I have many dear friends who have given up on the Church. I am incredibly sympathetic, because I have been struggling and wrestling with my relationship with the Church for several years now, myself.
These friends are across the ideological spectrum – they’re Christians of both the “progressive” and “traditional” variety, and they have different stories about their struggles with the Church.
But on the eve of Easter, Holy Saturday, as I am trying to follow God’s will to establish a local church that (God willing) is a space that seeks to be countercultural, so to speak, from the problems found in various churches across the country and world, I feel an urge to offer some tough love in kindness to those Christians riding the fence regarding their relationship with the Church.
An important caveat before beginning is to note I’m not talking to folks who have tragically experienced very extreme and traumatic abuse at the hands of a church, be that abuse spiritual, emotional, physical, sexual, or of any other variety. Trauma has to be processed with the help of God and professionals, so if you find yourself in any of those categories, this isn’t intended for you.
But to those of us who might have experienced some “mild” trauma (I count myself among this group), God wants you in the Church.
I think the first thing to remember is the consistent theme throughout scripture, especially relevant during Easter: God brings dead things back to life. Whether that dead thing is something inside of us, or our relationship to the Church, or our relationship to God, or even the Church itself, God is in the resurrection business. He never gives up on us, so we also need to hold onto Him and trust Him, especially amid our doubts and struggles.
Second, let’s lay some foundations by looking at scripture, specifically, looking at some things Jesus said about the Church:
In Matthew 16:18, Jesus is commending Simon for knowing that Jesus is the messiah, and it marks the moment when Jesus gives Simon the name of Peter: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” So we see here that the Church is important enough to Jesus that he recenters Peter’s name and identity around it.
In John 17:20-21, Jesus is praying to the Father just before his arrest. In verse 20, he has just finished praying for the disciples: “I ask not only on behalf of these but also on behalf of those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” So here Jesus shows that it is important to him that those who come to follow him are united and one just like he and the Father are one.
All this underscores that the Church is very important to Jesus. Whenever I have been ready to throw in the towel and give up on the Church, I keep coming back to that fact: if the Church is important to Jesus, and I am a follower of Jesus, then the Church also has to be important to me.
Many of us, myself included, have not always honored that truth. We treat the Church as optional and as something separate from God. But as scripture demonstrates, to be a disciple of Jesus Christ is to be in a community of believers. It was never intended for us to do this thing alone.
We need each other. Even with our warts, sins, and dysfunction. Just look at the hodge-podge that made up Jesus’ disciples: a tax collector (traitor to his own people, extorting the Jewish people on behalf of their oppressors, the Roman Empire), a zealot (someone who took up arms against Rome), fishermen (lower members of society), and a thief and liar (Judas, who would betray Jesus).
Just as Jesus’ group of disciples was a hot mess of dysfunctional parts that didn’t belong together, so is the Church: it’s a place for sinners, a hospital, so of course it’s going to be messy.
So be the part of the Church you think it’s missing. How do you expect it to get better if you aren’t a part of it? The Church needs you, and Jesus explicitly wants you to belong to it.
The time to step up is now.