Scattered throughout the nation, there are an untold number of disappointed, disenfranchised, wounded people who used to belong to a local church. As far as they are concerned, "Never again!"
There are many reasons for their wounds, some undeserved, and some self-inflicted.
There are those who highly admired a pastor or spiritual leader who fell off of his pedestal. The stories of sexual misconduct, mishandling of funds, and overall dictatorship (instead of leadership) are far too many in the current landscape of the American church.
There are those who expected a conflict-free atmosphere in church, only to discover that the people in there were imperfect and in need just like them. They were hoping for better.
And there are the personality and power struggles. Whose agenda will win? What true motivations are lurking behind that sweet saintly persuasion so eloquently spoken - yet full of manipulation and control? It might be discovered in a single congregational participant or it might be an entire overbearing denomination. And, yes - I admit it - the pastor may be the problem.
Unfortunately, inside of the power structures and political positions of a largely man-made church world are the formations of expected loyalties and power plays. I refer to it as the "Christian mafia." You may think I am overstating the issue. Be assured that I am not. It is not everywhere; but it is there.
Or it may be that the disenfranchised were once the disappointment themselves. Maybe they were caught in failure, or were not given much mercy for their unveiled faults. So, rather than face the rejection of Christian people, they have thought it easier to disengage and let it be.
Whatever it was that motivated the former "churchgoer," whether justified, victimized, or deserved, they took the offense and ran with it.
You, the reader, may be the one with the wound. If you are not, I'm sure you know someone who is. If you will allow me, I would like to offer some advice.
You might have to force yourself to think of me not as a pastor protecting his territory, but as a common redeemed sinner like you. I am not unaccustomed to the spiritual warfare and the crash and burn stories of the church world. Don't think I have not been shot at myself, and occasionally hit by the bullets of warring factions from both directions. It is how the Lord has led me to respond that I believe will help you find your way to a healthy re-connect with the people of God.
May I encourage you to read on with an open mind and heart.
1) You have to close your eyes to see real church.
Erase from your mind the man-made organizational structures and buildings and go back to the original intent of the God-given, Christ-led body of believers that Jesus called "church." We must rediscover the purity and power of a Holy Spirit movement that began 2000 years ago. He, the Holy Spirit, has been birthing and relationally connecting a spiritual family referred to as a "body" led by a head, who is Christ Himself.
Your connection to that body is not an option. You cannot go home, disconnect from God's people and refer to your spiritual solitude as "church." "You" are not the church because "church" is plural. The actual Greek word for church is "assembly." That requires more than one. Church is God's creation and requires our participation.
Do not be deceived by the devil's carefully crafted justifications of your tendency to disconnect and stay out of sight. Don't blame your plight on whoever may have been the offender in whatever drama you are the perceived victim of.
1 Corinthians 12:18 says, "But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased."
You are a body part, not the body. A body part removed has no blood flow or nerve connection. It will die fast.
With your eyes closed, try to see from heaven's perspective what the body looks like. Jesus is the head. Then, the rest of His body is made up of relational connections to the head where life flows. God has a plan to connect you where you fit, where you can grow in a healthy manner, and where you can be useful to accomplish the mission of Christ in a unified way with the rest of the body.
2) Healing and restoration is what God is doing in your life.
Don't fight it. Yield to the mercy and grace of God. Forgive and be forgiven. There will always be conflict in relationships. Just look at marriage. I've been married 38 years. The idea of conflict-free dissipated many years ago. Actually, God uses the conflict to form us, grow us, and strengthen us. Healing and restoration is part of the process. It will take humility and wisdom. But pursue the power of God's miracle heart-change. You can be healthy again. You are destined to live within the context God's connected body.
3) You can forgive and love without immediate trust.
Love is required. Trust is earned. Take your time in rebuilding trust with those that may have wounded you or have thrown you under the bus. Strengthen your other relationships. Stay positive. Be clear of bitterness. Love unconditionally. But do not think that you are required to subject yourself to formerly abusive relationships without an accountable process of rebuilding healthy trusts. Find leadership that you can trust. It does not have to be the same local fellowship. It does not even have to be a church that meets in a church building. But pray that you can be at peace with those where former offenses have happened, as much as is possible.
4) Get back to worship, discipleship and mission.
If you are not regularly worshiping with a group of people that are spiritually growing together and changing the world together, then you are not participating in church. Go find that group of people. God is with you and will lead you.
5) Submit to leaders who are submitted to leaders.
You cannot avoid this dynamic. God's church is made up of people who are led by leaders and learn themselves to lead. Make sure that you allow the Holy Spirit to dig deep within and deal with any deceptive rebellion in your own heart. Can you voluntarily submit to healthy friendships and leadership in your life? You can do this without unhealthy manipulation and control. The key is making sure that those who lead you are also under authority. If you are under a leader who is not under the authority and wisdom of other leaders, then you will eventually see unhealthy results. Submission is voluntary, not forced. It is a matter of the heart.
6) Be a giver of life!
Giving is what makes your life work right, and giving requires quality relationships with others. You will only be as healthy as you are connected. It is through the sincere giving of yourself that you’ll reap the benefits of the returns. Give and you will receive.
7) Keep your eyes on Jesus.
He will never fail you. His pedestal is an eternal throne. He is Lord of His church. Jesus said, "I will build My church." You can trust Him with that. You can trust Him with the building of your life in the context of what He is doing in other people's lives. It is not always pretty. It is rarely without struggle. Sometimes it is downright ugly. Keep your eyes and heart fixed on the head of the body. He will produce in you a beautiful body part that, connected with the rest of the body, will have great impact in your community and world.
Then, as Jesus said of His church, "the gates of hell will not prevail against it."
See you in church!