I like a happy ending, don’t you?
When it comes to church, I entered my adult years with an almost enchanted view of what my role in the body of Christ should be. There was absolutely no reason that a sincere girl like me who has faithfully attended church since infancy would struggle with being a pillar of faithfulness in a church for my entire life.
But sometimes church gets messy.
The body of Christ is constantly under attack, and people that you sing next to and serve alongside from week to week could ultimately hurt you deeply. Perhaps they will even reject you. Nobody wants to talk about this fact because it’s complicated and ugly, but it is a problem that has plagued the church since its start. I know with certainty that I’m not alone in being wounded deeply by people within the church because the Bible gives accounts of it happening even then – preferential treatment as well as exclusion, gossip, greed, legalism, and betrayal. Despite all my best efforts, I, too, have experienced them all right inside the doors of the building called “church.”
My husband and I have worked hard to avoid being sources of negativity. We did our best to be the 20% of church members who do 80% of the work because we would rather be busy doing the right things than letting boredom tempt us to do the wrong ones. While it seemed like a good idea at the time, it eventually led to burnout.
Several years ago, we were devastated when, in addition to the burnout we were feeling, a personality conflict turned ugly. We knew that we needed to get out from under the spiritual oppression we were feeling. It was disheartening to walk away from a body that we had invested so much of ourselves into, but we knew in our spirits that it was the right thing to do.
Besides, we already had a plan to immediately immerse ourselves in a church plant venture. This was exciting for a few months, but as we got to know the leadership, we began to see that our beliefs didn’t match those of the church, so we had little choice but to move on.
We quickly settled comfortably into what I believed to be the fairy tale ending to our church-home saga. We had several friends there and felt at home the very first time we visited. It was a no-brainer that this was the perfect fit for our family.
Everything about our time there was like that happily ever after I believed church was supposed to be. All of our past hurts and mistakes made us appreciate being in this place that was an easy place to serve and commune with other believers.
Until the ultimate betrayal from people we trusted.
We unintentionally hurt one person, and before we became aware and could apologize and reconcile, the story blossomed into a sensational lie that spread like wildfire by people who gossiped in the name of concern.
For months we tried to stand up and fight for grace, truth, integrity, and forgiveness, but our efforts were not accepted. We reached a breaking point in our family with the intensity of this betrayal stacked upon our past hurts. No matter how much we tried to handle everything in a Godly manner, we met a wall of resistance. After much prayer, we realized that no one could move forward until we broke away from the place and people we had loved so much.
We were officially homeless – church homeless. It was the loneliest we’ve ever felt in our lives.
As difficult as it has been for our wounded hearts to visit other churches and picture belonging to one eventually, we have put one weak foot in front of the other and walked through the doors of several congregations in the last several months. Each week, our steps through the church doors get a little more confident as our broken hearts have grieved and continued to heal. As genuine as I believed I was in all of my years of being in church, I am learning that I am the most real I’ve ever been as I worship and learn corporately.
We may not have had a church to call home for a while, but I’ve felt the power of Christ’s church lift me up in some very dark days. Fellow believers who attend various congregations spoke scripture over us, prayed for us, and reminded us that this was all an attack from Satan. Several members of the church that we had to leave made the choice to stand with us and encourage us as we did our best to honor God. I can say with confidence that people in the body will falter, but God’s church is still very much at work in great ways.
Among the many things I’ve learned from this experience, one of the greatest sources of encouragement in my own life has been seeing how truly beautiful and big the body of Christ is.
I used to get way too caught up in having the perfect fairy tale church experience at one specific place. In my mind, we would be there for forever and live happily ever after as one big happy family. Instead, God has shown me that HIS church is far bigger than my little story book picture. And I love Him and His church so much more as a result.
If you’ve been wounded by people in the church, please know that I am praying earnestly for you. It may not feel like it right now, but you truly have the power to choose whether or not you will be defined by your experience. God, in His incredible love, has called you to be His child. That trumps any hurt, accusation, or condemnation sinful members of a congregation may have given you. As sure as He has begun a good work in you, He will be faithful to complete it! (Philippians 1:6)
I’m Kelly West, wife to a fire fighter and mom to a sweet and lively son and delightfully spunky daughter. I enjoy baking, writing, reading, having long talks with friends, and living life with my sweet family. I’m also quite fond of chocolate and coffee. I’ve known about Jesus my whole life, but each year I learn more how much I love Him and value His grace and our ever-growing relationship. He truly is so good – in the big things, the difficult things, and the exceptionally average things. I’d love to get to know you better! You can connect with me via email (firstname.lastname@example.org), my blog, Twitter, or Facebook.