Recently, I was sitting at the pool with a fellow mama, sunbathing, chatting about life, and being splashed repeatedly by our energetic toddlers, when our conversation turned to the church. It was one of those raw conversations you don’t expect to have while lounging on a pool noodle and chasing a three-year-old. Yet that’s exactly where the Spirit led us that day. I was surprised by how natural and vulnerable we were with each other as we shared deep wounds we’d experienced from different churches over the years — the hurtful words that had been said about us, the people who had tried to silence us because we were women, the toxicity of certain leadership teams, and the undervaluing of pastor’s families. We both marveled that, despite the pain and rejection we’d gone through, neither of us had chosen to quit on the church. In fact, our conversation quickly turned to why we still love the church and why we believe the people of God are a mess worth fighting for.
Talking with my friend that day nourished my soul. More than once in the past, after a heartbreaking incident in the church, I’ve had friends encourage me to do the opposite: leave church altogether and take to social media to share about what happened. Drop names, I was told. Blast this mess on the internet and shame the people involved. There certainly have been occasions where I would have even been justified to publicly share the way a person or a church treated me and my husband, but I’ve never done so. Even though I’ve been deeply hurt by fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord, I love the church. And when you love someone, you don’t shame them.
My love is certainly not naive. I understand full well the church’s dark and ugly sins. This past decade alone has witnessed the #churchtoo movement, and we continue to hear stories of sexual abuse and misogyny across denominations. Racial pain is ripping through congregations, and the exodus of Black and Brown Christians is growing. Wherever you look, churches are splintering, and folks are feeling othered — even leaving the faith — because of fights over politics, theology, and more. The church is a mess right now, and the shrapnel that has exploded from it has hit me deep and personally. But despite it all, I’m committed to seeing the church flourish.
There is nothing so sweet as the church living out its calling in the world. In the Bible, the church exists to advance the good news of the gospel throughout the world (Matthew 28:18-20) and to edify believers (1 Thessalonians 5:11; Jude 20). When a church is healthy, brothers and sisters bear one another’s burdens, gently restore one another (Galatians 6:1), comfort, exhort, edify, pray for, and forgive one another. When this happens, men and women alike are treated with respect, equality, and dignity, and the body of Christ grows deeper in their love for God and each other.
I can’t say I know many churches that live out their biblical calling. The church is made of broken, messy people, which means the church is messy and broken too. But when we choose to stay in the mess and not turn our backs on the brokenness, we position ourselves to help make the church stronger. When we choose not to leave the church, we open ourselves to God’s heart to model, teach, and invite our fellow brothers and sisters to a better way.
I think of Jesus’ deep love for the church. Ephesians 5:25 says that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” The people of God — people like you and me — shamed, humiliated, abused, and killed the son of God, and yet Jesus did not burn them. Instead, He chose to lay down His life for us for our own salvation.
Of course, I’m not saying that a person who is experiencing racism or being sexually, emotionally, or spiritually abused at a church should stay as a gesture of love. Those are not safe or healthy situations, and they should not be tolerated.
However, we can love the church and also call out its sins. We may choose to attend a different congregation for our own safety or have hard conversations with elders and pastors about the culture of a church and what needs to change for all people to be welcome. We can be angry when we see people go unheard and unappreciated, while channeling that anger into productive conversations that point people back to Christ and God’s Word. When leaders do wrong, we can keep them accountable by having them step down from their position or even reporting the incident to the police, while also figuring out how to love them through the process.
Perhaps many of you have been hurt by the church like me. My encouragement for you is to keep fighting for the church. Each time the church disappoints, remind yourself of God’s heart for the church and the reasons why it exists. Consider whether He might be inviting you to stay instead of walking out on the mess and the brokenness and how He might work through you to bring healing, hope, and love.
I dream of a time when the world truly sees the love of God through the fellowship of believers, and I am committed to playing an intentional role in seeing that vision come to fruition. Let’s not give up on the church because it is still worth fighting for.Leave a Comment