Ever had a bad experience at a really good business? Me too. I've come to realize this - one employee in a bad mood or having bad service one night doesn't represent the entire reputation of the business. I don't quit going to restaurants or businesses based on one person having a bad day or out-of-the-ordinary service. After all, people make mistakes and we should all have a little grace in these situations. People can let one bad experience keep them from ever going back to a good business.
From being in the same church for the past 18 years, I've noticed the same thing can happen when it comes to church. People will attend, serve, and be members of a church for years and then all of a sudden for whatever reason just stop because one thing happens. Someone will be at a church for a year or even five and let someone not call them when they are sick for one weekend or not agree with one thing the preacher said and they are out the door. (No, I'm not writing in reference to any recent incidents either so just get that out of your mind). Maybe they don't like the way the youth did something or possibly someone said something to hurt their feelings (what? surely CHURCH PEOPLE wouldn't do that) and they choose to leave it all.
Let me tell you something - Satan wants to use one thing that goes wrong or that may not be your preference to steal you away from years of ministry. If you don't watch it, a decade of destiny can be stolen away by a moment of murmuring or second of sulking (I can run with this one - fraction of faction, a bit of a split, a wink of a stink, a jiff of a tiff, a flash of a bash, etc.).
Want to know something else - now this may come as a surprise to many - but if you stay in a church long enough a few things happen: 1) You'll hear something you don't agree with, 2) you will see some hypocrisy, 3) you will be hurt by something someone says or does, 4) you will not like all the decisions made by leadership, 5) you won't always agree with all the preaching, and 6) someone will let you down. Why? I like to say it this way: "Our church isn't perfect because it has people in it." Eventually people will fail or disappoint you. You won't get your way all the time and even won't be considered in every decision that is made within the church.
But one thing is true: Jesus is still building His Church. Jesus used His words carefully when He said, "I will build My Church". He is not building us a church and we are not building Him one. He is building His own. He is (if we let Him) at work perfecting us into His image. It is when we starting building our own church or stop letting God use us to build His that we usually do things wrong. This is usually when someone gets hurt, mad, offended, or separated from the unity of the body.
Why is Satan at work trying to get you to walk away from the church over one incident (over something someone said or did)? He knows getting you away from the church is the first step in getting you to walk away from the Lord altogether. I was vividly reminded of this as I went through about 500 photos recently from our church's past. I saw hundreds of faces that are no longer here. Some have moved because of jobs. Some have passed away and gone to heaven. Others, many others, had gone because of either sin, offense, or stubbornness. Not only had they left the church over a petty offense or reason, they were no longer following the Lord AT ALL! I actually began to cry when I saw those who had wasted their relationship with the Lord and the Church because of silly reasons. We must protect the unity of the body of Christ. How? Repent, forgive, choose not to pick up offense, realize not everything has to go your way, things can happen without your approval, let it go, work together, value principle over preference, and value relationships over being "right".
Remember this: every church has made (and will make) unwise decisions at some point. People sometimes get hurt inside the very church that Jesus desires to be a safe place for them. Don't quit church because someone made a mistake. You'd be making a bigger one!
Another thing is the grass is not always greener on the other side. Changing churches will not fix your problems because other church have people in them too. Every church has issues because, again, every church has people. Switching churches will just switch problems and cause you to run from reconciliation. Usually if it looks greener on the other side, it is because the other side is on top of a septic tank!
Never forget God and how big He is! His Church will always be built! Jesus is building His Church. If we believe this we will show it by how we forgive, repent, mend relationships, protect unity, and love one another.
If you've been hurt by church realize this - Jesus will never hurt you. You can't discount or throw out the church and its importance in your life as a believer. You need the church. You need those imperfect people who come together in mission and vision to do the Lord's perfect will. The church is God's primary tool for reaching and impacting the world. It is His plan for healing and helping the poor. It is still His plan to further the Gospel.
The next time you think the church or the people in it is imperfect ask yourself this: "How perfect am I?" The church is not perfect and neither are you and I. That's why we need the Holy Spirit and a Christ-centered life. God uses imperfect people in his perfect plan. Sometimes the church gets it wrong and can even hurt those they should be loving like Christ. Don't let one wrong thing (or even a few) keep you from the goodness and purity of all of it. Stick in there. Ask yourself, "is this one wrong thing the nature and character of the church (or person) or did they just make a mistake?" "Am I blowing this all out of proportion?" "Is Satan trying to wedge an offense between me an another believer?"
If someone else isn't representing the true nature of Jesus' Church then you step up and do it. This means if they don't repent, then you go to them and try to work it out. If they hurt you, get with them and mend the relationship. Don't wait on them. Maybe they don't know they hurt you. Maybe you, too, can be wrong. At all costs protect the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. The Church isn't perfect but Jesus is. While this isn't an excuse, I pray we truly represent His true character and Church.