I can't believe you still go to church.
A few years back I was visiting my family in Niceville, Florida. Each morning my dad and I would go on a walk. One morning we walked past a guy that I knew from my First Baptist Church of Niceville days. He asked what I was up to and I told him I was a pastor. He looked confused, "A pastor?... I am so surprised you actually stuck with the church..."
I like most people have a complicated relationship with the church.
On the one hand I love and loved the church and the community that it invited me into. The church provided a space for me to belong. And that changed my life. But the dark side of the church didn't take long to expose itself... the bureaucracy, the gossip, the politics, the infighting, the cliques, this was also church. This experience of church led to a lot of cynicism and questions of faith.
This cynicism was real and led me to resign from my first ministerial position in my early twenties. I was fed up with the church and it's inner workings that often times protected those who hurt others and encouraged those who had questions or were hurt
by the church to go away silently.
I was resolved at least in the moment to have nothing to do with the church.
I was done.
So I get it when I meet with people and they say they are done with the church. People have their reasons. And those reasons mean something and deserve to be told not quieted. Behind our reasons are a tremendous amount of hurt, bitterness, and questions about the institution and about Jesus.
And I have been there to and still doing a lot of soul work. Bitter, hurt, pained by the church in so many ways. The church has been for me a comforting presence and deeply hurtful.
Even in just my past five years of serving the church I have seen and experienced great darkness within the local church. Yet I am or working through not being bitter or cynical. And I still believe that the church can be much more than some of the hurtful experiences I have had.
Three words have shaped my journey and most likely are the reason I keep staying with the church: "cynics never win." Those aren't biblical words but they might as well be for me. They were words that were spoken by Conan O'Brien at the end of his failed Tonight Show stint. He told his audience on his last show not to pity him and that he would keep fighting and most of all cynics never win. I could become bitter and angry for all the pain I have experienced in the church. It would have been justified. Or I could continue to believe in this movement that Jesus created and began. And so I have tried hard to steer away from being cynical.
I have talked to more people who have had similar experiences of hurt and pain that have come from the church.. They love Jesus but they struggle with the church. I get it. I have been there. And I am there.
Yet what inspires me is their resolve and resilience to be a part of this new vision of church. I can sense the hope in what this dynamic community of people that God has called can and will be.
This morning my prayer reading was, "may we become the church we pray for..." For the next few weeks this will be my prayer. I will continue to be hopeful and confident in what the church can and will be.