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I know you may be seeing the title of this post and thinking the thoughts, “Yay, let’s get the church! They’ve hurt me, so I want to hurt them back!” But this isn’t the intent of this series. The purpose of the series Body Damage: When the Church Hurts Itself is to address church wounds, intentionally pray through these specific wounds with each other, and heal.
Because if we don’t otherwise implement the intentionality part, we can wear a rotten spirit of offense and never get to the very necessary healing part. So as we list these specific ways the church hurts itself, please, pray through the list, lifting up the offenses to God to repair. This list will be followed by compelling stories of others who have endured their own church wounds but who have also found healing in Christ and His people. Our second section of the series will be focused on specifics that will hone in on the healing aspect of church wounds.
1.) We try to steal the platform from God. This means using the church, Bible, and Christianity in general to have our own megaphone where God has little involvement. Stealing from God can happen so subtly because our initial actions could contain pure motives, but then become redirected to an “us centered” theology. (Think of Job’s friends who used God’s words to condemn their friend in need.)
2.) The church gets caught up in extremes by overemphasis. Or, when we major on the minors. We focus on non-issues like Joe trying to figure out who’s a five-point Calvinist in the congregation, where Jason stands on the age of the earth, and if Carrie really believes in that post-tribulation ideology. Even though doctrine is vital and it’s important to know, research, and pray through some of the non-essentials, it’s also healthy to recognize that these points are not essential to our beliefs.
3.) Our priorities are sometimes out of whack. We may concentrate more on financing specialty programs or building the building that we neglect the welfare of Christ’s body.
4.) Pastors are placed into an almost god-like position in our modern church. Clearly, no human can fill the proverbial shoes of God and so when this detrimental thought-process leaches into the church, pastors quickly become overtaxed. Proper delegation may not be used, and if the pastor doesn’t know his own limitations, he will be led to a burn-out.
From the side of the congregants, any flaw seen in the pastor can become so unsightly because of the expectation of perfection, so we improperly deify man and do not allow for any vulnerabilities to crack through. Or another emotionally unhealthy response is to excuse the sin in the pastor’s life because, well, he’s the pastor and should be able to do whatever he wants without accountability.
5.) When we care more about the numbers mindset. Sometimes we can transfer a business mindset over to our ministry endeavors to where we expect “X” number of people to attend Sunday morning service and if we don’t receive that number or beyond, we wrongly conclude that our ministry endeavors have failed. But this isn’t the way Jesus thought. Jesus lost numbers, guys! He started talking about people taking up their crosses and many of those same listeners walked away. Jesus didn’t have PR approved messages and He certainly wasn’t focused on ensuring His numbers fit within a set number.
This census type of mindset can also become damaging when we try to chase congregants down who haven’t attended church in a while, telling them they need to go to church instead of genuinely hearing where they’re coming from as to why they’re not attending church.
6.) We’re burnt out ourselves and need to re-charge with God. We can be so intent on “doing” that we forget that there needs to be a time where we sit at God’s feet and rest.
7.) The church uses the words “operating by the Holy Spirit” to cross boundaries. It’s an unfortunate fact that many churches and Christians will insert Christianize words to manipulate congregants into doing more. For instance, the church leadership may feel like it’s their duty to tell Sally that the Lord “placed it on their heart” that she needs to be doing nursery duty every Sunday. Obviously, this would put Sally in an awkward position if she said “no” because wouldn’t she then be going against God? Would it even be the Christian thing to say “no?”
8.) We forsake vulnerabilities in favor of the “perfect image.” Thankfully, there has been a recent renaissance in the church where vulnerabilities and authenticity are considered desirable. But there are still some churches that frown on this behavior and consider sharing vulnerable pieces a threat to the church’s image. (We will talk about this more in Jodi’s story on May 18th.)
9.) The secular and the sacred are wrongly divided. Francis Schaeffer has shared this struggle of the church in the mid 20th century and now his protege,’ Nancy Pearcey has been addressing the issue at length in works like Total Truth and Saving Leonardo. So, what does this mean exactly? It means that we have divided our public lives from our spiritual lives. That means our professional career lives have omitted God who has then been penciled into our private time with family and church on Sunday. But God isn’t meant to be placed on a block schedule for our personal time and Christians throughout church history did not carry this sacred and secular divide in their lives.
10. We lack emotional intelligence. As Pete Scazzerro says, “Emotional health and spiritual maturity cannot be separated. It is impossible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.” We cannot be emotional infants, demanding people meet our needs or wrongly people-pleasing and expect to become spiritual giants. In Scazzero’s groundbreaking work,The Emotionally Healthy Church, he covers the divide between physical and spiritual (kind of like the earlier divide we just talked about between the secular and the sacred). By that, Scazerro is saying that we bought the lie that the spiritual is far better than the physical. This thought process is rooted in something called Gnosticism and separates the two entities and makes the physical far less important. So what happens when this occurs? We neglect our physical and emotional well-being, relegating it to the less important “physical” sphere that really doesn’t deserve our attention.
11. The Bible’s prescription for leadership is neglected. The Bible lays out a pretty great formula for leadership, indicating the qualifications for its leaders and also warnings about who shouldn’t be leaders. For example, in the qualifications for church leadership, recent converts are warned not to be chosen for leadership positions. “An elder must not be a new believer, because he might become proud, and the devil would cause him to fall.” -1 Timothy 3:6
12. A dysfunctional hierarchy is in place. In some churches, there’s a totem pole of importance where ageism or other known or created “isms” set in. The older crowd decides to divide themselves from the younger group and positions themselves as better because of their age. The flipside of this can also be seen in churches. We talked about this phenomenon a little in 8 Reasons why Millenials Aren’t Getting Married.
13. Only parts of the Gospel are told. Many of us have a tendency to fall into emphasizing the grace of God more without focusing on the necessary truth parts or focusing on the truth sans the love of God and His amazing grace. What happens is we get a skewed version of the Gospel and share this limited perspective with others. It may not even be a grace/truth thing but also parts of the Bible we omit.
14. We have a distorted view of suffering. Since we tend to neglect the physical parts of life in favor of the spiritual, we can have a tendency to distort suffering. Suddenly, if a catastrophic event takes place in someone’s life and they’re not quickly rescued from disaster, we can blame the person for their lack of faith.
15. We forget prayer and Bible reading are essential. It can be easy to forget to spend time alone with God in His Word and in prayer. No, there’s not a lightning bolt that will strike from the sky if you don’t, nor is this a time we’re trying to shame you if you haven’t been spending time with God. But to have the full armor of God, we must be dutiful to be in the Word (our sword) and to be vigilant in prayer.
I want to mention again that we ourselves have been wrong in many areas on this list and continuously need to go through our own healing. So if you have been wrong in any of these areas, it’s okay. Go before God in prayer asking for His forgiveness and restoration. I hope you enjoy the upcoming posts in this series aimed at healing the wounds from the church.