I don’t go to church anymore. I’ve been hurt too many times. Is church necessary?
Yes, it is — and not just for the many reasons explored in this issue. It’s also necessary because church hurts. Many people suffer in church from judgment, hypocrisy, and abuse. People experience physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and relational damage. I’ve heard the stories and witnessed — even caused — some of the pain.
Why does church hurt so much? Three main reasons come to mind. First, church hurts because it challenges our faulty thinking, convicts us of our comfortable sins, and requires us to die to self — and that hurt can be good for us. People do suffer unnecessary pain in church, but sometimes we suffer pain because our flesh is dying. We cannot learn to love and be loved in isolation from Christ’s body. Second, church is made up of humans, subject to sin and death. Christians, while redeemed and growing, are still imperfect and prone to hurt one another. Third, church is intimate. It would be one thing if church were just a social club or a business. But it’s not; it’s relational. Our church becomes family, and we become vulnerable. We risk ourselves, and sometimes we get burned.
Thankfully, the church’s capacity to hurt is directly related to its capacity to heal. The church hurts and heals because it is a place of real-life ministry, recovery from sin, and deep relationships. First, as we minister among others in real life, we find our flesh getting hurt. That’s one big reason church is necessary: We were made to mature within Christ’s community, not alone.
Second, experiencing pain from others’ sins is inevitable in life. But church is where we find healing and hope in the midst of that pain, even the very pain we experience from others at church. You can’t escape sin and death, but you can find God’s remedy for it in Christ’s body. Third, intimacy is both high risk and high reward. Those who are closest to us are most able to hurt us, but they are also most able to heal. The vulnerability we show within the church will open us to not only great pain but also great health.
How can church be a place of great healing? First, believe that God is redeeming all that was damaged by sin and death, bringing restoration and peace. Trust Him as you await Christ’s return when everything will be made right. Second, press in rather than pull away — the natural inclination when we’re hurt. By pressing into God and the church, we find what is needed to heal. Pain experienced in church is multiplied when we leave and isolate ourselves from God and His people. Third, be willing to make difficult changes. Sometimes this means thinking new thoughts about God, yourself, and others. In other situations it means creating new boundaries in life and relationships. Other times it means building stronger relationships with those at church rather than settling for superficial friendships.
In all of this we find healing for others and ourselves. Church can be a place of great pain, but it can also be a place of great healing. It certainly has been for me. As I’ve faced the pain of a traumatic childhood and dysfunctional home, the church has become my home and family. In financial hardship and desperation, the church has supported me. When I’ve dealt with health problems, the church has provided compassionate care. The church introduced me to Christ and gave me the opportunity to minister. It has walked alongside me as I’ve grown in my relationship with Christ, helping me to overcome sin and live righteously.
As much as I’m disturbed at times by the church’s capacity to hurt, I’m continually overwhelmed by the church’s capacity to bring help, healing, and hope. My deepest relationships are in the church, my highest hopes are tied to its success, and my identity is found in its fellowship. Thank You, Jesus, for Your church!
— Elder Israel Steinmetz
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