People do stupid stuff. They say the wrong things. They’re clique-y and exclusive. They fail to offer a smile or speak to you when you walk by, even if you smile or speak first. Sometimes they’re envious, judgemental, gossipy, and self-righteous.
Oh, and I’m talking about some people at church.
Yep, we got mad at church people once, and we stopped going. Couples our age failed to include us in get-togethers and activities. Everyone seemed so warm and attentive to others but rarely to us. We tried going to the old folks Sunday school class, because they seemed more inclusive of us, but a few folks made comments and questioned why we would go to “that” class. When we asked about it all once, we were told, “You guys just don’t appear to need anybody or anything.” There was more. We were over it. Eeek.
We visited a few churches after that in hopes of finding a new church home. Sometimes we would enter the sanctuary sort of half lost but plenty hopeful, and we would leave the sanctuary officially lost and even less hopeful. Nobody would speak to us, not a soul, not even a hello. Other times we would walk in and immediately get hit with an invitation to come to a backyard cookout (ok maybe, this could be a good way to meet people) for $30 per couple (no, we’re certainly not going to pay to meet people).
It was just weird. I started to understand why people give up on church, reject the idea of organized worship, or Heaven forbid, throw out any desire they might have had to seek God. I mean…even I got discouraged watching His people behave like that.
I learned, though, that we are ALL His people, even the crappy ones. Churches are not elite halls of righteousness and piety. They’re full of sinners and screw-ups. You might even find recovering addicts and former prison inmates. Even worse, you might run into some haters, some gossips, and a few old grouches.
Our experience taught us not to build up churches and church people so much in our minds, holding them to some higher moral standard. Churches and church people are imperfect, just like WE are imperfect. It also taught us that we might need a new circle of support, encouragement, and activity in which we can grow and share together. Some smalls groups and church experiences truly run their course as we get older, our kids grow, our lives change. We learned to place our priority in worship and spiritual growth (not people!), personally working to be better as individuals and as a family, as well as finding new ways to fill our souls.
Should you immediately leave a church when someone hurts your feelings? I wouldn’t think so. Is it necessary to hop from church to church every time you get your feelings hurt? Definitely not. Will someone step on our toes in the future? Most assuredly.
I offer this to just encourage you to think about trying again. If church people hurt you, know that it’s because they are just normal folks who messed up. There ARE good people at church who want to welcome you and love on you, laugh with your kids, and encourage your family. There ARE good pastors and church leaders who work to foster an environment of worship and discipleship, humility and grace, respect and inclusion. Maybe you just lost it for a while, and you need to try to find it again. That’s ok.
Go back. People watch. Smile a lot. Sing loud, and listen to every word the preacher says. See how people get on. Shake a random hand, and wait for the response. Try it all on for a week or three, and if it doesn’t fit, take it off, and try on a new one. Pray about it. God will most certainly put you right where He wants you.
And hey…if you read this far, and you ain’t down with church or God or any of this because people suck, I hear you. I can totally understand how you feel that way. Let me assure you that if you’ve had terrible experiences with churches or church people, I understand that, too. And if God isn’t listening to you, hasn’t helped you, is a made-up fable we’re all just rambling on about, whatever, I even understand why you feel that way. I get it.
Finally…to those of you believe in God but aren’t about organized religion, you can worship in the woods when you’re hunting, on the lake when you’re fishing, at the kitchen table with your Bible…fine, fine, fine. Those are all points, and you are not wrong. Just know that you have to do a little more than believe IN God. You have to BELIEVE God. Knowing Him and trusting Him are two entirely different things. Showing up is important, too.
Reach out to me. Tell me. Unload. Open up, and spill why you’re mad at church, church people, and God himself. I want to listen. It CAN get better. Church CAN be a good place. Church people CAN be good people. God CAN hear you. I love you and your soul, and so does He. You CAN find that peace (and that piece) you’ve been missing.