A note to people who have been burned by the church

church kills
For those who’ve experienced the wrong meaning of this…


I went to a restaurant a few months ago and had a bad experience. The wait was long, the food was mediocre, the service was bad.

That surely isn’t the best they can offer.

Now I may or may not give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they were just having a bad night. Maybe I was just having a bad night. Even the best restaurant in America gets an occasional bad review. So maybe they deserve a second chance. Perhaps even a third. I may go back; I don’t know yet.

But even if I give up on that restaurant, I’m not giving up on restaurants. Because one restaurant failed to give me good food and good service doesn’t mean that I’ve decided none of them are worth it. Even if I have two or three or ten bad experiences (I’ve surely had at least a dozen), I’m not ready to give up on the whole restaurant thing. I think they have something of value for me—namely, a typically good meal that I didn’t have to cook or clean.

Burned by the Church

For you who have had a really bad experience in the church—or even two or three or ten—two things:

First, on behalf of all of us, I’m sorry that it happened. I hate it that some people have been burned by the church. But I also know it’s inevitable. Because everyone has off-nights.

More than that, it’s inevitable because the church gets into bigger things than a restaurant. We’re dealing with eternal matters, virtue and vice, deep relationships. We’re dealing with souls. And that means things are going to get personal at some point. And we may handle those things the wrong way. Or we may cause offense even handling things the right way at times.

The restaurant can take too long to deliver you a burnt steak and then be rude about it. But that’s about as far as they can offend you. Your offense at that can last a few days.

Because of the things we’re dealing with in the church, we can cause greater offense—the kind that still burns years and decades later. If you’re upset because of that kind of experience, hesitant to go back or adamant that you won’t, your feelings make sense.

But second, can I urge you not to give up on churches and on the Church, just because you had those bad experiences? The church is still the Body of Christ, flawed though we are. Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. And to be part of that larger Body, we should be part of an actual church body—a real, visible local congregation.

Though it’s popular today, it’s a big problem to like Jesus but reject the church. As Cyprian, a North African church father, said: “You cannot have God for your Father unless you have the Church for your mother.”

If you’ve been burned, or perhaps just gotten bored, or maybe even lazy, can I urge you to make 2015 the year that you re-connect to a local church? Your experience may not be perfect. Mine hasn’t been. But it’s likely to be life-changing. Without the love, forgiveness, truth and grace that I’ve received from a real, visible local congregation—First UMC in Lexington—I have no idea where I would be.

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