Her lip began to quiver as she shared with me the latest update on her family. Their daughter had divorced last year, and her son with disabilities had to move home due to the mistreatment he received while away at college.
Adding to that, they had just buried her father-in-law. Her grief was contained but, clearly, it was an unexpected season of pain that didn’t seem to be letting up.
Because we were in a public place, her tone was hushed. I asked if they had a good support system because complicated grief makes life messy for a long time unless one has support. She said they hadn’t told many people because the church doesn’t “talk about these things.”
In recent days, I’ve heard that sentiment expressed by even the most devout Christians, respected and involved in their church community. If there is anything we need in the church today, it’s the freedom to seek help and find hope when we need to “talk about these things.”
I hugged my friend, affirming my love for her and her whole family. I told her she was free to write, call, stop by, whatever she needed. I was ready to listen.
I walked away reflecting on a list of “these things”—topics like divorce, death, disabilities, bullying, struggles with sin . . . or whatever your church considers “not-allowed” conversation. Who makes those lists anyway?
The Bible I read does not shy away from any topic, so why do we? In fact, the Old and New Testaments include the following themes and many more:
- Idolatry (throughout)
- Sodomy/sexual perversion (Genesis 19)
- Incest (Noah)
- Prostitution (throughout)
- Infertility (Hannah)
- Marital affairs (David and Bathsheba)
- Murder (Moses)
- Power/control (Saul, David, Solomon)
- Abuse (Genesis, Joseph)
- Blackmail (Esther)
- Stalking (Saul hunting David)
- Rape (2 Samuel 13)
- Depression and mental health (David, Psalms, Proverbs)
- Divorce (Ephesians)
- Gossip (James)
- Doubt (Thomas)
- Suicide (Judas)
- Disabilities (the man born blind)
- Stealing and Cheating (Matthew the tax collector)
Let’s not forget the countless wars and continued persecution or the dreadful torture and disgusting legalism. The list could go on. The point is, Scripture doesn’t avoid touchy subjects.
What you are facing today? More than likely, your struggle is in some way addressed in the Word of God; you don’t have to be alone in your suffering.
However, people will suffer alone if pastors and church leaders don’t listen to the struggles that folks face.
Studies reveal why the Christian community is shrinking in the U.S. The Barna Group conducted a study in mid-2013 on why the church is dividing and why fewer people are attending; they found several themes as to why people have reduced interest in church. People believe . . .
- The church is irrelevant (and unwilling to discuss the problems people are facing today).
- The leaders are hypocritical.
- Legitimate doubt is frowned upon.[ref]Barna Group, “Americans Divided on the Importance of Church,” Barna: Frames, https://www.barna.com/research/americans-divided-on-the-importance-of-church/#.UzwMlq1dW7o, accessed May 26, 2018.[/ref]
Another article titled “25 Reasons People Don’t Go to Church” cited 25 reasons. A few on that list include the following:
- Church lasts too long.
- People have a fear of being judged.
- Church is boring.
- The church is filled with hypocrites.
- People feel hurt by the church.
- People don’t trust their pastor.[ref]Portia Chandler, “25 Reasons People Don’t Go to Church,” askportia.com, http://askportia.com/2016/03/25-reasons-people-dont-go-church/, accessed May 26, 2018.[/ref]
In addition to these articles, my personal experience with Christians is similar.
I’ve experienced people who have been . . .
- Unwilling to connect with the marginalized
When people don’t take time to learn about my son’s disabilities, the assumption is that I’m a “bad parent.” When life hits hard and I doubt God, I am labeled as shallow and lacking faith. When prayers for healing from pain go unanswered, I’m labeled as hiding sin or lacking faith.
Here’s something only my family knows: There was a time when I didn’t attend church for over a year because it was more damaging to attend than it was healing.
So I chose to worship Jesus safely and securely from my own home. I tell you that so you know I’ve been there and still wrestle with reaching out at times. Trust is hard to earn and easy to lose.
What Needs to Change?
So how do we move forward? What does the Christian church need to hear? What will draw in those who need hope more than anything else? I’ve listed the following as a place to start:
- Be a “safe” person; accept every person as they are, not as you want them to be.
- Listen, and allow people to talk without judging them. Stay silent unless feedback is requested.
- Serve without expecting to be praised or thanked.
- Teach God’s Word as it’s written, not as you want it to be written.
- Help people apply God’s Word to their daily lives.
- Discuss things like mental health, disabilities, divorce, abuse, and pride.
- Get rid of your list of what a Christian is supposed to do, be, say, eat, wear.
- Enter a person’s world by being willing to help him or her regardless the task(s) required.
- Seek unity amid celebrating diversity.
- Focus on what is of eternal value: character, perspective, honoring God, loving without conditions, encouragement, speaking truth and hope, sharing other’s sorrows and joys.
In the days ahead, why don’t you meditate on these passages that talk about what makes a healthy church.
- John 13:4–5
- 1 Corinthians 13
- 2 Corinthians 12
- Ephesians 4
- Philippians 2:3–4
- James 4:1–2
- 1 Peter 5:1–5
Let Me Hear from You
This week, ask yourself, “Am I a safe person others can trust?” “Do I listen well?” “Am I open to learning new ways of worshiping?” “Do I welcome those who are different?” “Do I place conditions on how I love, serve, and care for others?”
By reframing our Christian church behaviors, the doors will fly open because we all need help and hope. How can you make a difference in your church starting today? I’d love to hear some ideas from you.
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