To those you are struggling with trust. To those who are struggling with church. And to those who are struggling with believing God is good because of hurt. This is for you, from someone who gets it.
I grew up going to many different churches. Someone once asked how many I thought we had gone to, and I couldn’t even begin to count especially since many we were only there for one Sunday. There were only a handful of churches we attended longer than a couple of Sundays and even fewer we attended several months or a year or so. I’ve had good experiences and seen the amazing way different Christians worship and grow in the Lord. It has taught me a lot and given me such a love for the universal body of Christ. But I’ve had my not so great experiences too. And through all those experiences, including the not so great ones, I have come to understand that there is a difference between a church that is a biblically based church and a biblically based healthy church.
With the recent news of all the abuse that has taken place in churches and everything with #metoo and #churchtoo you might be struggling with stirred up emotions with your own hurt whether it’s from abuse or even gossip or whatever it is. Being hurt by people hurts, and being hurt by the church somehow seems to sting even more. I get it.
It’s difficult when things like abuse happen especially in places we are told are safe. And even more difficult when it is among people who are to represent things of Christ. When things like this happen in church it can sometimes leave you with trust issues and doubting God too. I get it. I have been there. I have questioned if God existed or if He even cared. I questioned that if Christianity was true and this was what represented Christ and Christianity, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be part of it. Because of what happened at one church we went to specifically along with some other circumstances outside of the church, I walked away for awhile. That hurt is real and deep.
When my family and I started going to a church again, I walked into the youth group with a ton of hurt and major miss trust. I argued everything the youth pastor said even if it was mainly in my head. I was a girl who had a million walls up and was determined never to attend a church again, and never to be a Christian. Yet here I am writing to you as someone who has attended the same church for eight years this spring and I am also a Christian. So what changed and how?
When I was in my junior year of high school is when we started attending this church that loved me back to Jesus. From the minute I walked through the doors to the youth group I knew something was different. Somewhere deep down I knew my life was going to change too. This church and youth group welcomed me with open arms. They genuinely cared about me. When I pushed back with my walls and defenses they didn’t get offended. They just kept loving me. What really hit me is the youth pastor. He was the first pastor I’d ever known that hadn’t gone to seminary, he was down to earth, and had so much wisdom, and Biblical knowledge. What was even more surprising is that he constantly encouraged us to verify what he was saying to make sure it’s in line with the Bible. He talked about how we can understand and study the Bible just like he did; that we didn’t need a fancy Bible degree to have a personal relationship with Christ. He and the other leaders also calmly answered my questions even when I was worked up and in fiery teenage girl mode. They helped me see that God still loved me and wanted me back. They helped me realize that how people act and the ways they hurt us doesn’t reflect God. People are imperfect. The church is made up of people and they will hurt each other from time to time, but that is not a characteristic of God.
Eventually God moved me onto another church that was closer to where I was going to college. That church broke down even more walls and helped me begin to see that church could be a family. That church was very small, which created a close knit space for me to begin to open up. I began to learn what it was like to trust people in a church enough to connect to them. I also start to explore asking questions about God and the Bible without fear of having them shot down. I was heartbroken when the building we were meeting in was sold and since we were so small, we had to go to different churches.
I then started going to several different churches. They were all Biblically sound, had the gospel and the Bible at the center of what they believed and taught. But when you have trust issues, committing isn’t easy.
I went one Sunday to a new church. There was something different from the others. I had been praying that God would lead me to a place to call my church home again, but I was hesitant. When I walked in to this one it felt like home.
That feeling didn’t mean I immediately started opening up and connecting. It took a while to get there. And it took years to get to a point where I actually fully trusted the leadership and the people who kept loving me and being there for me even through all my trust issues. They were there for me through so much pain and heart break. They were there through my best and my worse. And they continue to be there for me. But trust takes time, and even now, when things like what has recently been all over the news, those trust issues come back up. It is in those moments I like to remind myself what a healthy church looks like, or what characteristics a healthy church has.
Characteristics of a Biblical and Healthy Church:
-Biblically based church. This isn’t a guarantee, but it is a must and a good start. They need to have the Bible at the center of everything they do and every doctrine they have.
-Grace focused church. A church that often communicates the Gospel and especially God’s grace. Not only do they talk about God’s grace often, but encourage grace between brothers and sisters in the church too.
-They practice healthy and biblical conflict resolution. A church is made up of people. While we are to strive to be like Christ we are human and will fall short of that. That means there will be conflict, but it is how that is dealt with is what is important. A church that has a general atmosphere of gossip or people that make a pattern of complaining about leadership or things may be red flags. On the other hand if you go to church that has things being said or are happening that aren’t biblical and the majority of the congregation dismisses it to, it must not be that big of an issue to God because the pastor or leadership doesn’t think so, should be cause for concern too.
-Do they welcome new people and genuinely greet them. It is not only the church greeters responsibility to greet new people! And while being close with your fellow church members is important, it is not a closed group club.
-Does the pastor and leaders encourage you to verify what they are saying in according to the Bible?
-Are the pastors and leaders accessible? Are you able to ask them questions.
-Do the people in the church love each other? Do they care for each other, spend time outside of Sunday morning with each other, and are they there for each other in prayer and practical ways when possible?
-Basically, read Acts and see if the church is following the model for the early church as much as possible…in a nutshell.
This is not an exhausted list, but these were things that I looked for when I was looking for my church family.
I share all this with you because I want to encourage you that finding a church home if possible and should be a priority in your life. God makes it clear that being committed to a church home is imperative to your spiritual life.
Hebrews 10:25 New Living Translation (NLT)
25 And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.
Acts 14:23 New Living Translation (NLT)
23 Paul and Barnabas also appointed elders in every church. With prayer and fasting, they turned the elders over to the care of the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.
It maybe really hard to think about going to church once you have been hurt, but it is important. Also, please, no matter what you may have been through in relationship with church, it is not God. What I mean is that yes, the church is to be a picture of Christ, and imperfect picture, but God isn’t imperfect. God is not like people. He will not hurt you like people will. His heart breaks when ours does. And we cannot base our relationship with Christ on what has or has not happened in church.
Give yourself time, and give God the opportunity to lead you to a place where you can learn to trust again. A place where you can grow in Christ, be challenged, and encouraged in your relationship with God. A place where you can learn to love people and learn to let people love you. He did that for me and I know He will for you too!