when it hurts to go to church

Posted: June 28th, 2012 | Filed under: life | Tags: , | 13 Comments »

Within the Christian subculture is this overwhelming message of the importance of community. I agree. Having friends who can encourage you in your journey of faith, who can challenge you, and help keep you focused is a huge benefit. We need people. We need to know that we’re loved, unconditionally, and that there isn’t anything that we could go through that someone else hasn’t faced, too.

I love the idea of small groups. Small groups for moms, for dads, for people who work out, for people who play music, for people who have been divorced, addicted, broken, etc. The possibilities go on and on. It’s group therapy. We’re not alone and communities can provide a safe place to unearth emotions, fears, struggles, and failures. We can encourage each other and that safe space of honesty can be really healing.

These communities can also be really damaging. They’re damaging when they’re more about conformity and less about the Gospel. They’re damaging when they’re more about appearance and less about the heart. They’re damaging when they’re no longer about honesty in weakness and more about the illusion of almost perfection. They can tear a person down when you have to filter your relationship with God through the opinions of those in your group.

In all of the good, there is potential for something really traumatizing. The nature of Christian relationships is built on complete openness and letting the depth surface so that it can be healed. The only way this is possible is through the unconditional love of God. People expect His love to be played out in the lives of His children, in this context: through their relationships. However, people make mistakes with each other and focus more on His demands for right living and less on His command to love and offer restorative grace.

When people are wide open like that, the hits don’t have to be hard for their impact to be paralyzing. We tear down our walls in church, so there is nothing to protect us from the pain of rejection. Any group that focuses on grace is accused of being soft on sin. What we need to be reminded of is that grace makes it possible to be completely honest about our sin. We don’t have to dumb it down or justify it to deem it forgivable. Honesty sets people free from the weight of self-justification. When people open up in honesty, sometimes their community can focus more on the sin, forgetting that they wouldn’t even know about it unless the person was honest.

Sometimes people in churches can make the Gospel feel like a ‘bait and switch’ con. ย They tell you to “come just as you are”, but don’t make any mistakes. It’s hard to watch a group of people go half way across the world to tell people that God loves them, that Jesus can forgive anything they’ve done, but then deny it in their personal relationships at home.

I know this isn’t the case in all Christian communities. People who know how to love others do exist. They’re just kind of hard to find. I think that if you’ve been hurt in your Christian relationships, then it’s hard to trust. For some, the word “Christian” does not conjure up visions of warm people with inviting arms. It conjures up visions of cynical judgements and cold shoulders. It’s damaging when you go to church thinking that you can find a community that won’t crush you with what you’ve done wrong, but find a community that won’t let you be an active participant because of your failures. It’s like finding out that the One who will always take you back, won’t. It feels hopeless in condemnation. It feels like a message of complete rejection from God.

If there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, then the message of condemnation is absent of Christ. It’s a fight of faith to believe the still small voice of truth over the overwhelming rejection of community.

Here is an interesting quote I ran across recently:

“People who attend services regularly but lack friends in the congregation are worse off [mental health-wise] than those who do not go at all.”-Sandra Upson

That quote isn’t about spiritual health, it’s about mental health, and I think it’s an interesting observation. I think that a lot of people can attest to that.

No matter what, the Truth wins. There isn’t a person in your own personal jeering section that can take the truth of God’s love from you. It would be a good time to consider who your ultimate relationship is with: God, or His people? No person or group of people can be enough for you and they will all fail you, just like you fail them.

We all mess up with each other. Just don’t let your experience turn you away from God. He’s not like that. Build up the truth in you and then, when the timing is right, get back in there. Be the difference for someone else. Until then, don’t beat yourself up about no being a part of a physical church. Grow in your wilderness.ย You’re still part of the spiritual church (the real church) and it’s much bigger than you may think.


13 Comments on “when it hurts to go to church”

  1. 1 Jason Wert said at 4:08 pm on June 28th, 2012:

    Right on the money as usual, Serena.
    My recent post It’s time to get intolerant

  2. 2 serenawoods said at 4:40 pm on June 28th, 2012:

    Thanks, Jason. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. 3 Jon-Katie Pfeiffer said at 6:29 pm on June 28th, 2012:

    Where would I find that tidbit from Sandra Upson…I would like to read more…

    Your article was on point with where my wife and I are in our lives.

  4. 4 serenawoods said at 11:05 pm on June 28th, 2012:

    The article is on pages 59-63 (quote is on page 61) of the May/June 2012 issue of the “Scientific American Mind” magazine. Keep in mind, it’s not a magazine about Christianity, it’s about mental health. I hope that helps. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. 5 Marc Edwards said at 10:13 pm on June 28th, 2012:

    Serena, I do agree that we should be cautious in groups, especially when its a group like a church that can inspire us to be vulnerable beyond what we would usually be. But, we do have a safety net in forgiveness if we get overwhelmed!

  6. 6 dphenix said at 11:53 am on June 29th, 2012:

    " They’re damaging when they’re more about conformity and less about the Gospel. "

    this really hit home as I was reminiscing about the time I have spent in church groups. I relate to this. we don't go to church anymore. we felt called to go to a church a couple years ago, and did for a year or so. the part you wrote about not being an active participant struck home too. The reason we stopped going to the last church is because the pastor took a word I gave during open mic and said he didn't agree with part of it. His faith could not allow him to let my testimony stand. I shared my exact testimony of Gods deliverance and said God would do the same for others struggling with the issue I had been delivered from. I didn't have to do a single thing to help God free me. He did it in His own power in His own way. The pastor took the mic after I testified and said, "I don't agree with that last part, you'll have to do something". I understand how he can see it that way, but he could not understand that when we walk by the Spirit we do not carry out the desires of the flesh. that's done by no effort of our own. I can't trust him to sit under his teaching and authority now.
    TMI, sorry gf

  7. 7 serenawoods said at 4:57 pm on June 29th, 2012:

    I'm glad you shared your story. ๐Ÿ™‚ I don't like being misunderstood or not listened to. It drives me nuts to know what I'm saying and not be able to get someone to understand. It's like watching a ship sink, the longer you stand there, the worse it gets.

    It's always amazing when you find someone who speaks your language. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. 8 Jennifer said at 8:14 pm on October 23rd, 2012:

    Isn't tat the truth! I really am glad I found this post. Thanks ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. 9 exegete77 said at 11:43 am on July 3rd, 2012:

    Serena wrote: “However, people make mistakes with each other and focus more on His demands for right living and less on His command to love and offer restorative grace.”

    This is critical. Thanks for stating it so well. That may be why in Galatians 5:7 Paul writes: “You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?” In other words, the ones wanting to impose the Law again on the Galatian Christians were actually preventing them from obeying the truth. Much for serious thought there.

    I think of Galatians 6:1 (“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.”). By nature we like the Law and are deluded when we think we can live it as God intended, rather than living in the grace of God. But God’s grace is sufficient…

    Thanks for your posts, Serena. Always a blessing and thought-provoking.


  10. 10 Diane said at 8:28 am on July 5th, 2012:

    Great post!! Again I could relate with so much of it…and currently am rethinking the whole Church idea. Healing more like. After coming from a legalistic cultic community (Amish, I commented before) it really is an adjustment to fit anywhere, and to not be terrified of any and all legalistic appearances or where mistakes were not accepted, and grace is known .

    This is so true – you said.
    They can tear a person down when you have to filter your relationship with God through the opinions of those in your group.

    communities can also be really damaging. They’re damaging when they’re more about conformity and less about the Gospel.

    Thank you for sharing…..~

  11. 11 emibauer said at 1:23 am on July 6th, 2012:

    Wow, Serena. I read your post after following a link on a friend's Facebook post. I always love hearing that I'm not the only one going through something. Through my trials, I mostly stayed in the church but felt a disconnect while doing so. I have always thanked God that He granted me an extra measure of faith that enabled me to separate what other people do from what God does, so that my relationship with God Himself was always solid, even if my relationship with others in the church was not. Thank you for sharing your insights. I'm a subscriber now! ๐Ÿ™‚
    My recent post Appliance Woes

  12. 12 Nikki said at 5:13 am on August 9th, 2012:

    that was wonderfully written….. i was kicked out of a church, along with my daughters for impurity in a relationship. they told me God was going to turn his back on me….. and i was the bad yeast that would work through their dough. so there i was…. trying to free myself from sin, avoiding going to God cause i didnt measure up. everytime i did go to Him it was instant love and acceptance…. i was very confused and thought i must be making up what he was saying to me. i began to trust His unconditional love, and watched myself get slowley better. i am not worthy, it is not me who makes myself presentable to Him…. what He did on the cross puts me in rightstanding with Him. I know how great His love is now. I believe i understand a little more about sin now…. and it doesnt separate me from Him. This love and acceptance makes it easier to go to Him where He can do the work in me… by His grace.

  13. 13 Kim said at 12:51 pm on August 19th, 2012:

    I live in Colorado and your situation is exactly mine. Please tell me what scripture led you to continue your faith despite what your church said.


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