I was talking to a friend the other day and was asking about how some mutual friends of ours were doing. These friends had been going through some hard circumstances and I asked where they were at church. My friend let on that they weren’t really going because they’d been hurt by the church and just didn’t really want to go after all that had happened there.
The church gets a bad rap. I don’t think it’s trying to behave badly, I think it just happens sometimes. When we’re left wondering how church people could behave a certain way, we need to ask ourselves two questions:
1. Do I see Jesus through the eyes of the church?
2. Do I see the church through the eyes of Jesus?
If we answer yes to the first question, our view will always have a tinted or cracked lens. We can’t expect to see Jesus accurately if we look through the lens of the church. I know, I know, the church is supposed to be responsible for showing us who Jesus is. And they are. But lest we forget, the church is not Jesus. If the church were Jesus there would be no reason for Jesus. The church is complicated because it’s made up of people. People want church to be easy and magical and cohesive because the common goal, typically, is to show people Jesus. The problem is if you put 10 people in a room and give them a goal to reach, they will come back with 10 different ways to reach that goal. The church is no different. People come to church from different backgrounds, with different opinions, and different sinful tendencies. These all play into their view of God.
Thankfully, in God’s kindness, He gave us His Word so we could know His heart, His Son. The truest depiction we will see of Jesus is by looking in the Bible. Reading God’s Word about Himself and His Son is the best way to know about Him. Don't be afraid to go directly to the source to find out information. God has given His Word to us so we can know him better so if you really want to see Jesus and know Him, look there first.
The second question is a bit tougher. Do we see the church through the eyes of Jesus? Many times I don’t. I see the church through a lens of expectation. I expect my church leaders to be close to perfection and the people who serve the church to be faithful and diligent disciples. When I do this, I leave little room for failure. I forget to leave space for their humanity. We’re all just people. Now, I can talk out of both sides of my mouth on this one because I do expect people that lead the church to have a certain level of moral character. I expect them to be knowledgeable about the word of God. I deem them wise counselors in matters of the heart and the spirit. Too often, though, I forget to see them like Jesus sees them. I forget to put on my lens of compassion when I see the church. Jesus never came to judge, He came to save. He came with mercy in hand when He came for us. Unfortunately, I come with far too much Judy Judgerson and far too little grace. What if we gave people an exorbitant amount of room to screw up and instead of judging them for it, loved them because we know we’re all just one or two bad decisions away from screwing it up ourselves?
Why do we have such a hard time doing this?
I think it’s because we all live with so much shame about our screw-ups we secretly relish the idea of other people messing up bigger than us. We get a little twinge of “I’m a little better than them because I would NEVER do something like that!” Ya’ll, it’s gross that we do this. And when church people fall off the perfection pedestal we place them on, watch out. People lose their minds. And instead of meeting them with compassion, we meet them with disdain, disgusted by their sin and by association, them. Then we hear of all the people that have “fallen away from God” or “don’t believe in Jesus anymore” because when the church people fall it must say something about God, right? Like He must not be all that great and powerful if one of his own could fall. This is a heartbreaking assumption because what always comes after the fall for a believer? REDEMPTION. There is always redemption for those that have put their faith in Christ. That has always been the plan since the beginning. Adam and Eve screwing it up in the Garden and God telling them of his plan of redemption (Gen. 3:15). The church is not Jesus. There is absolutely, 100% no substitute for Jesus.
I think a lot of church people do their very best to be like Jesus. I think that’s essentially what we strive for when we become a believer. We want to be like Jesus because we know of His goodness and kindness and peace and all the other wonderful qualities He so graciously gives to us. And when you’ve received that kind of love, you can’t help but want to give it away because it’s the best thing in the world and you just want other people to have it too.
So instead of trying to make church people be Jesus, let’s just let Jesus be Jesus. And instead of judging the church, let’s look at the bride of Christ with eyes of compassion, knowing they need Jesus just as much as anyone else. This doesn’t mean excusing their sin and neutralizing it. It means that we respond to them with love because that is really our only job while we’re here. It doesn’t mean we can’t be hurt or angry or have feelings about what they did, I just think sometimes we let our anger take up residence in our hearts and that’s not where it belongs. Maybe, just maybe, when we grow tired of being angry we could lay it down and let it rest. And while it’s resting, we could pick up compassion and look it in the eye and realize what Jesus knew all along: We need Him. All of us need Him.