When Church doesn’t feel like home
She said she likes Jesus, just not church. There are too many hypocrites, too much judgement and too much pain that gurgles up inside of her when she walks through those doors.
He said he didn’t need to attend a Sunday service to spend time with God. God was everywhere. He could pray on the deer stand or golf course just as easily as in a pew.
She said she’d been dragged to church her whole life. She practically lived there as a kid. She’d put in her time, and now that she was an adult, she was putting that childish pastime behind her.
He said he could watch church online on his schedule. He didn’t need to shuttle to a crowded building and squeeze into a seat to hear a sermon.
What do you do when church doesn’t feel like home? Where do you go when a congregation feels more like a place of condemnation than a community of refuge and restoration? What if you just no longer see value in gathering together?
Be encouraged by the exhortation of Scripture.
“Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage one another…” (Hebrews 10:25).
Going to church isn’t supposed to be cultural or even convenient. It’s Biblical, and that means it's God telling you to do it. But there can be a myriad of reasons why we still find it difficult to attend.
There is no perfect church
First, it is crucial to acknowledge and accept that all churches, regardless of denomination, are led and attended by imperfect people seeking a perfect God. Therefore, our expectations and hope must never be in man but always in God. Not a single fellowship has it all right.
It would be appropriate, then, to describe the Church – the worldwide community of believers in Jesus - as a body of broken, banged up people seeking soul healing from a heavenly Healer. More than a house of hallowed halls, the Church is a hospital. And while hospitals exist to repair and heal and bring relief, there will always be cases of malpractice.
There is no perfect church, as the saying goes. At least not yet. Nonetheless, the Church is the bride of Christ, His elect lady, the people God has chosen to be His spiritual doctors, nurses and rehabilitators (2 John 1:1).
What all churches (and their people) have in common
The common denominator within any church is that every single member has made a mistake and, therefore, fallen short of God’s perfection (Romans 3:23). Each and every person is in need of saving, in order to have the daily and eternal joy of being in relationship with this holy God (Romans 6:23).
Even churchgoing believers, therefore, will continue to sin and make mistakes. As my pastor says, we will never be sinless but we should sin less as we grow up in our salvation and mature in Christ.
When attending or visiting a church, we cannot be shocked that some church members may say or do the wrong thing. While this should not be the dominant experience, it will happen. You cannot allow this to dissuade you from participating in church at all. While community and accountability are crucial to the spiritual maturation process, Jesus is always the standard - not your preacher or priest or the people of God.
Don’t let those imperfectly seeking God turn you off to God.
It is safe to say the Church - your church and my church - is under construction indefinitely. There will be mistakes and flaws and even scandals, but those things can’t change who the Church is: a collection of redeemed sinners turned saints by the blood of Jesus, being sanctified into the image of Christ and prepared as a spotless bride for the return of the Bridegroom (Revelation 21:9).
Why go to church at all?
The Church is also a place where miracles happen, healing comes and lives are changed, only because of the presence of God’s all-powerful Holy Spirit. When He pieces people together, face-to-face to testify of His faithfulness and to comfort one another, the hospital becomes holy and the pieces bring peace that passes understanding.
With every ministry, every testimony, and every member, the Church is a collection of living stones being built by the Cornerstone, Jesus Christ himself. This building up of the Church and all the people in it is happening now and will continue until Jesus returns.
“As you come to Him, a living stone – rejected by people but chosen and honored by God – you yourselves as living stones, a spiritual house, are being built to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (I Peter 2:4-5).
The apostle Peter didn’t say the Church has been built or will be built but is being built. This means it is not yet complete. This means giving grace and forgiveness to one another is essential to a healthy, thriving church community. This means it needs you, a fearfully and wonderfully-made living stone that has a place - a vital piece – to contribute to the holy sanctuary.
When church hurts
I did not grow up in church in the traditional sense. I went with friends, mostly, from my Christian school, and sometimes on Christmas and Easter. I was the tag-along kid, with a single mom from a “broken home”. Little by little, I began to feel like a third wheel, an outsider of sorts on the fringe of the true church members who were living lives that seemed unattainable to me.
As a perpetual visitor, the roots of this insecurity grew deeper the older I got and began to wrap themselves around my heart and the way I viewed church: It’s a clique. It’s a good ‘ol boy system. It’s a place to be shiny but not real. Maybe this is how you view church today.
Maybe you feel like you are too broken or your situation too embarrassing or your sin too big to be welcomed into a community of Christians. Maybe someone at church has made you feel this way.
Sometimes instead of healing, sadly, church can bring hurting.
But this is never how Jesus intends His Church to be and, in many instances, is not true of churches today. My church, while not perfect, loves and welcomes single moms. It has a special place for kids of single parents – right next to the kids with two parents or foster parents or an amazing aunt or grandma – who are, incidentally, also being raised by sinners in a different kind of “broken” home.
Because married or single, we are all works in progress parenting imperfectly and fully dependent on grace even on our best day. Our congregation recently witnessed a man who had struggled with same-sex attraction be baptized and we gave him a standing ovation through wild glory cheers.
A Jesus-loving church will embrace your struggle, speak truth in love and see you through the break through, all the while never pretending to have it all together. They will celebrate with the angels when you surrender your life and your strongholds to the Lord. And they will make space for doubts and questions and stumbles.
Over the years, I have worked through a lot of these perceptions and sensitivities as my husband and I have consistently attended, given, served, and taught at our church. But sometimes it’s hard to know how deep the roots go. Lies can linger and old feelings can flare up from time to time. That is, until God reveals them and speaks straight to our hearts in the specific and tender way that only He can.
Jesus is the head of the Church and your heart
I recently had a dream where God used His Word to do exactly what it says it can do: separate soul and spirit and cut through the thoughts and intentions of my heart (Hebrews 4:12). As I churned over some church issues and tried to reconcile them with my own insecurities, I was reminded that Jesus was taken outside the city walls in Jerusalem to be crucified.
The place called Golgotha flashed in my mind. It was a graveyard on a hill used to bury decaying bones. That was where Jesus - the stone the builders rejected – was taken to die.
Jesus, the King of Heaven, felt the scorn and shame of the Jewish church, of His own family and friends. He was willingly cast out as the ultimate outsider Who took on the sins of the world. Amazingly, this was all part of His good and sovereign plan to redeem us and make way for the Church.
The next part of my dream was the father in the parable of the two lost sons (better known as the prodigal son), running out to meet his wayward son. Again, it was called to my attention that the father came outside his home to meet the son who had squandered his inheritance, disrespected his father and wasted so much time seeking the things of the world.
In His gentle yet truthful way, the Lord spoke to me through this dream to dig out the remaining roots of feeling like an outsider at church. These insecurities have no place in a place of abiding in Jesus.
When I awoke, my eyes stung from conviction. He was right. I had spent too long blaming the church and my parents and other people and a dozen circumstances for making me feel a way that only I could allow. It is true that my church is not perfect. It is true that Christians can say and do things contrary to Christ.
But my heart was renewed with a sense of longing to be faithful to my church anyway, with all its imperfections and all of mine interwoven together with the golden thread of grace. Because just as I am being refined in this journey with Jesus, so is my church.
When I let my insecurity well up inside of me to make me feel like an outsider, Jesus quickly and steadfastly reminds me that He has already gone outside the walls to bring me to the inside of His heart. He asks me to leave my dead, decaying bones on Golgotha, the place where he defeated death and said “It is finished” (John 19:30).
When I lay down my expectations, sensitivities, pride and preferences to pick up my cross and follow Jesus, church becomes home.
The worldwide Church and your church (or the one you visit) will not be perfect this side of heaven. But neither are you. Neither am I. Yet we are called to be the Body of Christ, to offer the sacrifice of humility, forgiveness, vulnerability, time, generosity, worship and service.
We are called, in fact, to love - not tolerate or ignore - the Church because Christ died for Her (2 John 1:1).
Attending church isn’t optional
She said she likes Jesus, just not church. There are too many hypocrites, too much judgement, too much pain when she walks through those doors. But Jesus said, “I Am the Door” (John 10:7). Therefore “rid yourselves of all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy and all slander” (I Peter 2:1).
We need to give all our hurts to Jesus and seek Him, the perfect Savior, over seeking a more perfect church. We must follow the example of Jesus, who modeled for us the essence of hospitality by welcoming all His image bearers to His House no matter how distorted they'd become.
He said he didn’t need to attend a Sunday service to spend time with God. God was everywhere. He could do it on the deer stand or a golf course as easily as in a pew. But God “has placed each one of the parts in one body just as He wanted. And if they were all the same part, where would the body be?” (I Corinthians 12:18-19).
The body doesn’t function well without all its parts. God created you with a specific purpose within His fellowship. If you’re not attending church, you are spiritually amputating a part of Christ’s body. Your participation, no matter how big or small, affects the body of Christ and the Kingdom of God. You are a vital part.
She said she’d been dragged to church her whole life. She’d put in her time and now that she was an adult, she was putting that childish pastime behind her. But Jesus said to “desire the pure milk of the Word, like newborn infants, so that you may grow up into your salvation” (I Peter 2:2).
We will never outgrow the Word of God or the House of God.
He said he could watch church online at a time that fits his schedule. He didn’t need to shuttle to a crowded building and squeeze into a seat to hear a sermon. But God’s ambassador in chains, Paul, knew the power of meeting in the flesh: “I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete” (2 John 1:12).
Find your home at a Jesus-loving, Bible-teaching church. Find a body of believers who are earnestly seeking to walk in the Lord’s will and do life together in a transparent and authentic way. Don’t just check the box on church. Find your refinement in the accountability and testimony of your brothers and sisters, a community of Christians where there is no condemnation in Christ (Romans 8:1).
Because “as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).
The Church is the closest thing to heaven on earth that we have. There is nothing better than a sanctuary full of believers – men and women, young and old, of all tribes and tongues – praising and worshipping the living God.
Come to church, friend. Come home and abide in Jesus.