I get broken by the numerous posts, articles and tweets I see these days from people who no longer go to church because of a level of hurt they experienced while at their church from other believers or their pastor. The reason why is because I get it. I really do because I was once there. I've said everything that can be said when you're in that position: "Isn't the church supposed to be a place for healing? Shouldn't they of all people understand? I thought the church is supposed to heal and not hurt. Are these the people who are supposed to KNOW GOD?" So like I said, I get it.
But my church wounds story arc took a different tangent. After swearing off having deeper roots at any church because of my high school experience, I became a part of a group of friends who loved music but loved Jesus more. In a way, that became my reintroduction to church. We would make music, share about our lives over a meal, read the word, pray and counsel each other because we were accountable to each other. It was beautiful, and it was church like I hadn't known before. Looking back, I can call our music group a Bible Study but the big marker was that we were a Bible study that did life with each other.
Once I was out of campus, I panicked about where I'd go to church. I wasn't looking to be a seat filler and I was afraid of not being seen, not belonging, or worse off - being seen but not being considered good enough to belong. At my first church, God dealt with the deception I was carrying about the church. It was there where I forgave the people that hurt me. It was there where God dealt with resultant wounds and hurts I experienced once I rebelled because I was no longer in church. And it's there where God started preparing my mind for marriage by introducing new thoughts about it - that to marry "The One" you have to first be the one.
After this wonderful time, I was ready to plant roots but as God always does, He told me that church wasn't home. So I began looking again and He led to INFEMI through a friend at the time who ended up being my husband. God always knows. Looking back at my experience in retrospect, even after I joined INFEMI, I gained a lot of insight on belonging and church wounds.
1. Church discipline is Biblical
Majority of the people who have church wounds are because of being on the receiving end of church discipline. Now church discipline is not uncommon. It was there since the church began as is evident in 1 Corinthians 5 (read it for context).
The point of church discipline is to release an unrepentant or disobedient believer from the congregation so as to protect the congregation. There is this belief that the church should show love and tolerance to congregants who fall into sin because God's grace is at work in them. This is true in part and not without active private correction.
"For the grace of God (His unmerited favor and blessing) has come forward (appeared) for the deliverance from sin and the eternal salvation for all mankind. It has trained us to reject and renounce all ungodliness (irreligion) and worldly (passionate) desires, to live discreet (temperate, self-controlled), upright, devout (spiritually whole) lives in this present world," Titus 2:11-12 AMP
The grace of God is not a license to sin. If your church leadership released you from their congregation because you had a habitual sin that you were not dealing with and it was corrupting, influencing or directly impacting other members of the congregation, it is important to understand that God was at work through them. God has given them the authority to do so (1 Corinthians 5:12) Not all believers in the congregation are at the same level and habitual sin or unrepentance will certainly influence the weaker ones in faith in the congregation. Titus 1 shows the weight of the call upon a pastor and other church leadership and how they are answerable to God regarding how they steward the souls of their congregation.
"There's only two ways to rid yourself of shame: Rebellion or Jesus. It's either I don't care at all and will associate with people like me who appreciate me just as I am or I need power to set me free."
- Kristene DiMarco (watch here)
Being released from church does not mean you have been rejected or that you are unfit for the kingdom. It is to give you room to seek God and deal with the sin that has entangled you for the sake of preserving your soul. Understandably, most will rebel and entertain the deception that the church doesn't show love.
In truth, a good church that practices church discipline should be able to restore you back to the congregation publicly once it is evident that you submitted on God to work on you and are repentant. Church discipline is restorative not vindictive.
When my CU released me from the leadership because I was openly unrepentant, at first I was enraged at the how it was done (I was not directly informed that I was no longer a CU leader) and even more livid that there were others like me, perhaps even worse, who were still serving within the CU who were hiding in plain sight. Looking back, I appreciate the dismissal. It led me on a path of introspection and seeking God in a deeper way. In the end, God restored me back to Himself in a much better way than before.
2. Forgiveness is healing to you as much as it is to the other
Sometimes, certain things happen to you that shouldn't have as a member of a church. Perhaps someone in church leadership takes advantage of you and gets away with it. Perhaps a church member deceives you or spreads false rumours about you and it costs you your job, marriage or a friendship. First of all, I'm sorry that happened to you. It wasn't right.
But the root of bitterness poisons your well of love. Because one person did something wrong to you does not automatically mean that the church in general is a place of pain. The person or the people in that church don't stand for the entire body of Christ.
"To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”
― C.S. Lewis
It is hard, very hard, to forgive those who have hurt you while in the church perhaps out of jealousy or malice or that they were always wolves in sheep's skin, but it is better for your soul if you forgive. Forgiveness does not absolve them of what they've done. It simply means that you have released them to God who sees and knows all things and knows what to do best as He holds the sands of time and the hearts of men in His hands.
This principle of forgiveness also applies when church discipline was not handled in the right way perhaps causing public shame or even slander by the church leadership and members.
It may feel like you're letting them get away with it, but the best thing to do to be free is to release them unto God.
3. There's no such thing as a one man church
In our times, people submit to a TV church or pastor. For example, they are not part of their local church but never miss a sermon by TD Jakes' The Potter's House or Steven Furtick's Elevation church online so to them, TD Jakes or "insert preacher here" is their pastor.
How safe is that? So safe. When you're a part of an online church community, there's no accountability. There's no correction or rebuke you will receive in love. There will be no conflict with other brethren. It's just you, the sweet Lord and the word of the week.
Though it may seem beneficial to someone or protective, there's much more to lose than they may be gaining. For example, job referrals or partnerships, accountability, counsel, help in the time of need, solutions and answers to things you couldn't arrive at on your own. The list is endless.
The body of Christ is made up of many parts and it is the wisdom of God that we belong to a local church so that we can grow in our faith and walk with Him. We are to fellowship, commune and relate with God as we also relate with other believers. Our best example is the church in the book of Acts. They always fellowshipped with one another and met together to pray and study God's word. In fact, the day of Pentecost would not have taken place in the degree that it did if each person was on their own waiting on God.
God has not given all of Himself in one person. Instead, His wisdom was to distribute a piece of Himself in each person so that to access a part of Him, we will need to submit to one another.
4. Belonging needs you to develop roots
One can't say they don't belong when they are not rooting themselves. In INFEMI, you are considered a member of the church when you consistently attend service for at least 6 months and are an active member of a Bible study.
This, as I explained in the previous point, is because the local church is even more alive at the Bible Study level. This is where one can really grow in the faith (studying scripture and expounding on sermons shared) get accountable, build deeper relationships in the walk of faith as they submit one to another acknowledging the treasure of God in each of them. This enables you to be seen, celebrated, corrected privately and for people to stand with you in prayer.
The body of Christ is made up of many parts. Belonging to one of the parts is one of the key ways you can truly function and grow in your redemptive and spiritual gifts, talents and abilities. Don't allow your fear of conflict (which is the price you pay for intimacy) or fear of being disappointed to keep you from experiencing the true heart of church which is Christ and His called out people. God loves people more than anything that's why the church is a family. And just like in every family, we grow together and learn how to love, forgive and belong.
We hope you have been blessed by this sharing. We welcome you to engage with us on our various pages (right click and select open in new tab for either of these social platform links) Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.