“I just don’t want to go back. I didn’t feel welcomed there, and I probably won’t feel welcomed again.”
I read my friend’s message after I had invited her to our church, and my heart hurt for her.
This wasn’t the first time I had heard these words. Many conversations with friends have included stories of disappointment, betrayal, hurt, confusion, or simply apathy related to their experience with church. Maybe it was a dysfunctional youth group, or the parking lot was too full. Maybe a rule said they could not take communion, get married there, or serve on the board. Possibly it was someone in leadership who caused them pain.
The Church—we need to remember—is made up of flawed people. Yet we must fight for the Church to hold fast to the commands of Christ and grow within his body of believers.
Why I Love the Imperfect Church
First, we need to make a clear distinction between the Church and your church. If your church is a body established on the foundational doctrines of Christianity, then your church is a part of the universal Church, consisting of all believers throughout the ages.
Jesus loves the Church. It is his Bride. Jesus gave his life for her. But today, many are turning their back on the Church because of the failures of their church.
I’ll admit, sometimes I’m not too happy with what the church does:
- Churches split.
- Churches are cliquish.
- Churches try to look good.
- Churches take on too much debt.
- Churches get busy with the wrong things.
- Churches overlook single people.
- Churches forget about widows and orphans.
- Churches lose sight of the gospel.
All of that is true, but I still love the Church. I get frustrated with choices made and things I have no control over. But I still love the Church.
Why? The main reason I love the Church is because Jesus loves the Church:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave himself up for her, so that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless…for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church. (Ephesians 5:25–29, emphasis mine)
To “present to himself the church in all her glory”—this is what Jesus desires us to be and pursue.
Three Ways We Can Grow to Love the Church
So how can we pursue a growing love for the Church and even our local church? I believe there are three main ways:
As Americans, we are typically impatient with any kind of change and even more so with heart-change. When a goal is set before us, we make plans, charts, and lists.
That works for a lot of things, but not for growing in love. When we spend time with the community of believers; when we share a meal in Jesus’ name; when we serve one another in the church; only then will we see what works in the church and how our hearts need to change.
Little by little, when we commit to our local church and to patience, our hearts will desire more of that community. We will pursue growth in love to give more glory to the One who created us for love. But this doesn’t happen instantly; it requires patience.
We also watch closely how we spend our time, and we make room for prayer. We schedule it into our days. We do not neglect it. We daily bring our concerns, worries, expectations, and desires to God.
He already knows them, but by pursuing this time with him, your heart will desire more of what he wants in your life. His ways will be uniquely known to you through this communion. And when you grow closer to Christ, your love for the church will grow as well. You will see it as he sees it—a vessel for his glory.
Don’t give up on the church. Do not leave this body because of the hurts your church and its people have caused. Jesus Christ knows all about hurt. He is with you and desires to have you with him. Jesus spilled his blood for the Church. Jesus spilled his blood for you.
How can I turn away from what he gave his life for? How can I run from what he established and desires to use to display his grace? May we persistently serve the church and grow in community so we also display his grace.
I pray that your church, my church, and the Church will spur us in daily seeking his wisdom and living as fully devoted followers of Christ, so we may cling to all that is good and bring glory to him.