A few weeks ago, my Pastor Jon called out a cross reference during our Genesis series and I heard the sound of rustling pages. Women switched their kiddo around on their lap so they could see the next passage and grey-haired men jotted down the reference in their prayer journals.
My eyes filled with tears, and I smiled up at the ceiling.
In the last four years, my story with the church has been shaded by COVID, being a pastor’s wife, and an out-of-state move away from all that was familiar. I have grown up in church walls my entire life, but nothing compares to the complexity I’ve experienced in these places in my early adulthood.
When my husband and I first got married, he was a pastor. This means that I was a pastor’s wife before I was old enough to rent a car, and the pressure was overwhelming at best and the hurt was debilitating at worst. I know the sting of tears on a Saturday night as you dread the next day, when getting dressed up to go to worship in the place of your biggest frustrations feels impossible.
When we chose to step away from that position, we attended a church where it was habitual for very few to bring their Bible along. My husband was among them because of his love for the Bible app, so I don’t bring attention to this to push legalism. Surely our churches have many deeper things to grieve than this. However, I remember vividly asking God that one day we would be part of a church where you could hear the pages turn within the congregation. Why? Not because it made us extra spiritual, but to be among those who deeply desire to study the Word and actively obey it.
Then, we were called out of state for my husband’s ministry job. Unbeknownst to us, that position required working every Sunday morning which left us without a church home for over nine months. We may have gone to a church building a handful of times, but it was primarily filled with cautious discernment as we observed their dedication to Scripture and tried to get a sense of their community life.
I have chosen to leave a church.
I have stayed when it hurt.
I have searched for months without a prospect of what feels like home.
And, praise be to God, these days I set my outfit out with joy the night before and ache to be at church all week long.
Here are a few things that have helped me in my search to go from wounded and cynical, to full of compassion and gratitude for the local and global church:
Remember the great distance that Jesus went for His bride.
Ephesians 5 tells us that the church is the bride of Christ. Husbands are to sacrificially love as Christ has done for us, laying down their lives on her behalf. When you grow weary of the church, as we all do at some point, remember that no one has been hurt by the church more than Jesus Himself. Yet He stayed obedient to the Father and persevered in His love toward us. May we remember the unity that He prayed over us in John 17, because He knew it would be challenging. May we remember His sacrifice, and be encouraged to keep going.
Let wounds heal.
You don’t need to be ashamed because you’re brokenhearted. If we are not careful, though, bruises become bitterness. Give yourself time and space to be healed by your Abba Father. Find a safe space where you can be honest. Being honest with God and taking the time to grieve will help you heal sooner than simply wishing it away.
Obey the call to meet together.
Hebrews tells us to not neglect meeting together, especially as the Day approaches. While there may be a season to rest and watch church from your couch, know that you are needed, and you need others. Don’t give up on looking for a healthy church! You will not find a perfect place, but it is possible to find a church that seeks to obey God, don’t want to perform, and truly love others well. I am living proof that God not only remembers us in the big asks of doctrine and leadership, but He also sees our wants in a church family as well.
Remember the wedding Feast of the Lamb.
“Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure”—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.””
When Jesus Christ returns, and our sanctification is traded for pure robes of white, we will be united and rejoicing in the Presence of God. Every time I sit with this truth, I’m able to see my blurry circumstances with dazzling clarity. I don’t want to waste my days wishing for my church, locally or globally, to magically be better. I want to be a part of making ourselves ready for our Bridegroom!