It happened again.
My church failed me. I had spent ten years of my life committed to this particular church body, serving in leadership roles, teaching Sunday school, and mentoring youth. Still, when doctors diagnosed me with a chronic, autoimmune disease and I stepped down from ministry to manage my symptoms, I felt abandoned by the church I loved. In my hour of need, no one reached out to help. I felt hurt, angry, and confused. To make matters worse, a similar situation had happened years earlier at another church. “It shouldn’t be this way,” I said to God. “Where is the love?”
During this difficult time, I learned several valuable lessons.
Dismiss Unrealistic Expectations
“My soul waits in silence for God only” (Psalm 62:1, NASB).
Though we never say it out loud, the truth is most of us are looking for the perfect church. We each have certain unspoken expectations of our church, pastors, and church body. The truth is we expect the church to meet our needs–spiritually, physically, and emotionally. We expect love, encouragement, friendship, compassion, mercy, sound teaching, Biblical counsel… the list goes on and on. Though a healthy church can meet some of these needs, no church can meet them all.
Here is the key point. As long as imperfect people fill our churches, flawed ministries and relationships will continue. There is no perfect church because there are no perfect people. God wants us to look not to the church to meet our needs but to Him alone. God’s Word warns us against trusting in man to meet our needs. “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man” (Psalm 118:8, NIV). The church will fail us, but God never will.
Seek God and His Truth
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32, NIV)
Though disappointed at times by my church’s response when diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, I suffered even greater disappointment as a new believer. After the birth of my son, my husband, who was not a believer, became very angry when I raised our son as a Christian. The marital stress left me clinically depressed, and I required medication and Christian counseling. I met with my pastor for his counsel. After sharing with him that my doctor had prescribed an anti-depressant, he responded bluntly, “You should be able to overcome your feelings through prayer and God’s Word.”
Dejected and brokenhearted, I stopped attending church. I equated that pastor’s rejection with God’s rejection of me. Nothing could have been further from the truth–though I did not recognize it then.
I worked in retail at the time, and I found myself helping one Christian after another–almost all of whom invited me to their church. I accepted their invitation, and after attending for several weeks, I requested a meeting with the pastor, where I shared my struggle with depression. Rather than rejecting me, he encouraged me, offering Biblical examples of saints who felt depressed–Abraham, Job, Elijah, David, and Jeremiah. “Even those who walk closely with God sometimes struggle with depression,” he said.
Encouraged by the pastor’s love and acceptance, I began to seek God wholeheartedly, pouring over His Word, allowing His truth to strip away the lies I had believed. I took my pain to the Father and searched His Word for the truth about my situation and myself.
Commit to Forgive
“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13, NIV)
As I continued to work though my pain and loss, I unearthed bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness in my heart. I knew from reading God’s Word that unforgiveness would hinder my walk with the Lord and His healing in my life. In a sheer act of obedience, I forgave the pastor who had rejected me.
This past summer, twenty years later, I saw this pastor at a leadership conference. Negative thoughts and emotions resurfaced, alerting me to the fact that a remnant of unforgiveness remained. At that moment, I did business with God, confessing my unforgiveness.
Put Down Roots
“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12, NIV).
When we experience hurt or disappointment with our church, it can be tempting to leave and find another church that better meets our needs or to stop attending church altogether. Yet, Scripture is clear. God’s design is that we actively participate in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-25). We will never enter into all that God has for us without committing to and actively participating in a local church body. “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17, NIV). Further, if we pull up stakes whenever we experience conflict or disagree with a brother or sister in Christ, we will miss God’s refining process in our lives.
When we live among imperfect human beings, conflict and pain are inevitable. Our church will let us down. However, we can take comfort in the knowledge that when the church and others fail us, God himself will comfort our broken hearts and heal our damaged emotions. He will provide for us even when others do not. If we put our trust in God and His unfailing love, we will never be disappointed.