Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Church Hurt and Healing

by: Emj
This post was originally published on Peri De on 27 April 2015. It is republished here with my permission. 

I spent Saturday with an interesting group of people. Diverse in age and background, all were fellow believers in Christ. But they had one thing in common.They had left the Institutional Church. Forever. Some are calling them dechurched. A recent article calls them the Dones and though they started gaining a voice in the 90’s, their message is more relevant now than ever.

They cited the following as reasons for leaving:
  • abuses of power 
  • lack of authentic relationships 
  • rote programming 
  • lack of Bible teaching 
  • manipulation used to control people 
  • the use of the American business model to create churches 

Having spent much of my youth in a church that was guilty of these injustices, I felt the frustrations of these “Dones” deeply and personally. I mourned with them and heard their stories, aware of my own pain and former isolation. Just as I would advise a friend to separate from an abusive spouse, I could not condemn these brothers and sisters for their decision to leave. They left, in reality, to keep their faith intact. Abusive churches abound, and it is tempting to drown in the discouragement of the stories and statistics. I have felt my share of anger and disillusionment and wondered if I just wouldn’t return, knowing instead that I was a member of the greater Body of Christ in the world. In light of my family’s experience, I consider it a miracle that God has brought us to a healthy local expression of the Church universal. When I spent time with these fellow broken ragamuffins on Saturday, I wished I could have brought them all to meet my church family. I wished they could enjoy what I’d been given: a rare gem of a place where freedom and community and faith are not mutually exclusive.

We are not a perfect representation of Christ. Our fellowship is full of imperfect people who need grace all the time. But I can confidently say the following: 

  • It’s not led by power-hungry men. 
  • There is no spiritual manipulation or oppression of women. 
  • I’m not any longer a slave to programs and performance. 
  • No one tries to control my behavior. 
  • I’m fed weekly by the rich text of the Gospel. 
  • It’s a safe place to struggle and fail and still be intimately loved by a family. 

No local gathering is perfect. But, rare as healthy congregations are, God is still working through this family of believers that have helped, rather than hindered, my walk with God. It’s hard to believe, I know, especially for those of us who suffer with lingering church-hurt. However, as proof of God’s grace, I’ve been collecting quotations from friends and leaders with whom I’ve been gathering for worship. These are things I hadn’t heard before and that I’m now seeing more and more to be signs of a healthy church. 

“The Church is not a courtroom, it’s a home.” 

“Your work in Christ is to rest in Him.” 

“You come here to receive gospel, safety, and time.” 

“There is no pain that God does not use.” 

“Suffering is not a sign of God’s displeasure. 
Prosperity is not a sign of His approval.” 

“Books are good for learning, but time and life are better.” 

“The temple curtain is torn by God Himself. 
Nothing now stands between you and the Mercy Seat.” 

“We are never commanded to do anything 
without first being reminded of what has been done for us. 
The doing is simply a response to what He has done.” 

“There are no deadlines on your growth. 
You are empowered to grow in the Spirit 
without pressure because He works in you.” 

“Your primary involvement in the local church is relationships, not service.” 

“The gospel can end your fear and anxiety because it assures you 
that He loves you and that now you can call Him ‘Daddy’.” 

“Elders lead, but the church family has the final say in decisions.” 

“My distorted thinking is actually a symptom of my distorted heart. 
Jesus changes my heart, not just my head.” 

“Christian maturity is not getting better at keeping the rules.” 

“Membership is a responsibility to care for one another. It’s not a club; it’s a family.” 

“You don’t have to join a Fellowship Group. 
Small groups are a place where you can connect with people to form relationships. 
If that’s happening outside of fellowship group, great!” 

“Anybody can hold a Bible study.” 

“We don’t police or act like the FBI. We have to trust!” 

“Our criteria for brotherhood is not preferences; it’s only the gospel.” 

“Our job as leaders is not to maintain a system. 
You do what works best for you, and care for one another.” 

“As leaders we are not here to tell you how to care for the poor or minister to people. 
We support you as God leads you to do that in different ways.” 

“I don’t want you to go through the motions without understanding.”

For those who have spent any time in an abusive church, I hope that these snippets of truth with resonate in stark contrast to the self-righteous song that you have been used to hearing. In my experience over the last year in this healthy body of believers, I am beginning to heal.

It is my prayer that my “done” brethren would also somehow be given healing by the grace of God.

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