Hearts float upward in worship on soothing sounds of the church chior. Words of the preacher saturate the crowd with reverence. People turn to one another with smiles, hugs and handshakes. Food is served for fellowship, and children laugh together in Sunday school.
This dreamy picture of a welcoming church service sounds nice, but let’s look a little deeper. What’s really going on with the people? What would Jesus see?
A man with darkened eyes sits alone, hungry heart hoping for reconciliation. A wife and husband hide the pain of their wavering love, legs crossed away from one another. First-time visitors contemplatively dissect every second, ready to get back to their lofty spiritual solitude. Teenagers simmer on the last person who said hurtful words behind their backs.
Shackles of life clink as hands lift to the sky; heavy hearts honor a Lord without a face. The preacher gets up to remind everyone of human wretchedness, and spiritual searching ends as the benediction begins.
The role of a church is much more than to punch the validation card of members, pat them on the back and send them on their way. Heartache is a common denominator among the human race, and helping people heal is an important charge of the church.
In Mark 2:17, Jesus tells us that he’s here for the hurting. He said, “Those who are healthy have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
From the outside, church is often seen as a haughty place full of judgment where those who gather must count every step as one of righteousness or one of sin. Causes for frustration include, praying away bad behaviors, meeting slightly leering eyes, knowledge failures, crossed wires and the list goes on.
Whatever personally rubs you the wrong way about church, I’m here to tell you that it isn’t going to change just because you read this column. Stop being so self-centered. Go to church.
Jesus said he came to heal the sick, and though he healed a lot of people who were physically sick, his work also healed hearts. You may know the saying, “hurt people hurt people and healed people heal people.”
The premier work of Jesus was to set his believers up for success by embodying the success we all want to be. When we surrender to his finished work, we win. Teaching people how to do that is a valuable tool for emotional health.
Jesus visits his hometown of Nazareth in Luke 4. He goes into the church and reads from Isaiah 61:1.
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners…”
He was run right out of town, but that’s beside the point. These words, and the whole chapter of Isaiah 61, reflect the role of the church as the bride of Christ, to exchange gladness for mourning, to rebuild ruined cities, to press in to everlasting joy. In my mind, it translates simply to heal, to serve and to love. When we attend church just for the sake of going, we often miss out on the chance for real, true, deep healing and with that, accountability.
Inner healing is a word that I learned many years ago when I was about to walk away from church for good. I had just turned 18, and coming out a church full of venom and vile had really convinced me that church was not for me. My mom signed me up for something called the Burning Season at a different church, a week-long inner-healing workshop, and I experienced for the first time what it means to be loved by God. The course taught practical tools to inspire emotional healing. Learning not just that I should forgive, but how to forgive, along with how to identify poisonous thought patterns and how to get rid of them honestly saved my life.
My friend, I’ll call her Jenn, recently told me of her struggle to find a church. Her church attendance was sporadic at best after she left her parents’ house. She was ruined looking for strong spiritual connection and awareness after taking up with the charismatic crowd, but she also barely gave any place a chance. Her heart was caught up in believing that she would walk in and have a life changing experience, and if that didn’t happen then she wasn’t in the right place. She was looking for something that didn’t exist. She was looking for the ideal church with ideal people that cater to and pray away every single heartache. Yeah. She was totally looking for the wrong thing.
A couple months ago, Jenn realized how self-centered she was about church. She knew that she should be around other believers to bolster her Christian life, but she’d been burned by rejection, and vulnerability with others didn’t feel safe. Inner healing exercises helped her to correct her thinking. Drama just isn’t included every time you walk in the door. A lot of times a Sunday service is just good ole singing, shaking hands and listening, and that’s OK. The real work happens in the between.
I’ll leave you with one final verse. Ephesians 2:19-22:
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”
Fellowship with other believers is important to keep us fresh. Just look for a place that will build you up instead of tear you down.
Sinclaire Sparkman is The Democrat’s news editor. Email her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @wilsoncoreports.