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When church hurts
Amber Albee Swenson
by Amber Albee Swenson
March 21, 2019

Church at its best is magnificent: the Word is taught in its truth and purity, ideas about worship and ministry are freely exchanged, leaders serve in humility, and abundant love meets everyone at the door.

A good many of us have also witnessed church at its worst: when hurt, not love, seems never ending, grudges fester, and walking through the door isn’t a joy but a chore.

At those times the army of evil works overtime to cloud judgment. I can overlook an entire congregation of friendly faces to focus on the one or two people I’m struggling with. A dozen people would jump to encourage and love on me if only they knew my loneliness in the situation. And while I wallow in doubt and frustration, I miss the dozen or so people sitting in the pews around me, neck high in their own struggles, awaiting an encouraging word from me or someone else.

Most of us are familiar with Jeremiah 29:11: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

We’re not as familiar with the two verses that immediately follow that verse: “Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

When church hurts, I search for and find God in places outside the church—not in nature or philosophy or a daytime talk show. Those are the times God has comforted me with the sweetest passages of Scripture as I pursue him in my personal Bible study. Almost without exception, those are the times my favorite Christian ministries have featured programs on perseverance or suffering or the tough stuff of life. And my favorite musicians on the Christian radio station never fail me. They remind me of the importance of standing firm through the storm and the relentless love of God that refuses to give up on me.

The Christian church on earth is the place where we are built up with Word and sacrament and through other faithful Christians. But God is not limited to the confines of the walls of church. When church hurts, we need to get back to the basics: pouring out our hearts to God in prayer and studying the pages of Scripture. That’s where God meets us and reminds us he is bigger than the hurt. That’s where we see the faithful have always suffered. And that’s where God dissects a heart that might otherwise become hard, gently but firmly convicting and pointing out the faults that contributed to the hurt. It’s where, if you let him, the Spirit teaches us to pray for our enemies and over time to love those enemies fellow believers.

Don’t give up on God when church hurts. Call on him and come to him. He’s waiting for the chance to calm you, comfort you, and refine you through the hurt.