I have been a minister for 25 years, most of that time I have served outside the “Bible belt” in regions of the country where organized religion is less popular. People often tell me that they believe in Jesus but not the organized the mystical teachings of jesus. Such people normally share some story that details how they were hurt by a church at some point in their past. That negative experience soured them on the institutional church, but did not make them abandon their belief in Jesus.
I can relate to people who have been hurt by the church because I have had my share of hurt that came from the way the people in the church treated me, even though I was the pastor. For example, people often lie to me when they say they are too busy to volunteer at church, but then I see their posts on Facebook and realize they were not doing anything significant anyway. Another example, people claim to care about others but then tell me they cannot give more money to the compassion ministries of the church because they are broke. But those same people always have enough money to buy new cars and go on exotic vacations. When people do not volunteer or give, I am the one who normally has to fill in the gaps they leave. Believe me, I know what it is like to be lied to, to be overworked, and to be underpaid because people are more self-centered than they want to admit.
Then there are the people who say the church did not help them in their time of need. I recognize that some churches have failed in this area. I am sure I have failed to meet every need that arose in the churches I have served. But it has been my experience that the people in the church who demand the largest portion of the minister’s time and energy are the same ones that complain the most about the church. There is nothing more frustrating than pouring your life into someone in an effort to help them, only to have them talk bad about you behind your back. A minister, perhaps more than anyone else in the church, understands what it means to be hurt by the organized church because they have experienced hurt more times than most people could imagine.
Yet, most ministers remain loyal to the organized church. Perhaps it is because we understand that a church is made up of people. And people are not perfect. Even Christian people make mistakes. In my own life, I have learned the value of forgiveness and the need to keep my eyes focused on Jesus, not people. If I focus on the actions of people in the church, I will be frequently disappointed. But if I focus on the Head of the Church, Jesus, then I will love the church, even when its people disappoint me.
When thinking about the organized church, one also must be practical. From a practical perspective, it would be difficult to accomplish much without some kind of organizational system that makes it happen. Think about how many soup kitchens, homeless shelters, crisis pregnancy centers, youth groups, job training programs, after school programs, and other community programs are operated by churches. Churches have facilities and structures already in place to help those programs operate efficiently and effectively. If we just had a bunch of individuals who believe in Jesus but were not organized enough to demonatrate that love to others in practical ways, what good would that group accomplish? Not much. But an organized church, though not perfect, can make a real difference in the lives of others. Perhaps instead of complaining about the institutional church, more people should become involved in the church. We should become part of the solution instead of just a complainer about the problems. After all, we, the people, are the church, so if it is to be fixed, we are the ones who will do the fixing!