A friend of mine whom I deeply respect told me a few weeks ago that he thinks I speak of the church with contempt. He said he finds it oppressive and ungracious. How wonderful to have friends who can lovingly rebuke me!
But it’s got me thinking about my attitude to the church. We’ve had discussions on here before about the failure of the church. I’ve said that my experiences of ‘the church’ (and several churches) are pretty negative on both structural and interpersonal levels: abuse, hurt, heresy, poor management, slander, etc. Some days I’m amazed I want to be a Christian, let alone in ministry! (But then there’s a reason we don’t want to be church planters / pastors.)
I think being a ministry kid is part of the equation. I never felt angry with my parents for being in ministry but I did feel angry with the church (and people in the church) for how my parents and we as a family were treated. I might have gone ‘into ministry’ in 2007, and been ‘doing ministry’ since 2001, but in reality, my ministry life started much earlier. I’ve got 25 years of hurtful things to come to terms with, not just 5 or 10 years. And it’s not just my pain either. It’s also being powerless to do anything while you see family and friends hurt as well.
The temptation is to say that unforgiveness is justified; that bitterness is inevitable. That there’s just too much stuff to deal with. But that’s not the way of the gospel or of the Great Healer.
Here’s how I usually deal with this sort of pain. I call the church what it is. When things go down hill in a particular situation, I predict what will happen next. Sometimes I’m flippant about a situation that is actually really serious. On one hand it’s a defense mechanism, a refusal to be too optimistic, to be let down again.
But on another level, it’s a deep commitment that I will continue to engage with this deeply flawed and astoundingly inefficient monstrosity. I won’t cover up its inadequacies or its barbs. But I will trust that one day Jesus will heal them. And me.
If I’m contemptuous of the church, it’s a symptom of my own brokenness. I’m trusting that one day I will be able to love the church. And trusting that Jesus is working in me now, by giving me my wonderful rebuking friend.
Ministry kids, how do you process your experiences?
Everyone else, how do you deal with your brokenness?
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.