the wretched sins of people… that's life… some of us want churches and pastors who aren't going to shy away from the real, that aren't going to say "I'm not touching that issue with a ten foot pole from the pulpit…" We don't want lip service, we don't want glossed over. A large number want churches that are going to spend more money on helping those truly in need in our communities instead of fancy new additions and buildings. We want churches who put people first. We want churches that are assembling prayer groups and ministries to help the distressed, the hungry, the poor, homeless and create or find jobs for people in need. We want churches that focus more on how to have a close relationship with Christ and applying the love he has for us out into the world in real life situations than being passively preached a warm and fuzzy feel good.  

Everyone has a different opinion for sure… 

As John Lynn points out… 
here is where he believes some of the issues arise within the church… 

Our biblical illiteracy and lack of spiritual confidence has caused Americans to avoid making discerning choices for fear of being labeled “judgmental.” The result is a Church that has become tolerant of a vast array of morally and spiritually dubious behaviors and philosophies.
This increased leniency is made possible by the very limited accountability that occurs within the Body of Christ. There are fewer and fewer issues that Christians believe churches should be dogmatic about. The idea of love has been redefined to mean the absence of conflict and confrontation, as if there are no moral absolutes that are worth fighting for.

Maybe we need to be less concerned with the songs played, the band, with the decor, the light shows, with the sermons, etc… we need to focus on what truly matters… not the superficial bells and whistles. Were not going to church to be entertained. We're not wanting to stay stagnant. Ed Stetzer gets down to what is important in how he explains that to Pastors… 

Your hearers need a clear word about exactly who God is in His character, work, and will. People have come to worship with assumptions, presuppositions, and all kinds of religious baggage that wrongly has informed their view of God’s character and what He wants from us. It is only the Word of God rightly explained that can show them the truth and confront these misunderstandings.

No matter who we are and what we've done we want to enter church mask-free and without condemnation. No matter how conservative, how old school, how old fashioned or whatever we look on the outside we all come to Christ with stains. We yearn to know his character and pursue faithfulness... we want churches to realize that yes, we want loving, grace-filled guidance... so on Sunday's when we leave church we are equipped, we can go out into the world and share the good news, the gospel and love Christ has for us... with others no matter who they are and where they've been. 

© gps-gracepowerstrength.blogspot.com ~ 2014 

To My Readers: 

We are reaching the end of 2014 and I want 
to thank you for reading… I hope some of 
what I've posted has helped bring affirmation,
hope, a "me too"… even some
awareness about some incredibly 
important issues like emotional 
abuse, parental alienation, drinking 
and driving, etc. I look forward to 
the new year and my hope is 2015 is
filled with many blessings for you and yours. 

Related Posts: 

Dear Friend: A Letter Of Love To You

When You Need Peace: Turn To God

Tears: What Are You Moved By? 


  1. What a beautiful post. I feel many of the same sentiments. I have been very hurt by church and even betrayed...through spiritual abuse. I am now finding it triggering...as much as I WANT to be there and feel a "should" about it....I feel highly triggered and misunderstood. The marriage and family sermons are like salt on a wound. Yes, many do not wish to hear about divorce from an abusers at best...and now being a single mom....let's just say I'm not comfortable with the response to me these days. I find much more love and acceptance in 12 step rooms- and have met other Christian believers there.
    I am also concerned with certain ideas about mental health, counseling and healing that really harm the wounded. One is that if you are hurting...there is a problem with your faith. The other is that the pinnacle of the Christian experience is to be married with children. These ideas really exclude large numbers of people. I admit I was a solid believer in the family gospel. But family became an idol to me...and kept me in a destructive abuse marriage that was causing great damage to everyone.

    I called a deliverance ministry that charges $1000 for inner healing. I live next door to my old church, but no one from there has visited me, while going through a highly traumatic divorce and separation. I used to be involved in missions, and "on fire." I was very pro-church...but it has betrayed me. The condemnation, and lack of compassion, or understanding, has made me avoid Churchy talk...as much as a love God and just want to be close to Him....I am deeply hurt at this point.

    I know intellectually that these feelings are very normal for survivors of spiritual abuse, a particularly horrific type of betrayal. There is a place in MA called Meadow Haven that I have heard is a wonderful place of refuge. I probably need to go there. I need to reclaim my spiritual life from the church failures, neglect and mistreatment.

    I'm also feeling like the words are flat...because if you SAY we are "all about love" but don't show it in actions....or it's only limited to 1.5 hours a week on Sundays....it feel hypocritical to me. After having been married to a narcissist, possible sociopath, it is jarring to not see more integrity behind the words.

    We need to love in ACTIONS and recognize that some of us come into church- broken, in a million pieces, and be willing to walk along side. Even if just to hug, listen and, " I am so sorry and I will be praying."

    1. I am so sorry to hear your experience has been this and please know that you're definitely not alone --- I've received messages from readers stating very similar experiences, especially those who have been in narcissistic/abusive marriages.

      I agree, the church is often very much pro marriage and it can leave many others feeling like outsiders through no choice/ or fault of their own. No one asks to be in these damaging marriages, no one asks for the depression that may follow nor any other life trial that impacts... it is so important for churches to realize that like us Jesus expects them to love & include all not a select few.

  2. Thank you for putting into words the mixed emotions and conflict some of us have had about church. Your writing is lovely.