Have you been hurt somewhere in your past—at church? At the one place on the planet that was supposed to be an oasis, a safe-zone, a place of rest and restoration—were you somehow bruised or broken?
While a more brutish person would say, “Get over it and get right with God”—it’s just not that simple is it? That’s the very spirit you ran from to begin with.
Church is a bit of a paradox. It’s a placed filled with broken people, but it’s to be a place of love and grace. It’s a place where flesh comes to die. But sometimes flesh doesn’t die easily, which often makes church messy. Everyone in the church has flesh—including the pastor and leaders.
It’s easy for the oasis to become a muddy mess.
Church—a place where flesh comes to die. The flesh is a powerful part of every Christian. It’s demanding and self-centered. It’s judgmental and arrogant. It’s just nasty and nothing like Jesus. When the first person arrives at church, flesh it there. So it is with every car that pulls into the lot—more flesh. With every family member that walks in—more flesh. When the pastor walks in—flesh. With every new guest—more flesh. Sounds like a flesh-explosion just waiting to happen!
Flesh comes to church. But it comes to die. One of the very reasons we bring flesh to church is to crucify it again to the cross of Jesus and to bask anew in grace and mercy. We gather to grow. We assemble so we don’t dissemble. All week long we fight the flesh, and all of its attraction to the world. It’s a lonely battle. But when we gather with believers, suddenly we aren’t alone! We battle in community! We fight the flesh together—in prayer, in humility, in a collective cry for MERCY! (Or so it’s supposed to be.)
But that’s not always what happens is it? Sometimes flesh doesn’t die silently. Flesh rises up, scratching and clawing for control and for self. Since church is a gathering place for all the growing Christians to bring their flesh, sadly, sometimes flesh goes crazy at church. And that’s when people get hurt. That’s when the very core of our faith is shaken. It’s when God forces us to wrestle with the question, “Is my faith in men or God?”
Before we explore how you’ve seen it maybe we should consider how you’ve been the source of it.
Have you ever been offended by someone at church? That’s flesh. Have you ever had a hard time forgiving someone? That’s flesh. Have you ever rationalized your behavior as better than someone else’s? Have you ever compared yourself to someone else and come out “better” in your mind? Have you ever excused your sin while pointing out someone else’s? Have you ever been hurt by someone and come out swinging? Have you ever left a fight unresolved, a relationship fractured and unattended? Have you ever talked behind someone’s back about unresolved conflict? Have you ever pointed out another’s faults while losing sight of your own? All flesh.
Yes, flesh goes to church. It’s supposed to die, but it doesn’t always die. Sometimes it fights, and people get hurt. You’ve been hurt. But most likely—if you’re honest—you’ve also delivered some hurt. I know I have.
We’re all guilty aren’t we? Bummer. Sorry to disarm your rationale for “never going back to church.” Truth is, we’re all just broken and afraid to admit it.
Now, moving on to how flesh hurts. Every week I hear from another Christian who has some horror story of being seriously wounded or hurt at church. When I introduce myself to new people as a pastor, people want to run for cover. They pull back emotionally, relationally, spiritually—and it often takes months or a years before they open up, even a little. They don’t want to get hurt again. This is real. I get it. I’ve experienced it as well, in my youth—long before I was ever a pastor. I saw flesh in a lot of different circumstances—and yes, it hurt. It challenged my faith. It tempted me to “never trust” another (fill in the blank.)
Flesh comes to church. When it doesn’t die, it hurts people. Therefore, we’ve all seen it. We’ve all been hurt by it. We’ve all hurt others because of it. This makes us messy, it makes our families messy, and yes—it even makes our churches messy.
Fleshly leaders, fleshly church members—it’s all recipe for a lot of brokenness and bruising. It’s pervasive. That means me and you and everyone else has the capacity to walk in the flesh, even in the spiritual context of church and Christian relationships. You name the sin or the circumstance—from the “minute” to the “massive”—and yes, we all have the capacity. Scary.
Sort of makes you want to hide out—hunker down in a spiritual bunker. Sort of makes you want to withdraw from the “brethren”—retreat to “flatscreen” church where you can’t be hurt. Makes you feel vulnerable. Me too. (And I’m a pastor no less!) Stay home, make some coffee, watch a guy on TV. Lick my wounds, nurse my offenses, and avoid community with believers. It’s the best option—feed my spirit and my flesh at the same time with minimal risk of exposure to other flesh.
Ah, but there’s deception in this recourse. In our bunker of self-protection we retain our faith but sentence the world and the Bride to death. In order to “never be hurt” again, we inflict greater hurts. First we withhold hope from those who are hopeless. Second we curse the Bride of Christ to her demise. (If every Christian responded this way, the church would disintegrate.) Hurt for hurt. Seems fair. Church hurt me. So I’ll hurt her. Hurting people hurt people, right? That’s what flesh does. Do unto others as they have done unto you. Do unto others before they do unto you—again! Get back, get even, feel better.
Sorry—it doesn’t work. You know it doesn’t work, that’s why this article feels like it’s pulling back scabs. Healing hasn’t happened, has it? Read on…
“Private Jesus-follower” isn’t a biblical or healthy existence. Sorry. Really, I am sorry. I know you’re hurt. I know someone’s flesh scarred you deeply. It’s terrible. But it doesn’t have to be lethal—to you or to the church. It doesn’t have to be perpetual. There is real hope.
What you went through is HEALABLE! It really is. That’s what grace is for. Hebrews 12 teaches that God can and will heal our hurts if we let Him chasten (or nurture) us forward by His grace.
The book of James reveals that we probably have unrealistic expectations. Early church life was filled with flesh too—probably worse than what you experienced! And James said “humble yourselves, stop fighting, pray together, confess your faults, support each other—let the God of all grace really be the God of all grace.” James’ short letter covers all the mess. Venture through trials together, chapter one. Live out real faith together, chapter two. Speak words of grace to each other, chapter three. Resolve arguments and disputes with heavenly wisdom together, chapter four. Endure oppression together, chapter five. Pray through trials, struggle together, and restore each other, chapter five.
Church has always been messy. Broken people break relationships. Broken people make messes. It’s what we do. It comes naturally. We are destructive beings. Church has always been messy because it’s always involved broken people assembling together.
But this is where the miracle comes in. Grace is a supernatural quality brought about only by God’s Spirit—and it produces miraculous community. When believes allow Jesus to build their church, there’s nothing like this institution, anywhere else! A spirit-filled community of believers is a rare thing, but also an immensely attractive thing. It’s extremely powerful—to believers and to the lost. It’s what every single Christian longs for, craves, desperately needs. To believers it’s the most restful and encouraging oasis of biblical support available. To the lost, it’s the most vivid and heart-convicting presentation of the gospel known to man. (A dynamic church that genuinely welcomes unbelievers, worships in spirit and truth, loves unconditionally, and presents the clear gospel with simplicity is the best outreach ministry God ever invented.)
Flat-screen church or bunker-church is safe, but lonely. It’s community-less, relationship-less, disconnected. The safety of the bunker leaves us longing for Spirit-filled community. It leaves us silently starving for Christ-centered community. Perhaps you stopped believing church could be healthy—but you haven’t stopped needing… or hoping.
Here’s the beauty. There is another way. There are healthy churches. And God is in the redemption business. He takes what is broken and rebuilds it. He takes was is hurt and heals it by His grace. He uses past hurt to purge and purify and crucify our flesh. He humbles us so that we might really see Him.
To make things even more beautiful—broken believers make for the best church family! Church doesn’t work unless there’s collective humility. Those have been hurt know how it feels. They know what fleshly church looks like. They also know they are capable of hurting others. Past hurt—both giving and receiving—can serve to humble us, and healthy church is only possible with real humility.
What am I saying? Believers who have been hurt or who have hurt (like you and me), if they process their hurt by God’s grace and let Him heal it—become wonderful contributors to a healthy church life.
Simply, God can use your past hurt to help others experience healthy church.
With all of your disappointment, brokenness, and wound-licking flesh—YOU are a gift to a church body somewhere. You can still enjoy healthy community, but you can also contribute to the healthy, Spirit-led life of a local church. Your past hurt can help a new generation of believers enjoy a different church culture altogether.
It takes people who have seen flesh and been fleshly to spot it, confess it, resolve it, repent from it, and protect the church from it. It takes genuine humility to help people humble themselves and grow in grace. Now that you’ve seen it, you know what NOT to do, how NOT to be. Once you have healed from it, you can help others heal, and help a new generation of new believers walk in wisdom.
What I’m saying is, if you’ve been hurt at church—the church needs you and you still need the church.
The church needs you to make yourself vulnerable again, in order to help it get back to grace and gospel. You need the church to provide community and grace-based relationships in your life. You need Christian friends who will love you as you are, who will not judge you, who will embrace you with grace and prayer. You need the body and the body needs you.
Truth is, with all the danger that our flesh poses—we all still need each other. Every Christian longs intuitively—spiritually—for community that can only be found in healthy local body of believers. But a healthy local body can become unhealthy when any member stops seeing their own brokenness and starts pointing out everybody else’s.
Church—it’s volatile but vital!
Church is a messy body of fleshly beings that only works when the whole group yields in humility and unity to the Spirit—the whole body must pursue Jesus together, on their knees. It only works when we come together to let flesh die—dare I say—to help each other’s flesh die. It only works when humility prevails and when we acknowledge our mutual point of need and our mutual dependence upon God’s grace.
It only works when the ground is level.
Picture this—small, messy, broken, pathetic people all kneeling on level ground with arms locked in mutual covenant relationship—all over-shadowed by massive bloodstained cross—the everlasting covenant of God’s grace. No comparing. No flesh on parade. No politics. Just forgiveness and rejoicing in amazing grace!
The local church—a gathering of bitter brokenness covered by radical redemption, engaged together in gracious restoration—of one another and of any soul seeking rescue.
No flatscreen can be this for you. No TV personality can meet this need.
It’s time to heal. It’s time to believe in healthy church again. It’s time to be a part of making a healthy church and helping others experience a healthy church.
Healthy church isn’t dead. Biblical church is still quite possible. But YOU are a part of the mix. Jesus calls you forth from the bunker and into blessed community. It’s time to stop returning hurt for hurt. Time to stop punishing Jesus’ bride. Time to stop beating yourself up over the past. Time to admit you’re made of flesh too—yep, the flesh that keeps you withdrawn, untrusting, licking those wounds. It’s time for flesh to start dying again.
So I encourage you, Christian friend. Somewhere within your reach, there’s a healthy, Bible-believing, gospel-oriented, grace-centered local church body. Jesus is there. Humility is there. His Spirit is unquenched there. His heart is unfolding there. His body is healthy there. Really.
You’ll know it when you arrive for a variety of reasons—the doctrine will be biblical, but so will the attitude. God’s Spirit will bear witness with your Spirit that He is unquenched in that church. Get there. Grow there. Open your heart there.
Could you be hurt again? Sure. That’s part of the risk. Flesh is there. You could hurt again too! After all, your flesh will be there too. But the risk and the struggle is well worth the benefit of biblical community.
So bind up that wounded flesh this Sunday, and go find that biblical church. Let healthy church thrive because “messy-you” has joined the gathering of those messy believers engaged in lovingly encouraging each other in the ministry of reconciliation.
You need it. You miss it. You should be thriving in it. When your life goes off script, and the body comes to care, you’ll thank God for it. The healthy bride of Christ is most beautiful. To broken believers, she’s absolutely essential and grace-filled. To longing unbelievers she is absolutely captivating and attractive. There’s nothing like her anywhere else on the planet.
Healthy church can still happen!
But Jesus calls you into the mess…