Recently, I was sitting at the pool with a fellow mama, sunbathing, chatting about life, and being splashed repeatedly by our energetic toddlers, when our conversation turned to the church. It was one of those raw conversations you don’t expect to have while lounging on a pool noodle and chasing a three-year-old. Yet that’s exactly where the Spirit led us that day. I was surprised by how natural and vulnerable we were with each other as we shared deep wounds we’d experienced from different churches over the years — the hurtful words that had been said about us, the people who had tried to silence us because we were women, the toxicity of certain leadership teams, and the undervaluing of pastor’s families. We both marveled that, despite the pain and rejection we’d gone through, neither of us had chosen to quit on the church. In fact, our conversation quickly turned to why we still love the church and why we believe the people of God are a mess worth fighting for.
Talking with my friend that day nourished my soul. More than once in the past, after a heartbreaking incident in the church, I’ve had friends encourage me to do the opposite: leave church altogether and take to social media to share about what happened. Drop names, I was told. Blast this mess on the internet and shame the people involved. There certainly have been occasions where I would have even been justified to publicly share the way a person or a church treated me and my husband, but I’ve never done so. Even though I’ve been deeply hurt by fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord, I love the church. And when you love someone, you don’t shame them.
My love is certainly not naive. I understand full well the church’s dark and ugly sins. This past decade alone has witnessed the #churchtoo movement, and we continue to hear stories of sexual abuse and misogyny across denominations. Racial pain is ripping through congregations, and the exodus of Black and Brown Christians is growing. Wherever you look, churches are splintering, and folks are feeling othered — even leaving the faith — because of fights over politics, theology, and more. The church is a mess right now, and the shrapnel that has exploded from it has hit me deep and personally. But despite it all, I’m committed to seeing the church flourish.
There is nothing so sweet as the church living out its calling in the world. In the Bible, the church exists to advance the good news of the gospel throughout the world (Matthew 28:18-20) and to edify believers (1 Thessalonians 5:11; Jude 20). When a church is healthy, brothers and sisters bear one another’s burdens, gently restore one another (Galatians 6:1), comfort, exhort, edify, pray for, and forgive one another. When this happens, men and women alike are treated with respect, equality, and dignity, and the body of Christ grows deeper in their love for God and each other.
I can’t say I know many churches that live out their biblical calling. The church is made of broken, messy people, which means the church is messy and broken too. But when we choose to stay in the mess and not turn our backs on the brokenness, we position ourselves to help make the church stronger. When we choose not to leave the church, we open ourselves to God’s heart to model, teach, and invite our fellow brothers and sisters to a better way.
I think of Jesus’ deep love for the church. Ephesians 5:25 says that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” The people of God — people like you and me — shamed, humiliated, abused, and killed the son of God, and yet Jesus did not burn them. Instead, He chose to lay down His life for us for our own salvation.
Of course, I’m not saying that a person who is experiencing racism or being sexually, emotionally, or spiritually abused at a church should stay as a gesture of love. Those are not safe or healthy situations, and they should not be tolerated.
However, we can love the church and also call out its sins. We may choose to attend a different congregation for our own safety or have hard conversations with elders and pastors about the culture of a church and what needs to change for all people to be welcome. We can be angry when we see people go unheard and unappreciated, while channeling that anger into productive conversations that point people back to Christ and God’s Word. When leaders do wrong, we can keep them accountable by having them step down from their position or even reporting the incident to the police, while also figuring out how to love them through the process.
Perhaps many of you have been hurt by the church like me. My encouragement for you is to keep fighting for the church. Each time the church disappoints, remind yourself of God’s heart for the church and the reasons why it exists. Consider whether He might be inviting you to stay instead of walking out on the mess and the brokenness and how He might work through you to bring healing, hope, and love.
I dream of a time when the world truly sees the love of God through the fellowship of believers, and I am committed to playing an intentional role in seeing that vision come to fruition. Let’s not give up on the church because it is still worth fighting for.Leave a Comment
Thank you for your post it is very thought provoking. Is God still there in church , I find it cold there.
Have we make God a religion and not our heavenly Father?
Thank you so much for this message. The church needs us and we need the church! As the body of Christ we are called to support and encourage one another, not just when everything is good, but even more in the messy and hard times. There are many wonderful, Bible believing churches, find one and commit yourself to supporting it. Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 18:20. Let us each pray daily for the church, that we would follow Jesus and love one another. Satan loves to cause division, but may we each strive to keep our eyes on Jesus and build up our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Beautifully written, filled with vulnerable bravery. The Church, God’s heart. Filled with so many broken sinners like me. So true. When we are vulnerable and honest and share a heart like Jesus, there is healing. So many words and actions done in the name of Christianity but are not of the heart of Jesus. May we all humble ourselves, to admit our faults, strive to grow and change and offer grace, love and mercy to ALL people as Christ offers over and over and over again to all. Thank you for this… beautiful. May God bless you and bless His Church as we seek His face and guidance being His hands and feet.
Michele Morin says
There is no wound so painful as one inflicted by a brother or sister, and the psalmist’s howls affirm that truth.
I’m thankful, though, for grace to forgive and grace to go on loving and serving the Body, knowing that my own brokenness may also be a cause for pain sometimes in the lives of others.
Beth Williams says
Society today doesn’t make it easy to be in church & love the body. There is so much anti Christian cynicism. The recent lock downs didn’t help any. People were told not to attend church & they got used to it so they don’t go back now. It is time now that Christians take a stand, attend church, get involved & show this world more of God’s love. By doing that we are opening ourselves to God & acting like the first church-meeting often & sharing everything. Thus we are teaching & inviting our fellow brothers & sisters a better way to live life.
Laurie Hayes says
Good morning, Beth! This article is about people who have been hurt by people inside their churches, yet your comment seems to be talking about hurts inflicted by (outside-the-church) society. Could you please provide some examples of what you see as “anti-Christian cynicism”? Thank you! Laurie
We left a church (for the first time not for “moving out of state” reasons) this year due to a continued lack of repentance by church leadership. It was weird and unpleasant and I hated it, but it feels good in many ways to not be supporting those various kinds of rot any more. (and the process of leaving exposed some bullying as well, which shifted me over from “is this really the right thing to do?” to “nope, not folding to that”) (and our new church preaches more Jesus and less self-help-manual, which is glorious)
And it seems like the church we left may be working on turning around! Which is great! I wish it had not taken a church member exodus (a stack of people, we have since found out, each pointing out again what they could not in good conscience continue to support things and resigning membership) for them to listen and take things seriously. And I keep praying for them as well as for our new church (and all our geographically-scattered home churches).
I guess: yes, as a default, it’s good to not leave your church unless there’s actual abuse (in which case head for the hills!). But if you do leave over matters of leadership sin and the Gospel of Christ, and if it is safe for you to do so, then *tell* them (preferably in writing so it’s harder to fudge it or misconstrue it) why you are leaving rather than just silently heading out the door, so they have a further opportunity to see the sin, acknowledge its magnitude, and repent and return to Christ. We want the whole church – every Christian and every local body, *all* the members of Christ’s body – to be healthy and in Christ, and usually that is best accomplished by staying and praying and working and encouraging. Sometimes, maybe, though, the way to get there is to leave and pray? Maybe.
Church is very personal to all of us (people say “my” church) and so we are vulnerable to being hurt. We set high expectations on the church (which as children of God we should be worthy of those expectations). I have had ups and downs with the church…but chose to extend grace. I think the “organized” church is the way to share the love of Christ. Yes, it has it’s faults . . but my Christian family has helped me through some of the hardest days of my life. I learned a long time ago the church is made up of imperfect people and no one should be put on a pedestal. Ministers, Deacons, Elders are all people. They will fail us but God never will.
Thank you So Much! This really helped me today. ❤
I enjoyed this, thanks. It has a lot of depth. We are all a collective mess with Christ at the cornerstone.
Thank you Dr Michelle.
Let’s embrace Him always, clinging in Him despite of whatever circumstances..
In His place, healings grace we received always..
Tracy Bolwyn says
Beautiful devotion and exhortation to keep connected to our church, even when things get hard. Remembering all that Christ has done for the church should prompt us to love, forgive and extend grace all the more.