I guess I should hate the church. I’ve seen hypocrites. My dad got fired from a church and I was treated badly by the church members. I was ostracized by part of my youth group growing up and I saw my family suffer financially because my dad was in a ministry job instead of something else. I’ve had unrealistic expectations placed on me my entire life by people from church. In the ministry I’ve had good friends stab me in the back. Hurting people have spread vicious rumors about me. I’ve had people slander me endlessly for making what I know to be the right decisions. I’m used to getting second guessed at every turn and I realize by now nobody likes to be told they are a sinner. I guess I should hate the church… but I don’t
The determining factor is that through it all I saw something real. Growing up my family was far from perfect but I did see a sincere faith in my parents. I was challenged to memorize scripture. I still remember the day out on the swing when I was about four years old and my dad challenged me to memorize John 3:16. I remember walking by my parent’s bedroom and hearing them pray for my siblings and myself (they didn’t know I was listening). I remember the family prayer time where we discussed the bible. It never seemed like we were just going through the motions. There was always something real there.
Then there were the times that my parent’s faith just seemed to bleed out in everyday living. Like when my dad picked up a rough looking hitch-hiker with me in the car. Later I asked him if he was scared and he said something like you should never let something scary stop you from doing the right thing… God is in control. (Years later I would pick up a rough looking hitchhiker named David who would pray to receive Christ in my truck as a result of seeds planted by my parents).
Then the advice my parents gave always seemed to revolve around the scripture. During my passage into manhood my dad encouraged me to read the bible for myself and believe what it said rather than what he or any other man would say. This gave me freedom to form my own theology dependent from my father and have a ready defense for my faith that wasn’t based on a family tradition. Similarly when I went into the ministry my mother said that there are a lot of distractions out there and to keep it about the book. She freed me to love God by loving his word and the singular focus on his word in the ministry lead to my own conversion.
Through the years I’ve learned and continue to learn to forgive people. That church that fired my dad… I walked in one Sunday night a few years later and shared the hurt I suffered and forgave them. Then I laid hands on their pastor and prayed a prayer of blessing over him and the entire congregation. The financial suffering I learned was all a matter of perspective, we were richer in the things that mattered than I had realized. I pulled aside the folks spreading rumors and told them that I forgave them. And the folks who slandered me, I had a conversation seeking reconciliation. With every major hurt I have sought the uncomfortable conversation of reconciliation and by God’s grace, He has won every time. And I remember the words of my father, “don’t let something scary stop you from doing the right thing.”
Yes the church is full of hypocrites and some of them really do have unrealistic expectations of pastors and their families, but none of that negates the work of Jesus Christ in my life. You see He’s real no matter how church people behave. And if we’re telling the truth the best place for hypocrites and backstabbers and people with unrealistic expectations to be, is church. They need to be reminded of the gospel. I know I do and though I wouldn’t like to admit it, there have been times in my life when I’ve been the hypocrite, back stabber and imposed unrealistic expectations on others.
So I’m not bitter about the church, I’m hopeful. I’m hopeful that all of us will be presented complete in Christ one day. All these little things that have caused so much pain will be purified in the presence of Christ the king. We’ll carry only the scars to remember how the gospel came to us through nail pierced hands and feet. No more pain, only rejoicing.