I probably cannot think of too many more popular topics for bloggers and Christian writers.
Here’s what’s wrong with the church.
Here’s all the ways the church has offended me.
Here’s how the people who go to church are hypocrites.
I get it.
I really get it.
Because I’ve been in church leadership.
The thing about being hurt by church, being offended, being burned, is that I’m not sure how many people ask themselves “who has been burned the worst by church?” We assume that our experience is the worst. We think that our crisis of faith was the deepest.
But I can tell you something. I can tell you who has been burned the worst by church.
It might well be the guy standing up front.
New Church, Same Old Playbook
Before I go on, let me say that I know, if you’ve been burned by church, you probably don’t have any sympathy for the pastor at all. Let me be clear that I’m not talking about the celebrities or charlatans, the guys making six figures, the control freaks or wolves in sheep’s clothing. I’m talking about the honest guys who are doing their best to shepherd their flocks and put food on their family’s table.
Since about the time my child was born around Christmas, I’ve been out of church leadership. In fact, for about six of those months, I was taking a sabbatical from church altogether. That’s really the longest stretch of no church I’ve ever had, and the longest stretch of not being in church leadership in about ten years.
And then we settled in at a new place, a place where the pastor and I, though we are separated by about 15 years, really are kindred spirits.
Then we started talking. We started comparing notes.
And it turns out, if Satan really is involved in our world, playing tricks on us and tempting us to do wrong, then he doesn’t reinvent the wheel for each and every person. He uses the same playbook at most churches.
You’ll Never Know on Sunday
When you go to church on Sunday and you hear your pastor speak, you won’t get any indication from him about how his week in church leadership has gone.
You won’t know that last Sunday was kind of a low attendance day, so he was depressed most of that day, and Monday too. It doesn’t matter how big or small your church is. Your pastor tries not to care about these things or measure himself by numbers, but it always makes him anxious.
You won’t know it was a low attendance day, maybe because you were not in attendance. I am sure that 99% of churchgoers never realize that when they choose to miss Sunday, it causes their pastor anxiety (at least in any church small enough for the pastor to actually know his people.)
You won’t know this, but last week, there were a few people your pastor specifically wanted to talk to, or praise, or get some follow-up with, but satan plays this trick where every time the pastor wants to talk to someone specific on Sunday, he’ll make sure they don’t show up.
And you would never know it, but your pastor was also dealing with some extra drama on the side, taking care of emotionally needy people. He was left with a cliffhanger for a few days this week, not knowing if someone was really upset with him, because people don’t return email or phone calls in a timely way.
Who Takes Church Most Personally?
There are plenty of weeks that are great in the life of your pastor, don’t get me wrong. And I’m not asking you to give him more sympathy than he needs.
But even on a good week, there is probably no one in your church who suffers more for it.
There is no one who experiences more anxiety over the life of the church.
There is no one who prays more for the church.
There is no one who feels more personally about the problems of the church.
There is no one who takes church more personally.
There is no one who experiences the ups and downs of every individual family more than the pastor.
And there are few people whose feelings are more hidden, more buried than the pastor. He hides his feelings, denies them as a defense mechanism. He wants you to know that the ministry and church are happy, that he is secure as a man and as a leader, whatever happens to the church. He doesn’t want his wife to worry about his mental health.
Yeah, we have all been burned by church. That’s what happens when a bunch of imperfect, sinful people try to come together and live life. If you haven’t been burned by church, it means you aren’t emotionally invested at all. You can just walk away, unscathed.
But if emotional investment is directly linked to your emotional risk, then keep in mind the guy up front who probably spends more time thinking about your problems than you spend thinking about his.
It’s only when we do that, do we become churches that bear one another’s burdens, rather than add to them.