A month or so ago I was speaking with someone whose story echoed mine in that we have both experienced amazing joy and gut-wrenching hurt through the various congregations we've been a part of. We recognized that the catch to navigating through it is in remembering that the hurt that can come from other Christians isn't the ultimate way God intends us to live nor the way the church is supposed to operate. In ironic contrast, though, any joy we experience is a taste of what heaven is all about.
There's the "church," and then there's the "Church." Both are God's "plan A," with the former being the imperfect representation of the perfect latter in a broken world. At times it functions in the way it was designed, while on other occasions it may seem a bit off base (kind of like each of us). This is the product of of flawed people connecting with a flawless God.
That's what the church is, by the way... a redeemed and supernatural union of the Creator and his creation. Church is not something you attend, go to, or pencil in (i.e. "See you at church on Sunday!"). Rather, the church is intended to be who we are.
That doesn't discount the hurt it can sometime cause or make its faults any less real, though. Instead, it creates an interesting tension of theology: Why did Jesus entrust the church into the hands of his disciples (including us) when he knew how wacked we are and can be?
Then again... the church is not really in our hands alone. Jesus said that He would build the church upon the foundation of people like us. Our part is to care for it and its people, whether they are inside or outside the four walls of a building we've designated as sacred space.
Sometimes, though, we end up messing up on our end.
It's not an easy task to wrestle with this due to the subjective way we see ourselves when compared to others. When we are wounded we might begin to compare our better points with the worst points of those who have hurt us, slamming their "lack of spirituality" while we believe we have been the "model example." We may not ever articulate this out loud or even in our brains, and yet in our discouragement we often forget our contribution to the chaos that exists. As Brian McClaren put it, "We should stop comparing our best with their worst and feeling smug about it."
The church is messy, made up of a union of the divine with the warped... the infinite with the finite... the perfect with the imperfect. As such, the church has great days and hard days with it many times being a mixture of both. Often we get it wrong and start to build personal castles instead of investing in the unseen Kingdom. Consequently, people walk away, pastors get burnt out, and agonostics find one more reason to keep on asking their questions.
Then again, there is no such thing as the perfect marriage, either. The 12-year union my wife and I share as husband and wife has had great days and hard days - and sometimes a mixture of both. Yet we press on... building what we can, and addressing the issues as they arise in a spirit of grace.
Maybe there's a reason Jesus calls the Church His Bride.
Like healthy dating and courting, maybe it's less about "finding the right one" and more about "becoming the right one." If we want the union to be a healthy one, a large share of that rests on our shoulders. The other part rests on God's, and he is constantly doing more than we expect him, too.
If you've been hurt by the church, don't give up. If you haven't been hurt by the church, be sure you're not unintentionally wounding another. The crazy thing about all of this is that Jesus Christ knew how messed up we'd make things and yet he still chose to pass the baton our way. If he has faith in the church (and each of us), maybe we should, too.
Hope you choose the "engagement."
(I hear the Bride will one day look pretty awesome.)
One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, "Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb." And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. (Revelation 21:9-11)