I didn’t know it, but I had an idol…something I worshiped more than Jesus. It was something Jesus created to represent himself, but I elevated it too much. I only discovered this idol when it came crashing down, revealing its ugly underbelly.
This idol was church.
Some of you are appalled that I called Christ’s body an idol. Others are nodding their heads in agreement. Still others have been so wounded by the church that you never want to go back.
I get it. All of it. I thought that serving the church was equal to serving God. (And it can be.) But I substituted service for time at Jesus’ feet.
I thought that pastors and church volunteers were ALL earnestly trying to please Jesus. Unfortunately, there are a few who seek nothing but personal kingdom-building. This handful tends to be the most visible, ruining it for the rest who genuinely want to serve.
And then we were hurt at the hands of three different churches in three different states. When we didn’t fit a tradition of theirs, we felt their wrath as though we had violated a command of God himself. The traditions ranged from clothing and personality type to sound volumes and giving styles. All supposed violations were handled with condescending pride.
After the third experience (at a church we had previously enjoyed), I was done. I no longer wanted to attend church if THIS was church. I just wanted to follow Jesus with a few fellow believers and do away with the silly drama. No more church for me.
But God had other plans. He brought us to a healing church. At first I went grudgingly, but soon, their relaxed and humble approach let me drop my guard. During the year we spent at that church, God showed me that I had placed the church on a pedestal where HE was supposed to be. He taught me that I was to follow Him first and that He was to be my primary relationship. Not even His body, the church, was to usurp that place in my life.
Despite all the hurt feelings and disillusionment, Jesus showed me that when I put Him first, He will equip me to be a healthy member of His church body. In contrast, when I put the church first, I will become jaded by the flaws of church members, and eventually burn out.
So am I still active in church? Yes. Even more than before. Only this time, it is a natural outflow of putting Jesus first. Church service is no longer an effort to gain God’s favor. It is the fruit of knowing I don’t have to earn His favor. It is a humble act of gratitude for what He has done for me.
God has a sense of humor. After a year of healing, He called my husband to go on staff at a church. If we hadn’t experienced church-hurt, I would not have learned how to let church people be the imperfect sinners they are. I would have hindered my husband’s ministry with my bitterness over church-hurt. The flaws of every church member and church leader would gnaw at my faith.
Knowing how much I need Jesus each day to overcome my own sins makes it much easier to get along with those who struggle in the same way. We are all deeply flawed hot-messes who are learning to follow our Savior one day at a time.
If we are regularly angry and offended over others failings, we should sit up and take notice. We need to ask ourselves some serious questions.
1. Why does ____’s moral failure bother me on such a personal level? Do I see their failure as God’s failure?
2. Am I struggling with a similar sin? Is there something God wants me to deal with in my own life? By pointing out their sins am I avoiding my own?
3. Do I think that a Pastor/Leader should be held to a different standard than me? How different? Are my expectations realistic?
4. Is my faith solely in Jesus Christ or am I putting my faith in the church?
5. Am I serving the church from empty resources? Or am I serving from the filling of the Holy Spirit after spending time in His presence?
We cannot minimize the church’s importance. After all, it is the physical representation of Christ on earth. However, we must not elevate the church or its members over its Head, which is Jesus Christ.
When our priorities are in order, our lives will flow smoothly from the power of the Holy Spirit….and our churches will be the living, breathing body of Christ that can bring hope to a dying world.