I must confess that the closer I get in my relationship to the Lord, the further I feel from the organized church. (Gasp!) Okay...so I’m hoping that got your attention.

Despite my attempt at overstated hyperbole, the statement above is, essentially, true. I don’t like that it’s true. I am resistant to the message that it gives me. I am not relishing the idea of embracing the role of heretic. Honestly, the idea that I feel so distant from the intimate “church life” I grew up knowing makes me very, very sad.

Now, please don’t get me wrong. Maybe I should capitalize that so you will continue reading past the first two paragraphs. I’m not against the church. I’m not being some kind of Christian “rogue” that jumps on the modern bandwagon of “all those church people are hypocrites!” that seems to dominate the perspective of the average non-church-goer. I’m not trying to be combative or whiney about this. As mentioned above, it distresses me to no end. But, this is where I find myself these days.

The truly depressing part of all this is, I’m not alone in this view. I can’t tell you how many people I meet who are estranged from the local church. Truly, that is even sadder to me than my own feelings. I have met countless individuals that have been wounded, ostracize, and attacked by the body of believers. At best, many of them have been treated with a cold aloofness that relays any message except “they will know we are Christians by our love”. I shudder to think of how the body of Christ has been hindered by the fact that so many of its members have been emotionally and spiritually incapacitated by the painful scars accumulated from “friendly fire”. It has long been said that the church is the only army that shoots its own wounded. This is, unfortunately, far more than cliché. It is an excruciatingly brutal reality for many people. It is the pink elephant in the room that people know is there but nobody wants to talk about. It is truly a scourge on the reputation of the church.

Now, we in the church often respond to this by saying things like, “that’s a cop-out” or “not all Christians are like that” or “those people need to stop making excuses and just come to church”. I have probably responded in these very same ways in the past. I am sure that I have also been intolerant of homosexuals and condemned those who suffer from addiction by insisting that they should just “get over it”. Just because we say something with conviction does not make it the truth.

No, this cry of woundedness and injustice is far too prevalent to pass off as the excuses or complaints of a select few. The church needs to reevaluate itself. Why are so many people uncomfortable around Christians? Why are so many Christians afraid to be “real” in the church?

Certainly there are a multitude of reasons that we could discuss. For brevity, let me offer a few ideas that I have:

-Rigidity over Restoration: When Christian people sin or make bad choices, the church is often quicker to respond with retribution instead of covering that person with grace and leading them to restoration. Even if we give lip service to the fact that we are all sinners and no sin is greater than another in God’s eyes, our actions and attitudes often conflict with this message. This is especially true when a leader falls. How sad! Isn’t it natural to assume that Satan would target the leaders of the church more aggressively? That being the case, it is logical to believe that more leaders would be wounded in the spiritual battle we are involved in. However, I just don’t see a scriptural basis for ostracizing a repentant (which is a key word) Christian leader.

The Word of God is full of Christian leaders that fell into sin, were disciplined by God, and then restored into the body and even into leadership. Often, God uses this “pruning” and discipline to make that Christian’s outreach and testimony that much more powerful. Yet, too often we actively rebuke them for their stupidity or we subtly avoid them until they just slip through the cracks. Then we lament their fall from grace with pious comments like, “oh, it’s too bad about so-and-so...they were so gifted” or “you know, I knew there was something funny about him” or “well, you make your bed...” You get the idea.

In my humble opinion, this approach is in direct conflict with how Jesus viewed repentant sinners. As I recall, his harshest criticism was reserved for those who were harsh on other people, but ignored the sin in their own lives. To the repentant sinners, Jesus offered so much love and forgiveness that it was life-changing. Why can’t that be the norm in our churches?

-We’ve promoted a disconnect from head to heart: I know this is not true of every church but I grew up with the implication that we could only trust our heads; not our hearts. Therefore, I learned a very rational gospel. Churches emphasized doctrine, memorizing Bible stories, and facts but downplayed the role of the heart. Emotion or following one’s heart was scoffed at and even condemned as a tool of the devil. This dynamic is also a common theme among many I talk to. Because of this, there is often a disconnect between what we know in our brains and how we live in our hearts. For instance, I know God loves me and His grace covers all my sins; yet, I struggle to translate that information into my heart and, therefore, into my life. I still feel shame when I sin and wonder if God might punish me for it. At times, I still get caught up in the inclination to “perform” in order to earn God’s love and approval. I know, in my head, that I should not worry about the future because God will take care of me. Yet...I still have to wrestle with fear and worry when I struggle to pay the bills. I know, in my brain, that I should have peace and rest in the Lord...yet, that peace seems so hard to find in the midst of life’s storms. Am I a screw-up or does this resonate for any of you?

In truth, many churches have de-emphasized the heart so much that we find it difficult to live out the factual principles that we know so well. This seems crazy since the Bible speaks so much about God viewing the heart and that the heart is the wellspring of life and...on and on. This trend frightens me because of the scripture in which Paul tells Timothy that there will be those who have a form of godliness...but who deny its power. This scripture really hammers me when I think about all the years I had lots of “head knowledge” about God but wasn’t living in the power of the Holy Spirit in my heart. Now, I’m not talking about blindly following every feeling that comes to us.

I know that what I’m saying can easily be exaggerated in order to make me look absurd. I’m talking about balance. I’m saying that the church needs to allow the truth of God’s word to fill each believer with the power of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. God created us in His image; and that includes both logic and emotion; both mind and heart. Either one, when warped by the schemes of Satan, can lead us down the wrong path. But both, when energized and driven by Holy Spirit, will bring life and power and victory, both in this life and the eternal one to come.

- Sin control vs Son-controlled: From my perspective, many churches have begun to focus so much on how people can stop sinning in their lives, that they have neglected the most essential part of the Christian life: walking intimately with God. I hear so many messages on “5 steps to overcoming sexual temptation” or “how to stop gossip in your church”. Tragically, I hear very few on how to truly walk in daily communion with Christ. I hardly hear any sermons or lessons on how to honestly listen to the voice of God. Again, I hear the concept of a personal relationship with Christ, but I rarely see it taught in a way that can be applied to our hearts and lived out on a daily basis. How do we draw so close to God that we can converse with Him every day AND hear his voice? How can we maintain that kind of relationship?

Why isn’t this the MAIN thrust of everything we do? If everyone walked in intimacy with God, sin would become much less of a problem. If people know the Lord on that level, He will change them from the inside-out. The idea that we can give people formulas to overcome such strong spiritual issues is like handing a soldier a feather duster and wishing him luck as he goes into battle. When Christians strive to use willpower alone to overcome habits or sins or wrong attitudes, they are bound to fail. Then, without a close walk with God, they are destined to drift into feelings of shame and guilt and spiritual low self-esteem. It’s no wonder that people avoid the church when we tell them all the ways they are wrong in their living and then fail to properly equip them to deal with it. Why don’t we spend more time introducing them to Christ on intimate levels? In many ways, the approach of the church has simply led many people to feel more shameful about who they are and, therefore, pushes them away from God; who wants nothing more than to meet them where they are right now.

The following quote from Oswald Chambers absolutely thrills me and yet the concept seems almost foreign to me, even though I’ve grown up in the church. Listen to what he emphasizes:

“This chapter brings out the delight of real friendship with God as compared with occasional feelings of His presence in prayer. To be so much in contact with God that you never need to ask Him to show you His will, is to be nearing the final stage of your discipline in the life of faith. When you are rightly related to God, it is a life of FREEDOM, AND LIBERTY, AND DELIGHT, you ARE God’s will, and all your common-sense decisions are His will for you unless he checks.”


The idea of a REAL friendship with God as opposed to just feeling His presence occasionally??? I want that so much.

A relationship with God that brings freedom? And liberty? And delight? Man, I sure could use more of THAT kind of relationship.

To think that, in a right relationship, my natural desires are the same as God’s will because we are so close? Oh boy...that sounds so much better than always praying for God’s will and having no clue what it is.

You mean all of this is available to me???

This is the primary message that people thirst for. It’s the same message that Jesus offered and it’s why people flocked to his presence. Unfortunately, in a majority of cases, there is more of a mass exodus AWAY from churches, rather than people who flock TO them.

Instead of focusing so much on SIN-CONTROL, shouldn’t we be offering the relationship of SON-CONTROL? Being in such an intimate relationship with Christ that He really guides our every desire and thought? I know we talk about this some...but is it primary?

It should be.

Again, please forgive me if this article sounds like a diatribe against Christians. I know I may find myself branded a rebel or a heretic for writing these things. I know...this is a risky subject to write about.

But, please listen when I say that my primary motive is actually a love for the church. My father was a minister and an elder for my entire life. I grew up singing beautiful hymns, hearing the gripping tales of scripture, and eating lots and lots of fried chicken and green bean casserole at church dinners. There were many times where the fellowship I had with other Christians, I was convinced, was just one step below heaven.

It just seems like that was a long time ago in a church very far away. And I miss it. And I think there are lots of others who miss it as well.

I am by no means perfect and my walk with the Lord is still a work in progress. But, as I know Him more, I find that I want to...well...know Him more. My focus is less on sin and more on the One who saved me from it. And my reaction to sin has gone from a distancing shame to a burning desire to run to Him as quickly as I can. Unfortunately, I learned this less in the church and more from seeking Him in the wilderness and in the storms of life. This life is not about SIN-CONTROL as much as it is about being SON-CONTROLLED; it’s about relationship and reconciling with the awesome God of the universe. This is why Jesus died; so that we could be intimate with God, in spite of our sin.

This message, of intimate relationship with God, is the truth that people are dying to hear. It’s what will set them free. It’s what will heal their wounds. It’s what will bring them back.

Author's Bio: 

Aaron is a licensed mental health counselor, nationally certified counselor and founder of "Legacy Counseling Services, with offices in both Kissimmee and Winter Park, Florida.