I blame the church for a lot of things.

I am bruised. I have had a bruise on my soul for a long time. I can’t quite tell you when the injury happened but it was well over a decade ago. I, like every small boy who has had bruise, have poked at it sporadically just to keep its colour fresh. At times I have allowed that bruise to fade into the almost normal flesh tones and at times I have pushed and prodded at it until it is a deep black. This bruise on my soul is that at times I’ve been hurt by the church.

This is a phrase I’ve read a lot recently. Whether it be Facebook statuses, christian blogs or tweets, there it is. The church has hurt me. The church has let me down. Now it is my turn to write it. The problem is that I am not being completely honest when I say that. For on every occasion I have been angry at the church in reality it has been an individual I have been angry with. A person wrapped in the same flesh and humanity as me has hurt me. A person carrying they own bruises and baggage, who have been hurt as often as I have, has caused me some pain. It has always felt a little more comfortable to blame some faceless organisation than to have to come face to face with a name and voice and personality.

I’ve poked the bruise for various reasons. When a leader told me they couldn’t see any giftedness in me for youth ministry the day I started a youth ministry job. When I worked hard for someone and received no thanks. When I was subject to gossip and I felt undefended. In moments of real pain I’ve felt let down. On each occasion I blamed the faceless organisation. The church had let me down.

I spent far too many years calling out the church for its wrongs. I wrote blogs that criticised it for its apathy towards to poor or its perceived lack of zeal. I wrote paragraphs in my book pointing out how the church had gotten it wrong on this grey area or that one. Some of that I put down to being an angry young man trying to spread his revolutionary wings but the reality is that the majority of it was that I had forgotten that I was in fact the railing against myself because I am as much the church I was blaming as anybody else.

The internet is teeming with blogs that tell us the failings of the church. Yet we, the writers, are often the flesh and bones of the church they deem a failure.  We writers are the eyes, ears, toes and ankles of the body of Christ they deem unfit for purpose. We call for change and yet wait for permission to make those very changes. I wonder when we fell for the idea that when it comes to affecting change for the good of the world in the name of Jesus that we had to gain some sort of permission to pursue that very change. Where do we think that permission comes from? Who are we waiting for to rubber stamp our vision?

I think the biggest mistake I have made in my life is to pick a fight with the church on widely read social media and then claim that I was being ignored when leaders were wise enough not to respond in public. I made this mistake once and paid a price for it. I cringe now thinking about it. The internet has given us great spaces for the debate and discovery of new ideas. It has opened our minds to points of view that were out of reach 20 years ago but we must be careful. We are in an age where we can respond in public and never take it back. We are in an age where writing is cheap and easy but permanent. I have read passionate statuses and blogs in support or against this church, or that leader. Every time this question has come into my head. If you don’t care enough about this to go to the flesh and blood cause of it then you should hold your words in your fingers and not let them slip from the keyboard to the internet.

fightsI know that some of the things I have read will have been accompanied by face to face encounters with those who have transgressed but I wonder if that is the case with all. If you care enough to write about it then please go to the person and talk to them. You’ll get further with your cause that way. It turns out at 33 people seem much more reasonable than I thought they were when I was 23.

The writer to the Hebrews tells us to ‘make every effort to live peaceably with everyone and be holy.’ It’s a big, beautiful challenge. That would mean laying down a lot of what I think I deserve in order to seek peace. It would mean understanding the person who bruises me and taking time to work it out with them. Sometimes the answer will be to go separate ways in order to keep that peace, and that is hard and sad and leaves a scar but it is better than staying together and flinging mud at one another. The church is a family and when a family fights everybody loses.

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9 thoughts on “I blame the church for a lot of things.

  1. Luke Stratton says:

    Hey Dave. This was a week timed blog post. This week I got me and Helen into some hot water by replying to something on Facebook not showing the same levels of tolerance as others from my church (I won’t go into details). Anyway, it’s useful to hear someone else taking with hindsight about their arguments with the church. Cheers!

  2. Steven Walls says:

    Wise words indeed Dave. Perhaps if we had to start very comment about ‘the Church’ with ‘Dear Jesus, the Church you loved so much you died for is …’ We might think a little more about what we say.

  3. Steven Walls says:

    Agreed. It is said that the best marketing tool is ‘word of mouth’ and the same probably applies for the worst marketing tool being ‘bad word of mouth’. John 13:35 (MSG) makes it pretty clear – “This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.”

  4. James Pollard says:

    Dave this is great.

    There is probably an ironic hypocrisy to what I will write here – as I criticise what I have seen within the ‘Church’. I am not able to write with the same coherence or wisdom as you, Dave, but want to give an idea of how I think, assuming that other’s in my position also think the same way:

    I turned away from the Church some time ago and my remaining window into the Church has been friends on social media who remain in the Church. While I am aware that this window does not represent the full church (but those who I tend to unfairly judge as being domineering characters and assume seek power in the form of affirmation of their opinions ), this does chip away and gradually shape my view of the Church. On a side note, I wonder if there is a lack of realisation from many that the airing of public grievances (disguised as criticisms of the Church) amongst Christians on social media is actually seen by all, not just the Church clique, and makes the Church appear to be a naval gazing irrelevance.

    What appears to me is sort of a Social Media mob. Someone will write a vague criticism of the Church, which is interpreted by me (and I therefore assume, many other people) to be underpinned by some personal grievance against another/feeling of dis-empowerment and therefore part of an attempt to validate a position in a personal power struggle, rather than a desire out of love to seek improvement. This social media conversation then is more off-putting to the none Christian observer than the actual thing that the conversation is about.

    What is so annoying is that the ‘Church’ is such an abstract thing, that you can say anything about it and it will be true in some place. For example, some people in the Church may be (to use a silly example) posh, so I write a blog about how the Church doesn’t serve the working class (which by implication in my writing would be a demonstration of how; 1) it is not good to be posh, 2) I myself am not posh and 3) I relate to the working class). Another vague example, some leaders in the Church will have a different vision to me, so I write that the Church has the wrong vision.

    Whatever my agenda, whether that be based on personal hurt and bitterness, I can write about how the Church does the opposite, and because I am talking in the abstract, with no names (which leads to another point – a lot of blogs I have read give all the details of stories without names, but clearly most readers know who the blogs refer to, which is clearly a spiteful hypocrisy), there is limited way to argue against it. Indeed the mob appears to be such that those who would disagree are labelled before they even rear their head. The narrative is one that those criticising the Church in an abstract manner on social media due to some personal grievance, are courageous, saying what others are too timid to say (it all seems very self-congratulatory). The narrative continues that those who might hold a different opinion or even believe the criticism is absurd must be ‘offended’ and not progressive and are shouted down.

    However, the rest of the world does not see this narrative, or a dialogue. They see self-interest and vitriol. Whether this is true or not is sort of irrelevant – this is what is perceived. And this is my point – everything written above is probably not true of those taking part in ‘online debates’, but it is what is perceived by those not in the Church.

    To finish with a brown nose – the gradual damage done to my view of the Church, is somewhat healed by blogs such as this.

    • Thanks James. I think that was extremely coherent. I feel the same pains as you do. I often wonder if people, who by our own assertions, are to show love to the world and to one another, realise how it looks when we write slightly veiled vitriolic statements about the church. I often wonder if we believe ourselves better at illusion than we are and imagine that it isn’t crystal clear what is meant.

      I am so glad to hear your point of view as someone looking in. To say that to you it just seems like ‘self interest and vitriol’ confirms my fear. We need to stop fighting in public. Nothing is more uncomfortable to see than a family arguing in a restaurant or supermarket, this is no different.

      I wonder how we expect people to ‘come home to the family of God’ when what they look in on appears to be a power struggle and argumentative band of individuals.

      Thanks
      D

      • James says:

        Thanks for the reply Dave.

        I spent some time reading over my comment and also commented on another blog and got me thinking quite a lot; why do I take the time to read a Christian blog and comment on an article about the Church (and hold quite passionate opinions about it), having already mentioned I turned away from the Church.

        I think I have come to the conclusion that part of me knows I need to return to the Church, and I know what the Church is in it’s Biblical context (I have seen myself as a non-Christian but had not abandoned in theory the person of Jesus but chose to ignore him). I think I have known this deep down for a while, but as my remaining window on the Church is social media, I had come to perceive the Church as a hostile, baron and uninviting territory and have not wanted to re-enter. This is why this whole topic has struck a chord with me as I have come to see that I have been affected by, what you brilliantly describe as the “family arguing in a restaurant or supermarket” – even though I know this is only a small part of the Church – but it is the only one I was seeing.

  5. Matt says:

    As I leave a job working for ‘the church’ doing something I believed was a ministry, I feel crushed, defeated. Those who have hurt me I have spoken to directly and they just won’t listen or don’t understand and seem to see what I do as a job, nothing more. I’ve put almost nothing on social media, always writing and speaking directly to those involved. Now as I leave my character is questioned and those who slandered me are defended. I do love the church and many within it but sometimes the leadership is so questionable as to leave me wondering how can they claim to hear from God yet treat his people so callously. I’m left feeling those with the greatest calling to watch the flock care the least.

    I hate to see posts condemning a church on blogs etc. But I understand that feeling of having no choice but to publicly speak if privately nobody will listen.

    • Matt, I know you have handled yourself in it with great honour and dignity. As someone on the other side of a not dissimilar situation I promise the feeling of being crushed and defeated dissipates into a sense of release and even freedom.

      As you know I also understand that pain and it isn’t easy but how you have handled yourself has been admirable and an example of a grace filled life. Keep going, I know the Father has something bigger for you. He is just and kind and will not let your joy remain stolen.

      The most helpful thing I was ever told was to remember that those who hurt us are more human their positions. They are more fleshy than spiritual. They are more prone to fail than to make perfect choices. They are a little like me.

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