–Daniel S. Ferguson
In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s been a while since I published someone’s story. That’s somewhat painful for me since I wanted that to be at least a weekly thing. I’m sorry I haven’t done more, but as it turns out, a good story is hard to find.
It’s not that I haven’t heard stories or haven’t been seeking them out. It’s that a good story is really, really hard to find. I have been looking for stories of why people left the church or why they came back. The second of those categories is exceptionally rare, at least so I’ve discovered.
That first category isn’t too hard to find, but what is hard to find is a story that describes the pain of the experience of leaving with at least some sense of healing to it, and preferably one that has strong understandings of what it would take for that person to come back to church.
Not just any story will do. It has to be a story that elucidates both the problem and the solution. And therein, as the Bard would tell us, lies the rub. There’s no shortage of people who are angry at the church, but there seems to be a dearth of people who have been hurt by the church but can still speak kindly, even graciously, toward the church.
For me to publish a story, I need there to be some sense of healing that has taken or is taking place, and that is the hard part. Grief I can work with; unhealthy bitterness I won’t.
Given that there are so many people so bitter towards church, I can’t help but think that the church is somewhat responsible for that. It’s difficult to point at the millions leaving the church in droves and not think that’s the church’s fault, and it’s even harder to heard stories about it and know how easy it would have been to keep those people if only the church had shown a tough more grace or intentionality.
But maybe it isn’t always the church’s fault. Maybe it’s the fault of those doing the leaving. Maybe it’s both. Maybe it’s neither. It really depends on the story. But there’s one thing I do know for sure:
Yes, even if the church didn’t really cause the pain. You see, churches are made up of people, and by and large, people aren’t always great at taking responsibility for things that aren’t directly their fault, myself included. Someone says I hurt them, and my first response is to defend myself and deny that what I did really caused them pain. Churches often do the same thing. They get defensive and start trying to demonstrate how they’re not really at fault. That’s very human.
It’s just not very Christ-like. Jesus accepted responsibility for every sin even when he had committed no sin. He took the fault, the blame, the shame, and the punishment for sins that were nowhere near close to his fault, and then he died for them. That’s what Jesus does, and it’s what the church is called to.
There are three ministries to which the church is irrevocably called. We don’t have a choice at any of the three. They’re commanded by Jesus, and we can’t call ourselves a church if we don’t do them. They are evangelism, service to the poor, and reconciliation.
When we believe in Jesus and join the church, we are adopted as sons and daughters of God, and those three things? They’re the family business. We have no choice but to do them.
Evangelism is difficult, but straightforward. Just tell people about Jesus and his effects on your life. Awkward at first? You bet. But not hard to comprehend. Ministry to the poor is the same way: not always easy, but pretty direct and simple to understand.
It’s reconciliation that’s so blasted hard. It requires us to learn real empathy, to accept responsibility for things that weren’t directly our fault, and to seek justice and kindness towards people we didn’t even have a hand in hurting.
It requires a whole new kind of grace. The reason I was comfortable publishing the stories I’ve published so far is that grace had been shown by someone in the story. Sometimes it was the church that had shown grace. Sometimes it was the person who left. Sometimes it was another faith entirely. And sometimes it was just a random person. But in each case, it was grace I was looking for.
And that grace is so often absent from the stories I’ve been hearing for a while. Most of the time, that’s been the leaver’s fault, and they should learn to offer grace. But even where it is their fault, I know that the church both can and should offer grace.
That’s what it means to be the body of Christ. He took lashes, and so will we. He was crucified; so are we. He gave himself up as a sacrifice; so should we. Yes, even then. Yes, even if. Yes, even for them.
That’s the kind of story I want to hear, one filled with grace, even towards the very people who caused you pain. If you have such a story, hit me up. I’d love to hear it.