What do you do when church blows up in your face? What do you do after you have given over a decade of your life to a specific church, belief set, or way of practicing Christianity and you find it is no longer working?
In late 2019, this is the situation I found myself in, but in all reality, things were starting to get shaky a few years before that.
I started attending this church when I was in high school. From the time I was 15 to my mid-twenties, this church was my place of belonging. My closest friends were there. I met my husband there. I led in the youth group, taught Sunday school, and served in all sorts of ways. In many ways, it was like a second family for me.
Then in 2015 Ferguson, Missouri happened.
I had no idea who Michael Brown was, but while scrolling through Instagram I saw posts from several music artists I follow who were talking about the unjust treatment of peaceful protestors who were marching in the wake of Michael Brown’s death.
I found it jarring to read which led to a frenzy of research on my part, and as naïve as it sounds now, I realised that racism was still very much alive in America.
Then followed the death of Freddy Gray and all the chaos in Baltimore city, which was closest to me and my church at the time.
I had never heard anyone from my predominantly white church discuss racial issues before but all of a sudden people had a lot to say. It was horrifying, blatantly racist and arrogant. I was so confused.
Weren’t these the same people who smiled and sang praises to Jesus with me every week? And now they were spewing hate online for an entire people group? Where’s Jesus in that?!
I started to become jaded and pretty disillusioned. My only solace was a small group of friends just as disturbed by this as me.
Then in 2018, I experienced some spiritual renewal and had fresh hope for what church could be. Sure we were messed up, but change had to start somewhere. I started new things and tried to lead in new ways.
Less than a year into this, the church went through a major leadership shake-up full of drama, pain, and confusion. My husband and I kept plugging along, trying to help and be the change amid this chaotic time and our own deep wounds that came as a result of it, but it reached a point when it became clear we couldn’t help anymore. We needed to get away for our wounds to heal, as the pain was only growing.
So in the fall of 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, we officially left the church.
After leaving, we were eager to join a new church. I was still pumping with ideas and a desire to lead and serve, but it turned out that finding a new church wasn’t so simple, and several months after our departure we were still churchless.
I found myself absolutely broken.
So back to my opening question- what do you do when you find yourself in this place? This was the question I kept asking my therapist before I realised she was not going to give me the answer.
In hindsight, I don’t think there is one right answer. We all have different sides and nuances to our church wounds. We all process things differently, so it makes sense that we’re probably going to have different journeys and questions.
We eventually took a break from looking for a new church, the search was just too painful. On those many churchless Sundays I took walks by myself, AirPods in and often tears in my eyes. I would lament to God how much this sucked. This is never where I thought I would be.
One day, while walking I heard Tauren Wells’ song “God’s Not Done With You” for the first time, and the lyrics took my breath away-
“Standing in your ruins,
Feels a lot like the end
So used to losing,
You're afraid to try again
Right now all you see are ashes
Where there was a flame
Truth is that you're not forgotten
'Cause grace knows your name
God's not done with you
Even with your broken heart and your wounds and your scars
God's not done with you
Even when you're lost and it's hard and you've fallen apart”
This was EXACTLY how I felt about church at that moment. A pile of dead ashes in the place of what used to be a bright, burning flame. But the song also gave me hope that it would not always be this way. God would make me new.
Sometime during all of this, I read I Am Restored: How I Lost My Religion but Found My Faith by Lecrae Moore.
I saw myself in parts of his story of being deeply wounded by the church. What stuck with me the most, was when he shared that one of the most healing aspects of his journey was learning to just sit and receive God’s love for him. Not having to work for it at all, but just resting in His love. That sounded amazing to me, but I had no idea how to do that.
Eventually during my walks, I started having my own experiences. I remember during a particularly anxious time, the song “Jireh” started to play. Part of the song references Jesus’ words in Matthew 6-“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t there more to life than food and more to the body than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky: They do not sow, or reap, or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you more valuable than they are?”
While I was remembering these verses, and hearing the lyrics of the song I was walking around outside, looking at the beautiful flowers in the gardens of my neighborhood.
Seeing all the different flowers, all in their own unique, God-given beauty, I knew God would take care of me too.
It was then, that the opening line of “Jireh”, hit me like never before,
“I’ll never be more loved than I am right now, wasn’t holding You up, so there’s nothing I can do to let You down”.
I was loved just as much churchless, as I was when I was going every Sunday and leading Bible studies during the week. It didn’t matter. My church status didn’t change God’s love for me one bit. My questions, pain, doubts anger, could not change who I was in God’s eyes. I was, am, have always been LOVED.
I still haven’t found myself settled back in a traditional church, but something crazy has happened.
From sharing about my complicated relationship with church online, I have been able to connect with others in real life who have had a similar experience.
We now have our own community and gather on Sundays to seek Jesus. We talk, pray, listen to a sermon or worship songs and share communion. It is new, unpredictable, incredibly special and holy, and at least for me- healing.
Not everyone who follows Jesus is opposed to questions and doubts. Not everyone who follows Jesus is rigid in their belief set and thinks anyone who thinks differently is a heretic. There are people who follow Jesus- who simply want to do that and not get caught up in the doctrinal debates of the day. These are all facts my wounded heart is learning time and again in my new community.
I have been affectionately referring to our group as, Church in the Wild, and really that’s who we are. We are the church with and for each other. Pointing each other back to God and His incredible love for each of us, and every human being walking planet Earth.
I’m not sure what your path holds, friend. Maybe you are in the wilderness of faith. Maybe you are comfortable and happy in church. Maybe you have been deeply wounded and traumatized by church people. Maybe you have done the wounding. All I know is no matter what, you are loved just as you are. You are held and loved by God. I pray you come to know that love like never before.
I’ll close with a quote from K.J. Ramsey that I love:
“Courage is choosing to spend the rest of your life listening for and receiving these words as true: You are my beloved. With you I am well pleased.”
Have courage. You are so loved.
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