A few years ago I coached a pastor in North Dakota. In one of our coaching sessions I asked her, "If you could do anything in ministry that you wanted to do, what would that be?" She responded that she would like to create a ministry that ministered to people who had been hurt by the church. I chuckled a bit and responded that if she developed such a ministry her church would not remain small very long because there are many such people in every community.
Unfortunately, I hear their stories too often. In my book, The Healthy Community: Moving Your Church Beyond Tunnel Vision I share the story of a woman I once met. Her daughter had accepted Jesus Christ into her heart at Vacation Bible School. The pastor and I visited her single mother to see how she felt about her daughter's decision. Although she was pleased that her daughter had made her decision, she was concerned about the baptism. She didn't want her daughter to become a member of the church.
When we asked why, she shared that she had been an active member of a church in our community until her husband divorced her. The Sunday after it was known she was getting a divorce she said it felt like she had walked into a freezer when she entered the church. Former friends ignored her. Few would even speak. After this went on for several weeks, she left the church and never returned. She did not want her daughter to be hurt by the church as she had been.
For some reason too many churches forget that Jesus showed the most grace to those the religious leaders of the time condemned. When religious leaders wanted to stone a woman caught in the act of adultery Jesus extended grace to her. Zacchaeus, a despised tax collector, was the recipient of Christ's grace when Jesus spent the day with him. Lepers, who were shunned by religious leaders as unclean, received a healing touch from Jesus. In fact, the only ones Jesus did condemn were the religious leaders who refused to offer grace towards those they deemed unworthy.
It is time the church repents of its tendency to shoot its wounded. We are not called to judge people; we are called to love them. This does not mean we have to compromise our beliefs or ignore the clear teachings of Scripture. It does mean that we treat others as individuals created in the image of God and as persons for whom Jesus Christ gave His life on the cross. It also means that we love people with the same unconditional love that God has for each of us.
The church is not a hotel for saints; it is a hospital for sinners, and we are all sinners. We need to offer grace to one another because we all need to receive grace for our own shortcomings. The Christian life can be difficult enough without being wounded by "friendly fire." When one of our fellow believers falls or is going through a tough time, let's extend grace and a helping hand to lift them back up to a healthier place in their lives.