I currently serve in a church. I serve in a body of about 300 in the Portland, Oregon metropolitan area and enjoy the company of fellow brothers and sisters in a slightly dysfunctional, but very sincere and humble faith community. We have had our ups. We have our downs, but we love each other despite how hard that can be at times.
However, I have been a “member” of the unchurched. It was a difficult time. It was a time filled with counter-productive self reflection and sinful bitterness. Like all trials, the Lord brought me through it and back to a community I can call home but not without baggage, loss, suspicions and a feeling of defeat. Since that time, the last ten years have been rocky and tumultuous. At times I want to bolt to another church at the hypocrisy of some elders and the apathy of others – and thereby the apathy of my own discouraged heart that has resulted. But I stay, because that’s what the Lord wants and that’s what is best for my family and I.
So to the unchurched I say this: Christ has a congregational home for you. It may be a home group. It may be a megachurch. It may prove to be the best possible home for you. It may be one of the worst. The key is to pray and then stay with this new church home that, save clear Scriptural abuses that render the body completely dead and devoid of Jesus, will open up opportunities for you to share the Gospel and to use your story to encourage others.
It is estimated that the number of unchurched Americans is as high as 100 million. That is no accident. There is clear abuse in the church today that is driving Christians out. And when I say abuse, I’m not talking about physical or sexual abuse or even church scandals, though there are plenty of those. I am speaking of the abuses of preaching a watered down Gospel and of leadership structures that abuses their congregants through neglect no matter how well they preach. Faith in action includes reaching out to neglected in the body, not reaching for another study book or ministry idea.
Yet the question for the unchurched is this: Does having a legitimate complaint for leaving one church body mean you leave the Body of Christ? Yes, many will tell you, myself included, of the myriad of wounds suffered from a leadership that cares more about their own personal ambitions, agendas and visions than they do about following the Scripture’s directive for elders to preach and to pray and for deacons to administrate the business affairs of the church in a manner worthy of Jesus Christ. I get it. But here’s the most penetrating question: Does your love Christ rise higher than your bitterness and your moral indignation of your bad past church experiences? Will you tough out a bad situation like those in Sardis who Jesus said still wore white in a church body he rebuked on the brink of hell?
The reality is that all souls in Christ are valuable. You have value. You are loved and will be loved for all the ages if you press through this trial. You will be rewarded if you keep the faith and continue to search for a community of believers who will love you despite all you faults and whom you will love throughout all their misgivings about you. We can’t live for Jesus on an island. We need the Spirit of Christ in each other to encourage and strengthen us in this evil age – and not just for the sake of our nation’s revival, but for the sake of our own souls and the souls that God has placed in and among our lives.