Let's get real: I don't want to get flyer mail advertising next week's church event, I want a close-knit community of believers that I can trust. Church is not about plastering the community with marketing gimmicks, it's about reaching hearts. It's not about filling pews and entertaining the masses. It's about helping people come fully alive in Christ. To that end, church isn't about shaming me for my "un-Christian" behaviour, it's about dealing with the root of those issues which stop me from becoming more like Christ. Church is not about looking good on the outside, it's about giving me a safe place to find healing from the inside out.
I left a church that was focused too much of the former. As a result, so many parts of my heart have been shut down that I have been unable to feel like I truly belong to a community that is more focused on the latter. No church is going to be perfect. However, when we know and trust the heart behind it, certain things don't matter. I would be much happier listening to a long-winded sermon from a pastor who cares about my heart, than a shorter, entertaining performance from a pastor who dismisses my heart.
You see, when you're forced to look like a perfect Christian all.the.time, it breeds gossip and back-stabbing. When you have to do whatever it takes to deflect the shame of not measuring up, you point fingers and pin that shame on someone else. Let's talk about their problems instead. Because, God forbid, you be the one to look bad. For a while it might seem great--people are friendly and welcoming. Everything will be fine as long as you keep up the facade. But it's exhausting. And it forces you into shallow relationships where no one ever grows. At least not in ways that matter.
This might work for some people. But while you might be okay with this, let me assure you, I am not. Being in this atmosphere over a period of time eventually left me with a bad taste in my mouth toward the church in general. In fact, it reinforced the fact that church was not a safe place for me. As a result, for the past number of years, I have felt like I am simply going through the motions on Sunday morning. In order to function and pass for "normal," I've inevitably had parts of my heart harden, while other parts simply died.
However, very recently I have felt in my heart that God has a greater plan. Nothing short of the broken trust, breakdown of relationships, and ultimate betrayals I experienced could have made me leave my previous church. These were all excruciatingly painful but--as I now realize--necessary pieces of the puzzle to lead me to a place where I can come alive. For real this time. My prayer is that God will use the ministry of our current church and the people there to bring those places back to life in me. I need people to help restore those broken pieces of my heart, those dead places in me that have become hollow and numb in order to manage the pain.
Slick advertising, great websites and promotional videos don't mean anything if the church today is not committed to reaching the lost, restoring the broken, equipping the saints, and releasing the workers. Indeed, they will know we are Christians by our love...not by how we market ourselves.