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I suspect every person reading this has experienced hurt in some way or another by something that happened to them in a local church. And while I would not trivialize what happened to you, I would like to cast a vision and make an appeal that extends beyond what has happened to you.
Before you jump ship, I challenge you to listen to the podcast and answer these twenty questions. I designed them to “take your soul to task” as it pertains to you, the Lord, and His church. (For bonus points, it would be great if you talked about these things with a close friend.)
If your affection for the church is not greater than what happened to you, the disappointment will drive your responses and decision-making. Disappointment versus affection is similar to what happens to you as a Christian. If your suffering for Christ–just or unjust–has more sway over your soul than your love for Christ, when things become rough, you may walk away from the faith.
1 – Do you value the local church? Outside of your family, it is the primary communal means of grace put forth in the New Testament for sanctification.
2 – Are you “in faith” to be at your local church? Meaning, do you “believe” or are you “confident” that you are where you are supposed to be? Read my decision-making article to learn what it means to be “in faith” for something (Romans 14:23).
3 – Who do you want to shepherd you? Who do you want to be your primary soul-care provider? The pastor’s role is to provide the people and contexts to take care of you (Ephesians 4:12-14). Soul care is a primary part of the local church. Do you believe your pastor can provide the means–people and contexts–to care for your soul (1 Timothy 3:1-7)?
4 – Who do you want to bring sanctification care to your spouse and family after you are gone? Let’s say you die; do you believe your local church can step in and care for your loved ones?
5 – Are you bringing solutions to the problems in your local church, or are you adding to the problems? What are your solutions?
6 – Are you a grumbler and complainer or are you actively and practically speaking into the problems of your church (Philippians 2:14)?
7 – Are you a joy for your pastor to shepherd you? See Hebrews 13:17 about your role of submission to the leaders of your church.
8 – Are there any residual unforgiveness, bitterness, or other forms of anger lingering in your soul? It can take a while to fully cleanse your soul from the residual effects of being hurt by your local church (Romans 8:13). While you don’t want to punish yourself for having these problems, you don’t want to let them linger (Hebrews 12:15).
9 – Are you still angry at a specific local church or a particular individual in a local church? What do you need to do to overcome your anger (James 4:1-3)?
10 – What do you need to do to resolve your bitterness attitudinally, even though there may never be transactional forgiveness (Luke 23:34)? Attitudinally speaks to being free in your heart even when the other person is not willing to transact forgiveness (Romans 12:18).
11 – Can you take Joseph’s perspective by authentically applying it to your life? Paraphrase: “The church may have meant it for evil, but God meant it for good (Genesis 50:20).” What does it mean to live in the goodness of God while in an evil world?
12 – Are you free from what has happened to you so that you can be a productive and active member of a local church (Galatians 5:1)?
13 – To what degree do you factor in your subjectivity when thinking about the problems of your church (Proverbs 18:17)? How does knowing that you do not know the whole story impact how you think about what happened to you?
14 – Who is helping you work through your personal turmoil?
15 – Are you reasonable? What did you expect when a group of imperfect people gets together on a daily and weekly basis? Are you realistic when it comes to the doctrines of sin, depravity, and progressive sanctification?
16 – What does it mean to address the “log in your eye” before you solve the speck problem in the other person’s eye? Read Jesus’ words carefully in Matthew 7:3-5.
17 – Are you afraid to confront an erring brother or sister? What needs to happen to help the other person? It may be unwise for you to be the confronting person, especially if the person abused you. Read, Eight Signs of Spiritual Abuse to See If It’s Happening to You.
18 – Is your church so imperfect that you cannot be part of it? How do you know?
19 – Is your conscience convicting you that it is wrong for you to be at that local church?
20 – Do you know how to find a solid Bible-believing church? What are the main things that should be part of a solid church?
There is no perfect church. Everyone understands this pithy saying. The real problem is when your imperfections bump into the imperfections of other imperfect people in your church.
If you are not careful, you can become bitter, angry, unforgiving, and even choose to back off from the feisty requirements of being a Christian. You’re in a war, and one of the great victories of the evil one is when a Christian chooses to stop fighting the fight for their faith.
If you’re in a season of discouragement and do not feel as though you want to get off the mat again, I exhort you to at least do this one thing: reach out for help. Also read my book, Local Church: Love It, Leave It, Change It.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).