It’s Monday Grace!
Do I have to go to church? It isn’t just the kids who ask that. Sometimes it’s the adults, especially if there are hurtful people or situations at church. (Sometimes it’s the pastor, but we won’t go into that.)
Is there a rule that I have to go to church in order to be right with God? Is it sin to stay home on Sunday mornings? What does God think?
Under grace, there is nothing we have to do in order to stay right with God. Jesus has purchased our salvation and has given us “all things that pertain to life and godliness.” Any godliness you see in my life or in the lives of others is Him. Our salvation is a gift from Him. Those who accept this gift by faith won’t lose it if they skip church.
Sadly, church is the source of pain for many people. From comparisons and judgments to outright sexual abuse, the church seems to hurt people. I get a note almost every day on Facebook about another pastor who has abused someone, almost always sexually. In almost every case, the church system covered up the offense as long as they could. Of course, that must be among the most grievous of the pains the church causes, but there are so many others. It doesn’t take many times of being treated like you are unworthy or unwelcome to begin to see the church as a toxic place.
If half the stories I have been told personally are true, then the church has earned its toxic label.
I know the Bible says that we are not to neglect “the assembling of ourselves together.” That means the church should continue to meet, not that everyone must go to church. The hope would be that people would find support and encouragement in church, that the people would come together in the name of the Savior to love each other and help each other. After all, we expect to be in eternity together. As hard as it is for some to imagine, the church should be a hint of the joy of that communion.
I used to know a pastor whose wife refused to attend his church. The people were critical and cruel. They treated their pastor badly and thought his wife was their unpaid servant. Was she supposed to continue to attend, to look across the congregation at those who seemed to hate her family, and smile? Well, she couldn’t.
What do you do if the church is toxic? Can God bless you if you stay home? Does He expect you to suffer through the week, both trying to forget what happened last Sunday and worrying about it happening again next Sunday?
I could write long about this. I’ll try not to.
If your church is toxic, you don’t have to go. That’s blunt. I wouldn’t send someone to a doctor who is dangerous; why would I send people to listen to a preacher who is dangerous? I wouldn’t force people to attend an exercise group where the people are critical and cruel: why would I send them to a church like that? We certainly would not send a victim back to an abuser; why would we subject anyone to an abusive church? And, yes, there are such things.
Okay. What to do.
Find a different church. I know churches I would not attend. There are a lot of churches out there. I have known people who traveled sixty miles one way to go to a church that supported them and cared. Not all are toxic, hopefully not most. Toxins come in many forms. Stepping over boundaries, low respect for the individual, bad doctrine, compromised leadership, unreasonable expectations: these may all be toxic to you or your family. Find a place where you don’t find toxins.
Let them invest in you before you invest in them. Be slow to commit to any group. If you sense that something is off, check it out or just leave. You don’t have to stay with a particular church. See if they care about you even in your weaknesses. Listen to how they judge God’s people. Listen to what they say about people outside the church.
Stay home. Heal. God may lead you back to church someday, but you can have Christian friends and support without going to church. To be honest, there are a couple of great preachers on television who do understand the message of grace. God can speak to you. In fact, He may find your heart to be more open when you aren’t so worried about who is watching and judging you.
Remember that the Christian faith is about Jesus, not church. Under grace, God will never reject you for not keeping rules or measuring up. He doesn’t take attendance Sunday mornings. But He does want you to know that He loves you. Don’t forget that as you struggle with the church.
I am not part of the anti-church gang. Nor am I particularly excited about the house church movement. I understand the feelings, I am just not convinced that the solutions are that much better. Every new thing seems to solve the problems presented by the old until the problems of the new are revealed. At the same time, some of these small gatherings are sincere about the love of God and the love for His people. But then, so are some churches.
So, ask Jesus. That’s what grace is all about. He will lead you. He knows your heart. He knows your pain and fear. Jesus wants you to be safe and healthy. Don’t let the expectations and judgments of others lead you away from Him.
I want to share some thoughts about why churches become toxic, especially in relationships, over the next few weeks. Under grace, we can look at the church more objectively. We can admit mistakes, compromises, and abuses. There is so much good news in the message of Jesus! We don’t have to lose sight of that when we think of the church.