When someone says the word “church” to you, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? Do you think of a building full of people worshiping the Lord? Or do you picture a group of people gathered together praying? Is church something we do, is it a place we attend, is it a building, or is it a body of people? I ask you these questions because over the past few years I have met with women who have been hurt by a church body. They have been disappointed, let down, and some even cast out of the body they were a part of. For them church became a bad place, a place that judged them, and treated them unfairly because they were not part of the “in” crowd. One thing I have noticed through our talks is that all of them were placing expectations upon the people and the pastors in this church. Now, I am not saying that we should not expect to be fed, loved, and ministered to through our local church body. But, what if we are putting higher expectations on the church than what Jesus intended? What do I mean by this? Well, follow along with my thoughts and hopefully we can begin to understand this together.
I have always been taught that if you want to know and understand the meaning of something, you need to go back to the first place it is mentioned and dig from there. For us today, that means that we are going to go to the first place the word “Church” is mentioned in the Bible, which is Matthew 16:15-18. Jesus is with His disciples in Caesarea Philippi. They are walking along, listening to the sounds of God’s glorious creation around them when Jesus turns to them and asks,
“Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter and on this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:13-18
The word church comes from the Greek word “ek-klesis” which means “out of” and “a calling”. The Greeks used this word ek-klesis to define a gathering of people. This could have been used to define a gathering of people to discuss matters of state. But it soon came to be known as the people who gathered in Jesus’ name. It was used to define the group of people who would come together to share Jesus, worship Jesus and talk about Jesus. Never once did it mention a building or place, or a denomination- it only referred to a gathering of people.
The heartbeat and life of the Church is Jesus Christ. The very center and core of our lives depends on who Jesus is to each one of us, personally and intimately. Who He is to us propels us into being the people He has called us to be. If we do not know Him, if we do not seek to know Him, then we will not be able to grow and become the people He desires us to be. The foundation which we are to build upon is the truth that Jesus is God, He is Lord, He is Savior, and He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. When we can say that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength, then we are fortified upon the foundation of faith and nothing and no one can prevail against us.
However, too many times I think we try to build on the foundation of our pastor, rather than the foundation of Jesus Christ. I am a firm believer that Church is not meant to be your source of life. The Church was never intended to be your only source for Jesus. Jesus alone is to be your source. When we place expectations upon people, we will be disappointed. I am a Christian, yes, but I am a woman who lives in a body of sinful flesh, who fails God daily. Every day I have trouble staying on the road God has for me. I say things that I wish I wouldn’t have. I do things that I know I shouldn’t and I hurt people, unintentionally, but I do. Even Paul said that he was the chief of all sinners, (1 Timothy 1:15) and that he too needed Jesus Christ just as much as we do.
Over and over again I see women leaving one church and going to another because someone said something, did something or crossed a line that shouldn’t have been crossed. I agree there are something’s that have been done to my sisters, myself included, that should not have been done, but I also understand that my foundation is not in that body of believers that is meeting every Sunday. I do not get my strength, my hope, my peace and my comfort from them- I get that only through Jesus Christ. People are going to hurt you. People are going to disappoint you. When we put more emphasis on the way people behave in church, than on the truth of Who Jesus Is, then we will never be satisfied with any body of believers, any gathering of Christians or any denomination.
My Pastor is a good teacher; I get so much out of his teachings every week. I always walk away edified, built up and fired up. But my pastor is also a man. He is a man who sins. He is a man who needs Jesus just as much as I do. (I can say this, because he tells us this about himself too!) I believe that we have exalted our pastors to the point where when they do mess up, and they will mess up, we are shocked and disappointed, stumbling ourselves in our own faith because we held theirs in too high of regard. We need to see the church body as it is- a gathering of sinners in need of a Savior. When we can see Church for what it is, the foundation on which we stand, then we will be able to find a place in a body of believers and no longer be disappointed when they let us down.
The church that we see in the Book of Acts was a gathering of people there to help one another, support one another, and encourage one another. But not everyone was as good at it as others were. We will continue to be disappointed in church until the Lord comes back. Just because someone in the body you attend says something out of place, or hurts you in some way is no reason to discredit that church entirely. Yes, there are some bodies that have crossed lines, and the Lord has clearly told us to walk away from them. But in the end, the church was not intended to be Jesus for you. It was intended to be built upon Jesus so that we could go out and be the Church He desires us to be for the world around us. We, as believers need to see that no one is perfect, not even our pastors, and learn to forgive and show grace to those who need it.
My husband and I had clear direction from the Lord to leave the church we had attended for years. We had clear, undeniable spoken words from God to walk away from that fellowship. We had been hurt in times past by this body of believers, but God led us to forgive and move on. Then one day He told us to leave- so we did. But we did not leave until He told us to. Today, when someone from that church comes to me with issues or concerns I tell them all the same thing. You must seek God for wisdom and find out what it is He wants you to do. I won’t tell you to leave- that is between you and God. But I will also remind you that church is not the place where we get all our needs met- only Jesus can be that for us.People are sinners. They are going to hurt us, disappoint us and cause us to feel left alone, lost and even depressed. But that only happens when our expectations upon them are more than what they should be. Church was never intended to be the only source of light and life for you. If you are expecting that from your church, you are going to be disappointed sooner or later. If your hope and expectations are in Jesus- the builder of the church, then you will never be disappointed by those who attend the same building as you do. I pray today that we would come to see that we are the Church. We are the body of Christ. It is not about the people inside the building, but it is about your relationship with Jesus Christ. That is what makes the Church, the Church. Amen.