What happens when church goes sour?
I have gone to church almost every Sunday for my entire life. I grew up going to church, I continued going into my teen years and then into adulthood. I went to Bible College, I have been a Worship Arts Coordinator, Children’s and Families Pastor, Administrator and wife to a Music Minister over the course of the last 15 years. I have taught Sunday School, sat on Leadership Team, preached, led musical worship and taught Bible Study. I LOVE Jesus, and I love the church. I believe salvation is communal and church is central to the outworking of my faith.
But what happens when church goes sour?
After Ben and I were married, we moved back to the Vancouver area and started attending the church I grew up in. Why wouldn’t we? It was where all of my friends were and my church family, or at least that was the case before I went to college. But church quickly turned sour.
We would go and, despite being very well known in the church, no one talked to us – not one person, Sunday after Sunday. It broke my heart as I sat in the service feeling so alone, with tears streaming down my face just wishing someone would talk to me. I could sense a shallowness – this is not what God intended the church to be.
Not every church is like this though. We have also been a part of some amazing communities. University Chapel in Vancouver was better than we realised at the time but as we have been reflecting on leadership in the past year, we have come to realise just how special it was, and hopefully still is. Every leader has their shortcomings but the right attitude of servanthood and humility can overcome these. A good leader gathers a team around them that can make up the areas where they are not as strong. He or she trusts and empowers the members of their team to do their job, listen to God’s call, and act on their own God-given wisdom. Geoff, was one of the strongest leaders we have worked with. Ben and I were both employed at University Chapel and we always felt valued and appreciated.
The other special thing about University Chapel, was that when there was outreach opportunities, the whole community stepped up. As the name suggests, University Chapel was situated on the edge of the University of British Columbia campus. It was by no means a big congregation – medium at best ,BUT when summer Bible Camp rolled around, everyone stepped up. Not only that, but people hung out OUTSIDE of church – they were friends as well as fellow church members. Isn’t that what community is?
This morning, after a long Christmas season of giving it my all, every ounce of positivity and joy I could muster, church turned sour. While the circumstances are very different from the first time, the feelings of hurt, loneliness and longing were all too familiar and I dragged myself and the children (late) to church. For a long time, as I was getting ready, I contemplated going to a different church but the girls were insistent we go to our church. I couldn’t even go in. This is where most people would leave church all together – many already have.
The blessing and curse of the church is that it is made up of humans – finite beings, who fall short. It’s what makes us so in need of God but it is also what blinds us to His true nature. Sometimes, I wonder if the gospel might not be better served if humans and our need to control didn’t get in the way. I can recount many stories of individuals who grew up going to church and then, somethings happens. It might be a life circumstance, like divorce or homosexuality and they don’t feel welcome anymore. Or they might just stop going and because church is a place and not a community, nobody bothers to ask why or say, it’s okay, come as you are.
This past week, as I was looking toward a new year and dedicating it to the Lord, I caught myself. I instinctively asked, where does God fit in my life? but actually, being a disciple of Jesus means living counterculturally and asking, instead, where do I fit in God?
We live in a society that goes to church when there is nothing better to do: no football games, dance classes, brunches or sleep-ins. We try to fit God into already jam-packed lives.
What if church was a place we always wanted to go? The better option? I hope one day it is. I know one day it will be. In the meantime, please have patience with us finite humans who are called to lead the church and let’s bring a sacrifice of praise together.