There’s a church near our home that uses their marketing to specifically target people who have had bad experiences with church. Basically, it reads like this: “Turned off by racists? Come try our church. Told you’re not dressed up enough? Come try our church. People staring at your tattoos and piercings? Come try our church. Judged between the parking lot and the front door? Come try our church.”
I know what this church is trying to do, but I feel like creating an “us vs. them” attitude isn’t helping the conversation. It forgets that we’re all at different stages of our faith journey. While it doesn’t excuse the racism, the other items are negotiable and it’s up to God to change the heart.
There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.–1 Corinthians 12:6 (NIV)
And yet, I’ve gotta be honest, I’ve been struggling a lot lately with how I’ve been treated by the church. The more I thought about it, I’ve been struggling most of my Christian life with how I’ve been treated by the church. Since we’ve gone to three different churches during my Christian life, I knew there was one commonality.
Look at your responsibility first. Jesus says, in terms of our relationships with others, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” Matthew 7:3 (ESV) The log in your own eye is of greater importance to solve.
Do you generally arrive late to church? Do you have a bad attitude at church? Do you avoid serving at church? Are you in a race to the parking lot after church? If you answer yes to questions like these, it is probably that your heart is not in the right place when you’re at church, and you need to tend to that problem.
Jesus also tells us that the Gospel can only work on our hearts if the seed is planted in good soil (Matthew 13:23). What are you doing to tend to the soil of your heart to make sure that the seed can bear fruit?
Look to fellowship. If you can truly examine yourself and determine that you are putting yourself physically and spiritually into your church, then examine the fellowship that you have with the other believers there. Again, if you are rushing to the parking lot or not talking to anyone at church, then how can you say that others ignore you.
Try this experiment: pick out one person you know and two people you don’t know at church on Sunday. Just say “Good morning” to them and make sure you’re looking straight at them. I am introverted myself, so this is my own medicine here. Once you’re able to do that comfortably, you can start introducing yourself to the people that you don’t know.
Here’s the thing: if your church doesn’t handle fellowship well, then be part of that change. If you’ve been a victim of being new and awkward, then why perpetuate the status quo? Why continue doing the same things repeatedly and expect different results?
Even better, if you know your church doesn’t handle fellowship well and needs to change in that area, then what about organizing others to improve fellowship? So often, church leadership is criticized for not creating this program or that opportunity… here’s a news flash: they may not have time for that. If you think it’s so important, you do something about it.
Pray for your church. Pray for your pastor. Pray for the leadership. Pray for the staff. Pray for the worship leader with the cheesy smile. Pray for the guy who directs traffic (if your church is fortunate and large enough to need one). Pray for the couple who leads your children’s Sunday school class.
Pray for the old lady that gave you the stink-eye last week. Pray for the guy who always ends up behind you and sings too loud and too off-key and whacks you in the head every time he raises his hands to worship. Pray for the people you see who look like they feel out of place.
Pray for the people you know. Pray for the people you don’t know. Pray for the people you don’t like. (What?) Pray for your church.
I’m sensing a pattern here.
Examine the church culture. If you feel unloved by your church, your last option should be to leave. God hates divorce, and leaving a church is a lot like a divorce if it’s not for the right reasons. You may have an issue with a church, but you should talk to someone in leadership if you feel like there is no other choice but to leave.
The root of the Gospel is reconciliation. Jesus died on the cross so we could be reconciled with God, which we were unable to do in our own works. You may be trying in your own works to solve a problem that can’t be solved without help, either through leadership stepping in or even in prayer.
If you don’t like the preaching in your church, that’s a nice excuse for Sundays, but what are you doing on the other 6 days of the week to make up for this perceived lack of Bible teaching? Your pastor is only responsible for one day of the week of your Christian life. Get the other days of the week in order, and then maybe you can complain.
If there are doctrinal issues, and if you believe something that your church doesn’t believe, then you should absolutely go elsewhere. It is too divisive to remain in a church that doesn’t share your theology. If you’re in a church that flat-out teaches something against Scripture, then the Bible tells you to avoid them (Romans 16:17).
I’ve left church on both good and bad terms. If you do leave a church, avoid gossip. Don’t slander church leadership. Don’t nitpick what you didn’t like about the church and broadcast it on Facebook. Human nature is to try to get others on our side so we look like we were right and the church was wrong and we aren’t the guilty party and we won the argument.
News flash: human nature is also sin.
I didn’t think I would end up writing so much on this topic. I originally wanted to title this post, “When your church hates you” but I think that plays into the attitude that I talked about at the beginning. If you think a church hates you, it’s usually because some offense or slight has been overplayed in our heads, and not because of actual hatred coming from the church.