Disillusionment is all about loss, and taking time to grieve what has been lost is critical to recovery. As a result of church crises, I lost friends when we ended up in different congregations. I lost trust in leaders I once admired and respected. I lost the securityof feeling safe at church. And I lost the enjoyment of church attendance and ministry. My safe little world was changed forever. No wonder I felt depressed.

Realizing my depression was grief-based gave me hope that I would get better, but my progress was fraught with setbacks. Too often, I depleted my low reserves doing church work I wasn't ready to do. If I felt emotionally stable for a few weeks, I would assume I was on the mend and sign up to help with some church event. As the event drew near, I would panic. But instead of humbly begging off, I would wear myself out fulfilling my premature commitment.

I felt guilty taking extended time off from ministry to heal from church-related woes, especially when I compared my pain with that of others. But I've learned that it's necessary. Spiritual and emotional wounds, like physical injuries, needn't be life-threatening to warrant treatment; disillusionment with church is a legitimate ailment, requiring adequate rest and recovery time.

COMMITTING TO FORGIVE

As I worked through the hurt and loss that accompanied each church conflict, I uncovered anger and resentment toward those whose actions contributed to my grief. The teaching in Col. 3:13 used to make me flinch: "Forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." How could God expect me to forgive, regardless of the situation? I wondered. What if I just can't do it?

Finally I tried obeying Him. At the suggestion of a wise counselor, I made a list of everyone I felt had wronged me and what they had done. I took that list to God, stating every name and grievance, and I committed to forgive each individual. My decision to forgive was final, but accomplishing it has taken time.

I pray for the grace to keep forgiving...
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Some grudges rear their ugly heads again and again.

When they do, I pray for the grace to keep forgiving, and I cling to God's promise that "he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion" (Phil. 1:6). Not long ago I realized that I still reacted sourly whenever someone mentioned an individual I thought I had forgiven years ago. As I prayed for help, God allowed me to see the offender in a more positive light, and I was able to release the remnant of resentment.

Forgiving those who have hurt us isn't easy. But God insists that we forgive completely so that we will not be hindered from running "the race marked out for us" (Heb. 12:1). He enables us to forgive, working in us "to will and to act according to his good purpose" (Phil. 2:13). And when our motivation flags, He offers inspiration in the example of Jesus, who forgave His torturers while suffering the greatest injustice ever perpetrated.

IN THE PEW AGAIN

Eventually, it came time to reengage with a body of believers. In each situation, my husband and I prayed long and hard to know how and where. After the first church crisis, we believed God wanted us to help rebuild our decimated church. The second time, we prayed for nearly two years before we received clear direction to find a new church. The wait was frustrating but worthwhile. Being confident of God's will and timing calmed our fears about an unknown future and helped us handle negative reactions to our decision.

As we sought God's direction for our most recent situation, I had to remind myself that abandoning the fellowship of believers is not an option. God designed me--and every believer--to participate in the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-25). He longs for His family to stay connected so that we can encourage each other (Heb. 10:25).

Isolating ourselves from other believers is dangerous. The apostle Peter cautions,

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
--1 Peter 5:8
Like a lion stalking a herd, separating out a young or weak animal, then going in for the kill, Satan tries to lure us away from other believers so that he can attack us in our discouraged state.

Convinced that I needed to stay connected to church, I committed to attend weekly worship services. To help me cope with the fresh feelings of grief or discomfort going to church sometimes brought, I allowed myself to arrive late, leave early, buy coffee on the way, jot notes in a journal, visit other churches occasionally, or even walk out if I needed to.

I'm learning to take each step toward ministry involvement carefully, in response to God's leading. Starting over slowly has afforded an opportunity for me to rethink my passions, dreams, and goals.

PREPARED FOR IMPERFECTION

As a disillusioned churchgoer, I've struggled to figure out what I can expect from church and its leaders. The instructions in Heb. 12:14 guide me in balancing high expectations with fault-filled reality: "Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy." I, along with members of my congregation, must commit to maintaining healthy, peaceful relationships with others. This makes it easier to remain flexible about common areas of conflict, such as music, programming, preaching style--even leaders' decisions. At the same time, I should expect my leaders to exemplify biblical standards of integrity and grace and to acknowledge their mistakes humbly.

I've also learned what not to expect from church. In the past, my whole life--family, friendships, social activities, vacations, even employment--revolved around church. As a result, church crises impacted every aspect of my life, and leaving a church meant losing my entire support system. Church is still an important part of my life, but it's no longer the center of every friendship or endeavor. I interact more with the world around me and pursue relationships outside of, as well as within, my church.

Most important, I've learned not to put too much stock in human institutions or leaders, who will inevitably let me down. Psalm 118:8 reminds me, "It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man."

In Mt. 11:28, Jesus invites, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." Even if more church conflicts and disillusionment hit, Jesus' constant, unconditional friendship will provide the comfort and courage I need to face the challenges that come. He is my ultimate security, no matter what happens in my church.

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