I can’t tell you how many times in my life I have heard those words. And I get it…really, I do. I’ve joked with people that there needs to be a church recovery group just for people who have had bad experiences with churches in the past. There are several different types of churches that require rehab after experiencing them.
First, there’s the one that we’ll call the Church of Appearances. This is the church where people go to see and be seen. The priorities here include making sure that you are there every Sunday well dressed and neatly groomed with your well behaved children in tow. You don’t HAVE to have a lovely home, a happy marriage, an appropriate amount of money saved up for junior’s college fund, or have your life all figured out to be a part of this church BUT it is best if you at least pretend that you do. And if for some unexplained reason you show up disheveled or (heaven forbid) in tears, expect other members to nervously look away and let you work it out on your own. Now this isn’t to say that they won’t discuss it with the person sitting next to them…but you definitely don’t have to worry about them talking to you about it.
Then there is the First Church of the Hypocrites. This church is one that has really gained popularity and exposure over the last twenty years. At least 75% of people who are disenfranchised with God have been members of this church. At the First Church of the Hypocrites, you will find many of the same people at both church functions and in the bars on the weekend. You may work with a few of the members of this church…they are often the ones who use bad language, lie, gossip, and even steal from their employers. This church also sometimes has members who are sleeping with each other‘s spouses, preaching and teaching against sin, only to be doing the same things in the privacy of their own home, and usually can be found angrily pointing fingers and harshly condemning people without showing love or compassion.
Lastly, and perhaps the most common and most dangerous of them all, there is the Zombie Church (aka the dead church). This is where people who are half asleep physically and spiritually stumble through the doors every Sunday, sit in the pews and listen to (or sleep through) the obligatory sermon. Here you may sing some songs and pray some prayers but you are not required to actually mean or feel the words that are coming out of your mouth. People here have lots of knowledge but little passion. Members typically don’t see each other outside the walls of the church building unless it’s for a quarterly potluck, wedding, or funeral, so most of your problems and spiritual struggles will need to be handled independently. Often, people here attend the same church their whole life completely unaware that there is more to the Christian life than checking off a spiritual to-do list every week.
Do you identify with one of these churches? All three of them? I do. At some point in my life I have been part of all of them. I felt like I didn’t measure up to people. I felt like I was the only one who had struggles with sin. I felt like everyone around me was fake. And because of these issues, I decided to leave the church altogether.
What I soon discovered though was that my problems had gotten worse, not better. And it wasn’t because I chose to not identify myself with one particular church - it was because in reality I hadn’t left a church. I had left God. In my haste to point fingers at the people around me and take note of their hypocrisy, I had neglected to look in the mirror and see my own.
If you had cancer that required chemotherapy but didn’t like the people at the treatment center, would you stop getting chemo? What if you didn’t like the level of education that your children were receiving in school or didn‘t get along well with his or her teacher? Would you tell your kids that they don’t need education, just stay home? Or what if you were a soldier in battle and found out that the guy next to you struggled with an addiction? Would you stop fighting with that person and leave the protection of your platoon? I don’t think any of us would do any of those things. So why do we do it with God?
The church is a perfect group of imperfect people. Imperfect people are going to hurt us and we are going to hurt others. Imperfect people are going to sin. Imperfect people are going to go through periods of time when we just “aren’t feeling it”. But we haven’t been converted to a life that is supposed to honor and reflect other people…we have been called to a life that is supposed to honor and reflect Jesus. And he was and is perfect. If we choose to follow HIM instead of basing our decisions on the imperfect people around us, a lot of the discouragement and disgust that we feel with others will seem less important.
Right now I am blessed to be a part of a church that is truly a spiritual family. We don’t just see each other on Sunday and Tuesday - we live our lives together. We eat together, we work together, our kids are growing up together, we study, pray, cry, and laugh together. But we are not (and will never be) perfect. We have people who lie. We have people who gossip. We have people who are in prison and have just gotten out of prison. We have people who are just there because they have to be. We have people who are faking it. But we also have a ton of people who are honest, loving, open about who and what they are, and most importantly, are looking to serve God and help others do the same. We are just a group of sinners who have been given a gift of forgiveness.
I’m not saying you are wrong for being discouraged. Just use that discouragement to spark you TOWARDS God, not away from Him. If you do that, He will lead you to a group of people who can help you in that journey.
Shed your spiritual weight!
"When Jesus heard this, he told them, "Healthy people don't need a doctor--sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners." Mark 2:17