topics:
Hope

When we left “the ministry” after our first year of marriage, when Seth started law school and I the MFA in Poetry, we were so church sick, bone-weary soul sick, and we’ve found that this sickness is not unique to us, especially in our online community. More times than not, I’m coming across deep wounds, people left in a numb wake or angry at what should have been but wasn’t.

We had started to say to ourselves that there are only so many times you can watch the innocent fall or we can only swallow so many fakes. We judged the judgers. We made fun of the so-called righteous, said, “we’ll show them,” our secret sin of pride growing thick with jadedness and sarcasm, breeding other secrets.

Underneath was an ache, the desire to belong and be loved, and through a long painful process that continues today, God is showing me and Seth the beautiful church, the mourners, the hungry, the weepers, the lonely.

He surrounded us with what some call a small group (life group or cell group), our Community Group and other friends who live as part of our family. These are people who have experienced such pain and such redemption, coming to us not as the answer to our pain but rather as people who join us in our pain. They join us there, and we sing from low position, how in this world we will have promised trouble, promised peace.

They show me the Not Yet, But Already (the Both/And) of God, how He is still so so good. We scrub house together, even though everything just gets dirty again. God is still so good, though what I used to call the church proved false.

Salvation belongs to the LORD and to no other, they sing it to me. He’s coming for us, they sing it to me. This is His mercy, that all else fails.

Our family, the church, has entered life with us and given us such fresh perspective though they’ve seen with their very eyes last breaths, warring children, slavery, and starvation. Confession is the norm here, doubt, unbelief, struggle.

And as a woman working out my salvation as best I can, I’ve seen gorgeous God unfold in their healed faith, their honesty and humility – oh the beautiful church, there. I’ve had my pride revealed so gently, the hurt break open inside me, so that I long for my heavenly home with such zeal that this world is losing it’s delicious charm.

It is intoxicating to witness Hope, one tiny fleck of scale falling from my eyes at a time.

How we worship, how we don’t ignore the suffering, acknowledge the pain involved in this life and acknowledge the true Christ-Peace in the midst of it. We see each other, and we know it still hurts. We sit together in it – Pain and Peace, all at once. Peace is not pain-free, but the pain is transformed.

Those of us who endure the most pain here – not trying to find a way to keep from it, ignore it, or get around it – those of us who enter and endure it within ourselves and for others, we are the ones in the low trenches. Those of us in last place here, we will one day be first. We see pain in this world now, but I believe a time is coming that we’ll be first to experience what it’s like to be completely whole, when the “not yet” finally Is.

And just knowing that one thing helps us to say that It Is Well With Our Souls.

Praise God for the beautiful church, her (his) beautiful feet! It’s not just what happens on Sunday. This is our small group (it’s to hear, not to watch) on one Wednesday night. We do this every week, and I look forward to it all week long, count the days till I get there.

Tell us your story of the beautiful church. So many of us need to hear it.

By: Amber Haines

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  • http://pollywogcreek.blogspot.com Patricia (Pollywog Creek)

    Beautiful, beautiful story, Amber. Thank you. Our gracious and merciful Lord redeems all…including the church we have broken…and I see it everywhere…where Truth is spoken, but in LOVE…and it is fleshed out in a small group of kindred spirits and hearts where masks are revealed and peeled away, and burdens carried, and we finally KNOW freedom…and then we see the church beautiful. Oh, how I love the Body of Christ.

    • http://theRunaMuck.com Amber Haines

      Patricia, me too. Thank you for this.

      Also, I just attached the video. It didn’t post earlier.

      • http://pollywogcreek.blogspot.com Patricia (Pollywog Creek)

        Amber, that was beautiful. Thanks for letting me know.

  • http://kendalprivette.blogspot.com kendal

    hope is intoxicating….yes. we left our church of 17 years only 14 months ago. god called us to this heartache. and where i least expected blessing is where i found it most – in my children’s lives and in a small group. where we lay it out. and i read this in ephesians today. paul writes about the people, the church: “And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” god. desires. to. dwell. with. US. as a church. and it’s happening in that group. amen.

    • http://theRunaMuck.com Amber Haines

      THis is like when Jesus told the woman at the well that a day was coming we’d worship in Spirit and truth – not in one particular spot. He is WITH us, and so it is well.

      I adore you, Kendal. I added the video that hadn’t gone up earlier.

  • http://babs1197@gmail.com Barb

    Thank you for your post. We were hurt by our church of 13 years about 3 years ago. We still have not found our place. It’s a little harder since we live in a small town. This post and responses give me hope. It is so hard to trust again, though. I am just so tired of reading and studying and hearing about what the church should be, but when it really gets down to it, it’s not. And, we are never going to be, I realize that, but at least to acknowledge that we arn’t and work towards it. Be honest about it. I read the Bible, then assume a certain response, then I wonder “are we reading the same manual?”

    • http://theRunaMuck.com Amber Haines

      Healing from this same thing has been the most intimate thing we’ve experienced with God. I think it has to do with realizing my own depravity in the mix while simultaneously realizing that we ALL have imputed righteousness in Christ. Sometimes you don’t call it like YOU see it. You call it like HE sees it.

      Oh wow, is that a battle, but I think it’s worth it.

  • http://www.joyinthisjourney.com Joy @ Joy In This Journey

    I read something recently that pointed out we like to talk about church as family, and then we expect it to be a perfect one. Expectations — they will make or break us. Our own families are far from perfect, are they not? Yet we persist, we forgive, we ask forgiveness, and we keep going. We don’t expect perfection out of our families (at least, we know we shouldn’t). I’ve been trying to look at my church family this way and it is helping. We’re all in process, we’re all growing at different paces, we all take more steps backward than forward, and we all need unconditional love along the way. I’m trying to lay down my expectations and just love. It’s tough and painful and sometimes I want to walk away. But I’ve been encouraged by the way they continue to stick with me despite my own flaws and baggage and unpleasantness. And it gives me a longing for the day when Christ returns and makes his bride, His church, perfect.

    • http://theRunaMuck.com Amber Haines

      Amen and Amen, Joy.

  • http://rachels-ramblings-2.blogspot.com/ Rachel

    Oh how I LOVE this post! You’re so right – there are so very many of us who have been wounded by their church; “left in a numb wake or angry at what should have been but wasn’t”. And that’s so important to say, isn’t it? Too often the Deceiver silences those of us who are wounded by hissing that we are alone in our pain.

    When our family was cut open and left to bleed out by our church, the pain and betrayal was so deep I didn’t know if I would ever love ‘the church ‘ again. But I knew I could cling to God! And I did; laying fetal-curled and straining to hear the ‘plans to prosper and not to harm you’ beat of his heart. He did. And He has. We have been led to a new body and a wonderful small group and we have seen such healing and such growth – more growth than we could ever have experienced in the old life we loved. Broken bones really DO rejoice, don’t they? It really is ALL grace!

    • http://theRunaMuck.com Amber Haines

      Yes, it really is, Rachel. Broken bones and all.

  • http://howtotalkevangelical.addiezierman.com Addie Zierman

    When we are the dark spaces of life, this is what we crave, what we need. Not programs, not activities–(thinking about this on my own blog today, that rotten phrase “Get plugged in!”) What ministers, what eventually heals us is this collective brokenness, this honesty, this grasping toward grace.

    • http://theRunaMuck.com Amber Haines

      YES! Not programs. Not activities. Entering into each other’s pain and entering into the pain within our communities and out into the world, that’s what makes us reflect Christ to one another.

  • http://whoivealwaysbeen.blogspot.com Carolyn Counterman

    Amber, first I want to say that I’ve heard you mention “It Is Well With My Soul” before and now every time I think of it/hear it, I think of you. It’s a good thing.

    I’ve been hurt badly so many times in church that I finally (after a good, long time) stopped associating the hurt with church and started associating the hurt with our broken human condition. That change in perspective changed everything else as well. I still shy from going to church buildings and have a prescribed format followed all of the time instead of being in a place where we can find out what is going on and what the needs of the group are. I don’t know that that is good (or bad). It is just where I am at right now. Thank you for always sharing your heart on these things.

  • http://betty-wiseheartedwomen.blogspot.com Betty Draper

    Almost every day we run into someone who has been wounded by a church, individuals in churches I should say and since we have been through it our selves we just listen, try not to judge, try not to agree, sometimes we share our story, sometime not. But EVERY TIME we take them back to the truth that life is in Christ. That the suffereing they have experienced is exactly what Christ experienced….and He gave us the the example on the cross…Father forgive them, they know not what they do. Those that hurt us really were used of God to force us to search out truth for ourselves…to hide ourselves in Him like a thief hides in a cave. My husband was fired from his position by the pastor for standing up for what was right and we have never regretted that firing. Actually it was God kicking us out for had He not we might still be there. It took a year to heal and forgive and let God use the suffering we went through to help others. This not only happens in church but also in christian organzations…missions…even in small groups….for life is not in any of those, life is in Christ. We are all frail and only He can take a frail vessel and and use it for His glory. Great post, much needed post…lots of hurting people out there that have been left in shreds and we who have allowed God to repair us need to reach out to them, spread the hope around.

  • http://graceirl.wordpress.com Cathy (graceirl)

    This is such a beautiful picture of what the church is meant to be like. I don’t currently have a story to tell about the church. I’m more the one who needs to hear it. We’ve recently moved to a new church and have had difficulty finding a place to connect. ( The small groups available to us are at a time when our two young daughters need to sleep and unfortunately, we don’t know of anyone who is able to watch them.) We hope to find a small group, one where we can say “we live as part of a family.” However, your post reminded me why we should desire to pray and make it a priority to find a way to be a part of the church in this way. St. John of the Cross said, “A virtuous soul that is alone … is like the burning coal that is alone. It will grow colder rather than hotter.” I don’t want our family to grow colder.

  • http://wvgurl.wordpress.com Aimee

    Wow, this is just beautiful. As always, your words are poetry. We’ve been considering leaving our church of 11 years. We have prayed and waited, but God has not told us to go somewhere else. So we stay and wait. We’ve stepped back from committments to just be.

  • http://ifmeadowsspeak.blogspot.com/ tammy@meadows speak

    When we do church together, when we live Christ together, not just one or two days a week as a spectator sport, then we are known. And how scary is that? To be known and to know but thankfully, when we are truly church, all knowings reaching upward for Christ. This has been the humblest way to church, I’ve ever known. No buildings other than the homes of the ones we church with. But oh how God is known in the intimacy of it. Love your post Amber! I wanted to shout, “Hallelujah!”

  • http://2sweetthings.blogspot.com Mandy

    Love this! We, too, are ‘in ministry’ and have been sick of church… but thankfully we are now part of an amazing redemptive community that sounds a lot like yours. Seeing the church begin to be the Church… we are healing, breathing, living and digging in together and it’s awesome.

  • http://tracyscoffeecafe.wordpress.com/ Tracy Stoffell

    Thank you so very much for your honesty. My husband and I have also been hurt. We entered into ministry with such high hopes and excitment. My husband has been married before prior to his salvation but still he has been rejected and dejected by more than one churh. It has been very difficult for me to see this happen to my husband. We have been out of the ministry for about four years now. I say that we have been involved in church and still minister to different people just in a different setting. It has taken some time but we are healing and love the church. Again thanks for the post.

  • http://www.queenieslittlekingdom.com wanda

    Ministry (like any other job) can be toxic. My family is still on the mend from a crummy church experience. My hubby, the pastor for 6+years…left and has endured what Christians will do when the flesh runs wild.
    It’s been hardest to minister to our teen kids. {We still live in the small town we served}
    I may never understand the reasoning for all the yuckiness of it THIS SIDE OF HEAVEN….but I refuse to let it steal my love for Christ! The church is made up of “humans”. Me included.
    I don’t ever want to be responsible for turning someone away from Him and sadly many churches do that everyday!

  • http://www.creatinghomejournal.com Jamie

    Amber,
    I loved this post and how you found community in small groups! I grew up hearing about people meeting together in small groups but never made the time to be a part of one. When my husband and I experienced being a part of a small community within a church, it changed our lives! Now, we realize that small groups are just as important as the main service on Sunday or Wednesday…it is the other half of church! Acts 2:46 gives us a model of the early church meeting in the temple together and getting together in small groups inside of their homes to “do life” together. And I think that model is still relevant today.

    Thanks for this post and for speaking so highly of the church even through the hurt you have experienced. It is refreshing to hear you speak about the beauty in spite of the brokenness. I think is reflects the heart of our Savior who was spit upon and insulted and yet never waned in His love for the bride He was redeeming to Himself. So, thank you!

  • Beth W

    Not sure why some people must “run church their way” or else & ruin many a good pastor & family & even whole churches.

    We had a long standing elder in our church leave due to irrespectible people gossiping. Just about didn’t get another person elected as elder when he wanted to stand up–all because his wife was previously married.

    Fortunately our church is small & we have small groups. One in particular is women’s Bible study on Tuesdays. The women in that group can talk about & pray for anything. Everything is sacred in that we don’t reveal anything said there to anyone else.

    We have one of the best most “down-to earth” preacher & wife you would ever want to meet. They get involved in community and are regular folk. The whole church makes newbies and others feel welcome.

    Usually if a family moves into the rural neighborhood surrounding the church– the women get together and have the church make a “welcome to neighborhood” basket for the family.

    I pray for everyone–especially good preachers–that they can endure the long hours & some hassle from church members.

    God Bless

  • http://www.moniquezackery.blogspot.com Monique

    What a beautiful story of restoration. It brings so much hope!

    Since you asked us to share our story of the Beautiful Church:

    My husband and I just moved from Franklin, TN (The Bible Belt, where there’s a church on EVERY corner & so many people “have it all together”) to Richmond, California (a city known for it’s high crime rates and locals who just want to leave). So many wonder why in the world we were crazy enough to come here, but God called, so we answered. We’ve been blessed to work in a little neighborhood church where our members openly share their struggles with substance abuse, alcoholism, homelessness & illness (& many have been hurt by the church). It’s a place where the pastors can be honest from the pulpit about their own fallenness and teach the Bible from a place of humility, rather than self-righteousness. I’ve never experienced anything like it. It’s been so refreshing to be able to gather on a common ground… brokenness. And to be able to point each other to Jesus, the Healer. I’ve stopped to wonder why more churches don’t look like this, like the one you described above. My life is changing as I watch how this church family does life together. I’m soaking it in like a sponge, learning something new each day… and I’m so thankful.

  • http://www.redemptionsbeauty.com Shelly Miller

    Lovely words revealing your lovely heart. I am a pastor’s wife and have been fortunate to be part of communities like the one’s you describe, ones that hurt and ones that heal. So grateful for you, that God put you in this small group, that people are being healed, restored.

  • http:/talkthetalkkh@blogspot.com Karen Thompson

    Hi Amber, the not yet can be now, you don’t have to wait for heaven.
    The line in the Lord’s prayer, “Your kingdom come your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. Heaven is at hand, as close as the air you breath, you are supernatural being.
    I have had teaching from Ian Clayton it will blow your mind, but your spirit will love it.
    It has changed my life and how I see pain and the past.

  • http://www.stumblingaroundinthelight.com Teri @ StumblingAroundInTheLight

    Beautiful truth. We live in a small Colorado mountain town – and have found home in the vibrantly-vulnerable family of our little church. Reality trumps polish, every day of the week, as we all come together in small groups, or for helps-projects; learning to live as His hands & feet to each other and the community.
    Grateful!

  • http://www.farfromflawlesslife.blogspot.com Missy June

    I was a ministry-wife until that facade was stripped by an unfaithful spouse. Part of the healing for me was to witness the tenderness of the people who reached out to both of us in our pain, sin, disgusting mess and still embraced us – so broken, so wounded, so unable to give anything back. It will forever be my song that this group were the hands and feet of God in a tangible wy when I was most lost.

    It will forever remind me of what I need to be for others facing their own crumbling life.

  • Cheryl Youngquist

    Thank you!

  • http://www.simpleglory.blogspot.com Kendra

    This is such a sweet, encouraging post. We experienced our first real hurt a little over a year ago. It’s taken me awhile to process it. Ultimately, I think it was just sinful people dealing with sinful people and a general lack of humility on both sides. Living life as the beautiful church is so messy. We have moved on and are seeing more and more reasons why the Lord allowed that hurt to happen. I don’t know if we’re ready, yet – but we hope to get involved with a small group soon. That truly is where church life happens.

  • Carmen

    So, so beautiful. *Thank you* for sharing!

  • Angie

    Beautiful. thanks for this. I just had a tiny but very special experience of this hope-filled; smaller-group experience on Sunday and earlier this month. The first was with 2 ministers who are assigned to me who I wanted to talk to about my gifts and service; how to handle boundaries and hurtful comments. I cried and laughed during the tears as they listened and in time understood my heart – it takes faith and patience to “be” with people. But God is faithful and I am glad for the support. My other group is some girlfriends who all go to different churches – there are 5 of us – we meet monthly – for 5 years now! rotating homes – my favorite part is after all of the venting and sharing – we pray – in agreement and hope and watch and see what God does. I love Him. he is so wonderful for giving us people to share life with even though they aren’t the powerful ones -it’s him working in us all. Yay! God bless you Amber, you and your husband/family!

  • http://jasonandkelliwoodford.blogspot.com/ Kelli

    When we were in “ministry”, the best advice I heard about disillusionment with the church was this: Be the church you want to see.
    If we were all so busy BEING filled with the Spirit; BEING the blessing in the face of curse; BEING the hands and feet of Jesus . . . we would be strengthening those feeble arms and weak knees . . . and we’d be healed!
    Our story is so similar to yours. (In fact, our small fellowship is filled with many who can identify. So I sent your post to ALL of them! :))
    And we have found the same remedy: LOVE.
    Love God. Love people. Nothing else matters.

  • http://heatherlconrad.com Heather Conrad

    I absolutely love the words chosen here. I simply fe in with you. Well done. So honest. So relatable. Thank you.

  • http://digtoesin.wordpress.com Val

    I want that. Oh… How I want that. I’m just coming out of a season of deep soul-bruising from a church. It ran me ragged. It’s a loss and a hurt that people don’t really think about or talk about, but it feels like a death to me and it has cut me to the quick after several seasons of being cut to the quick in other ways.

    Your post reminds me to pray for the few to gather with… and to pray for those people to be made known in my life and to pray for the courage to enter in to that even in my/our wounded state.

  • Anna Maling

    I just love you and your beautiful words. I played the video of “It is Well” and suddenly remembered the time we sang it together at some little church in Searcy. It put a smile on my face:)

  • http://www.reflectionsofaprincess.com Jessica

    The beautiful church for me is the broken church…the place where I was taught it was okay to be broken, to cry, to need help…that freedom is worth fighting for and there’d be friends praying me through when the words won’t come out myself. The beautiful church that isn’t defined by past and sins…those who so long for wholeness they don’t care who knows about their brokenness.

    I miss this place…finding myself in a church where people are more ‘put a smile on it’ than soul-baring and, more often than not, now I find myself doing the same.

  • http://www.heidiwhitey.com Heidi White

    Thank you for sharing your broken redemption with us – what a gift to be included in your story of flawed but gracious community. Blessings to you and your family as you walk where Jesus walked – an unexpected journey of grace. Hugs.

  • http://chasingblueskies.net/ Kristen Strong

    Your writing is so gloriously rich, Amber, and you always bring me “fresh perspective.”

    Thanking Him for YOU tonight and for the gift of this post. I needed it today…

    Love you. LOTS.

    {And that hymn is my fave!}

  • Brianne

    Praying for my family & I to find a place of community like this in this world, it is simply beautiful. In real, person-to-person life.

  • http://www.drgtjustwondering.blogspot.com Diana Trautwein

    The church is most beautiful when the brokenness shows, when broken people are welcomed and affirmed, when redemption is seen in small steps as well as large, when people take the time – and the risk – to be real. Ian Morgan Cron has a wonderful novel called “Chasing Francis” which speaks to some of the issues you raise – I highly recommend it. And thanks so much for the video/audio. A magnificent hymn beautifully sung. Thanks, Amber, for cutting to the quick so magnificently well.

    • anonymous

      “The church is most beautiful when the brokenness shows, when broken people are welcomed and affirmed, when redemption is seen in small steps as well as large, when people take the time – and the risk – to be real.”

      Amen Diana!

  • LO Clement

    I have recently re-located and have yet to find real community. Thank you. The posted video really blessed my soul and helped it to be made well in the midst of change.

  • karen snyder

    We are the church not a building but a relationship with our Lord. I walked away from the watered down, sugar coated church system and found a home church and I have been set free by the truth of GOD our foundation. Its not about a position or doctrine but the WORD of GOD that we need to study to make us a better, stronger and there is no other. I miss my church friends but I have grown more since I walked away. I was searching for meat and I had to walk away from the milk to find it.

  • Anonymous

    I have been deeply wounded by the church. I am so lonely for community.

  • bj perez

    my tweenty year old daughter was lifted to heaven and i fell into a dark pit i tried to take my pain away but god let me stay i started to walk the woods then the world became a garden leaves that look like hearts some broken i gathered them i could see the unseen for me church will always be all around me were ever he walked this earth i walk now and he walks with this brocken heart holding her brocken leaf

  • April

    I can relate so well. Thanks so much for writing about this. I want community so badly, less activities to sign up for, more intimate conversation with believers. Less “I love your outfit!!!” in the hallway… More “can we pray” in the hallway… More real, less fake. Thanks for talking about this….