About Churches: They Are All Human
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I am frequently approached by people, Christians, who are thinking of giving up on church because of bad experiences in and with denominations and/or congregations. I have good friends who have given up on church. I have been tempted to give up on church.
People tell me of the corruption, hypocrisy, abuse they have experienced in churches. Most of their experiences can’t top mine. I’m not sure “why me,” but I have had some truly awful experiences in churches and denominations over the years. But I have never given up “going to church.” But it has been a struggle.
I recently tried to count the number of congregations I’ve been a member of or at least attended on a regular basis for an extended period of time. I think the number is fourteen. Part of the reason it’s so many is that I’m old and have moved a lot. Denominations-at least five. Oh, the stories I could tell. I don’t know why or how I became embroiled in or knowledgeable about corruption, deception, immorality and false preaching and teaching in many churches. I came to the tentative conclusion that I pay close attention while most others don’t.
Several of those churches were ones I was perfectly happy in until they changed. Guess what? Churches change and not always for the better. One church where my family and I attended, we walked out of the church for the last time when the board fired the whole pastoral staff because they wanted the new pastor (not yet called) to have a “clean slate” to work with. To me, that was abusive of the staff and their families and was viewing the yet-to-come pastor as a kind of CEO of a business. Even the executive minister of the denomination, at that business meeting, said he would never recommend any pastor to the church.
I have had wonderful experiences in churches; some of them have blessed me so much and provided me opportunities to serve. However, we only attended there eighteen months before moving away and, from what we heard, the church fell apart soon afterwards. No, we were not holding it together. There must have been underlying frictions we knew not about.
Things to remember about churches and denominations:
First, none are the kingdom of God; all are made up of fallible and even sinful human beings and are prone to fall into error and corruption. So DON’T tie your spirituality or life to any one of them. Be prepared to “move on” if things go the wrong way.
Second, don’t join a church or denomination, or stay in one, if there is any hint of abuse of power, heresy, financial malfeasance, or immorality tolerated on the staff. As soon as you detect secrecy, for example, raise your concern and be prepared to leave. I know many churches where one or more pastors travels secretly during the week and nobody, not even his family, knows where he goes or why. One pastor I knew claimed to have a “secret Bible study” in a nearby town or city—every Monday evening. He would not allow anyone to go with him to see it. Eventually he was convicted of some felonies and ended up in prison.
Study a church or denomination before joining it or even getting deeply involved in it. What does it believe and teach? How does it treat dissenters? Are the finances transparent? Is there any hint of abuse or secrecy? Meet with the pastor over coffee, not at the church or in your home. Gently and respectful ask questions. Visit the church for a few months before making any commitment. Then run as soon as it becomes clear, even if only to you, that it is not safe or healthy. Know, of course, that no church is perfect, but some are closer to perfection than others and finding a good one might be a task, but it will be worth it. Don’t just drop out of church because some, perhaps even many, are bad.