All week, I have been fighting the urge to rant about the state of the American church. Believe me, nothing gets me going faster than that. Well, except maybe motherhood.
(You know how interviewers often ask people what their six-word memoir title would be? Mine would be Do Not Even Get Me Started. Followed by 200 pages of rant. Probably. Maybe. We’ll see. I usually work it out as I write. Just like I’m doing now…)
What prompted me to get so upset about the state of the church? It started with some encounters at a Ministry Summit last weekend. The gathering was, appropriately titled, reFuel, and let me tell you what I saw was a handful of worn-out, discouraged Children’s and Family pastors.
I listened to their stories. Many were frustrated by a lack of respect and continuity among the leadership at the churches.
One woman was told by her senior pastor to think of herself as a “paid volunteer,” implying that she really has no say in anything. She relayed this comment with a hint of sadness in her voice. I could tell she felt undervalued, simply as a human being, not too mention overworked. She’s only paid for part time and works seven days a week, to then have her voice stripped from her by someone who should be supporting her. I heard similar situations from others.
Wounds. All around me.
In the first session, we took a personal inventory of several areas in our life: physical, emotional, mental, spiritual. Because of a funeral and me traveling the week prior, I was feeling a bit low and marked somewhere near the middle (on a scale of 1-5, 5 being the best). Then, we shared with one another. I was shocked to hear mostly 1s and 2s.
The second day, we were asked to share around our tables some ways that we create sacred space in our life. I kept my ears open. No one in our group had anything. I finally chimed in with an explanation of the way I art journal and how this helps me find what God is up to in my life.
The people at my table looked stunned. Then one grabbed a pen and said, “How did you learn about this? When do you do it? Where can I get information?”
I saw exhaustion everywhere. In an afternoon session on ordering your personal life, the leader posed the question of who in the group had prayer partners who regularly pray for them.
I was one of two people who raised their hands. Two.
People, we are doing this to ourselves and in turn, to one another. We are not giving ourselves permission to just be and not do. We are so focused on what we need or want to accomplish that we don’t see the people beside us. Hurting. Groping through another day, not even just another Sunday.
After the session on personal life, I turned to a woman next to me. The day before, she told me about struggling with being caught between two ministries, each of them believing they “owned” her. Having exchanged e-mails addresses already, I invited her to send prayer requests to me whenever she wanted so that I could pray for her.
She looked at me. No words. Just tears forming.
“Oh, thank you,” she eventually said. “I have been asking God to send someone to pray for me for four years.”
Four years is too long, dear friends. Too long to come alongside one another in a tangible way.
We talk about our churches being places where we “connect” and “be Jesus” to one another. But really we’re doing our best to add people to our pews (chairs, whatever) and programs by entertaining them and manipulating them to serve and give and join a Bible study and do and do and do more. It’s about our agenda. In the midst of it all, we’re not even caring for people’s most basic needs, including our own!
It begins with you and me. As much as I want to yell and make generalizations about the church, and trust me, I think some very real concerns exist there, it is the hurting person in the pew that Jesus notices, and I want to too.
So, to the person who is struggling today, I say this to you: Jesus sees you.
He sees you, and He hears you. You are not alone, even though the crowd around you is clamoring for attention and pushing you aside (Mark 10:46-52).
And, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the times I didn’t stop to hear you or see you when you were hurting in the pew or seconds away from tears in the hallway at church, wondering if you should have dared to come at all. I’m sorry for any part I played in making you feel used and abused and undervalued.
Because, the truth is you’re not. You are of great worth in the sight of your King.