I’ll be honest, this is one of the hardest posts I’ve written. It’s easy to be authentic, but it’s hard because I find this difficult to put into practice. I thought about not writing it, but I felt compelled to not cower away from speaking a truth that I know I have a hard time living out. We all preach a better gospel than we live, which makes me grateful for grace all the more.
In the previous post, I tried to work through how the local church and the Church as a whole needs to do a better job of really loving and trying to understand the reality that many Millennials walked away from church because of wounds, legalism, and lack of substance when it comes to addressing tough questions and caring for deep emotional wounds and needs. I called for the Church and churches to extend grace and welcome the broken and hurting back into churches, and some of them possibly into the Church for the first time.
I firmly believe all of that is true. Yet, I also believe that Millennials need to show the Church and churches grace as well. For too long churches have come across as a place for healthy, good people. We are quickly owning up to the fact that this isn’t the case. The church is a place for the broken, for those in need of redemption. It’s a place for you and a place for me. Walking through the doors doesn’t heal us, and we often walk for years of trusting Christ before we are healed of some of the wounds that scar us. And none of us is ever free from the effects of sin this side of eternity.
So, our churches are full of broken people helping broken people, and with a very good God who works in and through us despite ourselves. Some of us have been oppressed by legalism. Some of us have been disappointed by the lack of robust Theology that could handle hard questions as we were growing up. Some of us look back and see no freedom in the doctrine articulated by the pastors of our youth. Some waited for years to hear about the Doctrines of Grace and finally find freedom, and others had those same doctrines tied too tightly around their neck and Theology became a burden instead of freeing gospel. Some of us will continue to mourn as we heal, and some of us won’t even look back as we walk inside the church building again. But there’s one thing we must all pray for strength to do: forgive like Jesus.
Hebrews 12:9-10 ESV
Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.
I realize this passage is talking about the Fatherhood and discipline of God toward those who are His, and that the text in bold is talking about earthly fathers. But, I think part of the message here is that, for the most part, we saw the goodness in the discipline of those who led us even though they didn’t do so perfectly. They led us in the way that seemed best. Though imperfect, they weren’t being malicious. I think this applies to pastors as well as fathers and other leaders.
The best definition I’ve heard of forgiveness is “the absorption of pain.” It’s what Christ did for us on the cross: He absorbed the wrath of God and the pain we would suffer to save us from that pain and to save us to Himself. He effectively said, “the pain stops here for those who will believe.” We sinned against Him, and He bore our pain.
Many of us have been burned by the church. Some of us through imperfect people leading as best they could, but doing so imperfectly and making mistakes. Some of us have suffered real spiritual abuse. These are both tragic, and I believe they both break the heart of God. But I have to ask how much more progress we can make in this conversation about Millennials and in there being a much needed reconciliation if we chose to forgive rather than point back to real problems and real pain and hold that up as a barrier and a reason to stay out of the local church.
I’m not saying don’t address problems. The problems NEED to be addressed. Millennials, we NEED your perspective and your insight to help prevent the churches from making the same mistakes. Millennials, we also need the wisdom of the elders. I’m so grateful Rachel Held Evans pointed this out in her clarification piece for CNN, because it is so crucial. Those who have never left the church and those who walked out for one reason or another may not always get along, but we need each other. God designed His Body and Christ’s Bride to need each other this way, and it is a good thing. It’s hard, but it’s good.
I’m not saying stories of pain shouldn’t be shared, they should. But what if they stopped divorcing the Church from Herself and we made a conscious decision to forgive? What would happen if those who left came back? What would happen if we chose to be vulnerable again? Yes, we might get hurt again. We might also find life.