Popular blogger and preacher Carey Nieuwhof recently wrote a blog post that caught my attention because of its sheer honesty. In it, Nieuwhof identifies a major problem in the church, which is the lack of responsibility that many Christians take for the condition of their own hearts, attitudes, and actions.
Here’s his post:
There’s a lot of church bashing that happens these days. I get that. Some of it is deserved.
Like me, maybe you’ve noticed that a lot of people feel justified in dismissing the church as anything between a complete disappointment and otherwise useless.
Doubtless people have been hurt in the church and hurt by the church, and for that I feel terrible.
But it’s one thing to have a bad experience or a series of bad experiences. It’s another to hang on to them for far longer than you should, especially when you have a role in them that you refuse to see.
So in the hopes of clarifying a few things and helping us all move through whatever hang ups might be lingering, here are 5 things people blame their church for…but shouldn’t.
1. THE CHURCH DIDN’T STOP YOU FROM GROWING SPIRITUALLY
Most church leaders have heard this before from someone who’s new at your church. I went to X church for 2 years but I just didn’t grow there. Now I’ve come here. Hopefully I’ll grow!
I’ve heard this so many times at one point I believed the logic. Until I realized that we were this person’s fifth church in 6 years, and they didn’t grow at any of them. Which makes you ask the question…is it really the church, or could it be them?
I came to the realization years ago that I’m responsible for my spiritual growth. Nobody can make me grow. And honestly, no one can keep me from growing because no one can actually control my thoughts, my heart and my mind. I can offer them to God in free surrender whenever I want.
Understand, the church can help, but it’s not responsible for your spiritual growth. You are.
2. THE CHURCH DIDN’T BURN YOU OUT
You meet a lot of people in ministry, both paid and volunteer, who will tell you the church burned them out. As someone who has burned out while leading a church, it would be tempting for me to say “For sure…my church burned me out. You should see the demands people made on me as a pastor and leader!”
But I would never say that.
You know who burned me out?
I am responsible for my burnout. I pushed too hard for too long. I didn’t deal with underlying issues. I burned myself out.
Now, granted, I think ministry can be confusing, and I think it’s easier to burn out in ministry than in other vocations (for the reasons why that is, read this post).
But I’m responsible. And so, honestly, are you. For more on burnout, start with this post.
3. THE CHURCH DIDN’T MAKE YOU CYNICAL
I’ve heard many Christians say “I’m so cynical after working at/attending several churches.”
And for sure, any student of human nature can become cynical.
But the church didn’t make you cynical. You let your heart grow hard. You chose to believe certain things about people, about God, about life, and it built a crust around something that used to be alive and vibrant.
The biggest challenge in life is to see life for what it really is but keeping your heart fully engaged. God loves to help people do that.
I fight cynicism daily. And if anyone makes me cynical, it’s me…not you, not God, not culture, not the church. I want my heart to be alive and celebrating each day. That’s a choice I make with God’s help.
4. THE CHURCH DIDN’T CAUSE YOUR UNFORGIVENESS
It’s easy to hold a grudge. Get hurt (and yes, I’ve been hurt by people in the church too) and hang onto it long enough, and grudges will form.
Soon you’ll not want to hear someone’s name, let alone run into them in the supermarket.
Too many people in the church or who walked away from the church carry unforgiveness and blame the church for it.
What are you hanging onto from a bad church experience that you need to let go of?
Forgiveness is the one of most Christian things people can do. Yet it’s what far too many Christians withhold from one another.
I love how Mark Twain phrased it: “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”
5. THE CHURCH DIDN’T MAKE YOU LOSE YOUR FAITH
I hesitate to write this one. I’m a church leader. I do everything I can to help people find faith in Jesus Christ.
I also realize I’m far from perfect, that our church is not perfect, and that there never will be perfection on this side of heaven.
It breaks my heart when I hear people say “I went to church but it was so bad/so hypocritical/so shallow I lost my faith.” I realize we don’t always do a good job. In fact, sometimes churches do a terrible job. Sometimes I do a terrible job.
But as you’ve seen throughout this piece, nobody else makes you lose your faith. That was or is a choice you made. It is.
And it’s a choice I make every day. To believe when there are more than a few reasons not to. To love when people don’t love me back. To forgive when it’s easier to hang on to the hurt. To trust when there’s probably a few reasons to stop trusting.
So if you want to believe again…believe again.
Now let me give you a challenge. I realize many of you have been hurt by the church. I realize many of you have grown cynical. And that’s true of people who have left the church and who are in the church.
Here’s the challenge: Be part of the solution. And the solution is not to walk away or be endlessly critical.
The reason I lead a church is because I believe Jesus designed the church to be the hope of the world. Churches are imperfect organizations, but they’re also chosen organizations. We’re on a mission given by Christ. We’re his chosen instrument.
I just want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. The world has enough cynics and critics.
We need people and we need leaders who deal hope.