I imagine most of you are reading this because you or someone you know has been hurt by the Church. Or maybe you're a church leader who is witnessing the derailing of the body of Christ. If you have been hurt by the church, I am so sorry.
What once was a safe haven for 1st and 2nd-century Christ-followers has quickly evolved into one of the most hated bodies of people. And not only because outsiders are against the Church, no, but also because those who were once insiders have been damaged beyond repair by the body of Christ they once loved.
I have friends who are LGBTQIA+ who have been cut so deeply by Christians that they will never enter another sanctuary again.
I have brothers and sisters of color who have been ignored by their white brothers and sisters of Christ for too long and now refuse to gather with them in worship.
If your truth or theology makes people respond like this ^^^ then it is not Christ-centered.
But let's face it: The Church is an ugly body of people. It feels wrong admitting that as a pastor of a local church, but it is the hard truth I have felt the weight of personally.
The reality is this: sinful people will inevitably hurt one another. It doesn't take a Jimmy John's employee to know that truth.
In fact, as a Christian, I have personally hurt and cut people deeply. I have also been hurt and cut deeply by others as a part of the body of Christ. Because of this, unfortunately in a Post-Christian America, the Christian Church has lost its credibility.
Author of How I Became a Christian Despite the Church, Greg Austen, shares some incredible insight and data regarding people's faith in the Church:
“For centuries, Americans have seen Christians and the Church as a positive influence in the world. That is no longer the case. Today, the Church in America is facing a credibility crisis. In 1975, Gallup said 68 percent of Americans had a ‘great deal’ or ‘quite a lot’ of confidence in the Church or organized religion. Gallup’s 2019 survey found that number was 36 percent." - Warren Cole Smith, President of Ministry Watch
Church baggage is a tough pill to swallow, but it is a pill that far too many have become accustomed to taking.
What To Do If You Have Church Baggage
I'm not going to beg you to give the Church another chance. Depending on the events that led to you walking away, it would be unwise for me to encourage such a thing. Instead, I want to provide you with three next steps to take if you have Church Baggage.
1) Don't give up on community just because you have given up on the Church. You were not created to walk this life alone. One of the most beautiful things the Church does provide is a sense of belonging and community. If you need to step away from organized religion, find a community of people who understand you and will push you to grow.
2) Don't give up on the Bible just because you have given up on the Church. One of the biggest ways the Church has damaged people is by misusing the Bible to abuse and condemn people for the way they live. Yes, the Bible is filled with convicting thoughts and challenges that are sometimes offensive and hurtful. But the Bible should always be navigating you closer to Jesus, not farther away from Him. Don't take your pastor's or church's stance on a certain Biblical passage or interpretation as absolute truth. Do your own work and spend time in prayer studying the beautiful 66-book letter that we have access to.
3) Don't give up on Jesus just because you have given up on the Church. Some people will say that you can't find Jesus without the Church—I don't believe this to be true. Before Jesus established the Church, he was. Now, hear me when I say this: I wish everyone felt safe, invited, and welcomed by the Church, but that isn't the case. And so if you have been hurt by the Church, don't give up on Jesus. He isn't the one who hurt you.
I want to close by saying this: I believe so desperately in the Church. I wouldn't be a pastor if I didn't. I believe that the Body of Christ is still a beautiful and necessary thing. But I also recognize that we have hurt some people beyond reconciliation, and that is heart-breaking for me to come to terms with. Yes, God can restore any relationship, but my expectation isn't on people to give the Church another chance. It is on the Church to step up and be the Church God created us to be.
I will close with this passage from Jesus:
"And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it." - Matthew 16:18