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Heartache for the Church

Some days, my heart aches so much for the church that tears sting the corners of my eyes. Today is one of those days.

It seems to me that the church should be a place that—more than anywhere else—helps people flourish, freeing them to be the people that God created them to be. Can you imagine the church helping people find their identity, purpose, and mission and setting them free to live in radical, kingdom ways?

When I catch a glimpse of that vision, my heart leaps with joy. And to be clear, there are churches that are doing that. I hear stories all the time of church done well, and I praise God for that.

But to be honest with you, I hear more stories of churches, ministries, and organizations holding people back. Today has been filled with those stories. And it makes my heart ache and my fingers tremble. Because I know these leaders love God. They want to follow him and lead others to follow, too. They have good intentions. And yet rather than empower people, they shut them down.

In the last week, I’ve heard a pastor talk condescendingly to the introverts in his congregation for not welcoming people at the front door enough, read part of a book about “the proper roles” of Christian men and women, and seen social media posts from Christians who openly explain that they will not associate with people who are different from them—especially with people who are gay.

It tears me up inside. This version of Christianity displayed in countless ways is incredibly stifling. And it looks nothing like Jesus.

It causes me to examine my own blind spots, my own tendencies to stifle rather than free others, and my personal pet peeves and hot buttons. It reminds me to ask, What’s my role in changing this, and what do I need to give to God?

This is my most common argument with God: What were you thinking letting us run your church? Why have you let us pervert your message? Why have you allowed so much harm done in your name?

Free will certainly has its price.

On my better days, though, I’m filled with hope. There are stories around the world of people who get it. Leaders who are empowering God’s people to live in radical ways that make God known in their communities. Writers who are calling God’s people to repentance. Christ-followers who are sacrificing so they can be radically generous. Pastors who are helping people cut through the lies and grab hold of the Truth. It’s happening at a grassroots level everywhere you turn.

What I’ve learned from my arguments with God is that he is bigger than all the bad. And I have to trust in that. I know that somehow he’ll work it all out in the end. Some days I just wish he’d work it out now—before more harm is done.

Until then, I’ll keep working on my own sin-filled heart. I’ll keep praying for the wrongs I see. I’ll advocate for the people I come in contact with. And I’ll seek to be a different portrayal of Jesus in my own community.

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