Churches are flawed.
Every single church is broken in various ways and differing degrees. Yours. Mine. Yes, even the “better” ones. But you already knew that. You’ve probably seen your fair share of broken relationships, questionable leadership, church division, and maybe even a church split. I’ve seen my fair share as well, as have countless others. This is why church bashing is so vogue for some and a polarizing topic for others.
Yet even more polarizing can be the actual response to church brokenness itself. Some have chosen to turn a blind eye to real issues to keep church their “happy place,” while others have chosen to be swallowed up under the tidal wave of bitterness and cynicism.
Surely God has more for His people and I believe He does. God isn’t asking you and me to ignore the harsh and painful realities of imperfect churches. God welcomes candor with a spirit of genuine love and concern. But God doesn’t intend that we despair in hopelessness either. Instead, I believe God may be asking us to wrestle through reality with deeper realities. To put it another way, He wants us to allow our worlds to collide with His Word so that we might view our churches through God-centered glasses, to see the church not only as we see it, but the way He sees it.
In this way, heavenly and earthly perspectives share in a waltz of pain and mourning, but also hope and love for His Church. Both realities are present, and one doesn’t erase the other. Instead, God’s truths have a way of bending the way we see our fallen reality, as they bring a redemptive curve to our worldview, making earth not just livable, but beautiful.
The Apostle Paul dealt with this duality in a fascinating way in a letter he wrote to an ancient church. On the one hand, Paul deals with reality in addressing a relational conflict within church members (Phil 4:2). Yet a few verses later, he instructs the church to dwell on things that are "true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise (4:8)”.
He doesn’t ask the church to deny the reality. He just asks the church to lean into greater realities.
Your personal wrestling with the church may be a long journey.
So here’s a short list of 10 encouragements to lean on along the way:
1. Your church has drama and the Spirit-inspired New Testament writers knew this would happen. That’s why they talk so much about unity! You may be surprised by drama, by they (and the Holy Spirit) were not.
2. God is not blind to your church issues. He’s even more hauntingly aware than you are. (See: Rev 2-3)
3. A church that does not meet our expectations is not the end of the world, but it may be the end of a poor expectation.
4. Your spiritual growth requires some church messiness. Messiness is a platform through which the gospel you claim to believe gets exercised. And if the gospel is lived out, your endurance and demonstrated grace through the messiness becomes evidence of spiritual growth.
5. Church leaders are also wounded people who wound people. And many of them are aware and grieved by their actions.
6. Even the most broken church belongs to God as His prized possession. (See 1 & 2 Corinthians)
7. God is not asking you to be the savior of your hurting church. Jesus already died to save her. You’re invited to pray and play your role as a member. The pressure is off; your participation is on.
8. Despite its many flaws, the church is still being used by God to display the beauty of Jesus and His gospel in countless unseen ways all over the world.
9. Your church presently has some godly and faithful men and women. Praise God for them! Thank them for their faithfulness!
10. The gates of hell will not prevail against the Church. Jesus said He will build it and He has never broken a promise. (Matthew 16:18)
Pastor Steve Bang Lee is the College Pastor and Teaching Ministry Lead at Living Hope Community Church in Brea, CA. He received his B.A. from Cal Poly Pomona and M.Div. from Talbot School of Theology. Steve also serves on the Board for CCM (Crossroads Campus Ministry).