Overcoming Disillusionment With the Church
Many of us have been hurt and disappointed by the church. There are different reasons behind this painful reality; sadly, most of them relate to the actions of people within the church. But no matter what our experiences have been, God can overcome our disillusionment as He leads us toward grace, healing, and growth.
What is Disillusionment?
Have you ever been to Las Vegas? What enters your mind when you think of that city? Glitter? Glamour? Gambling? Though Vegas itself holds very little appeal to us, my wife and I visited occasionally before eventually moving there to be closer to our son and his wife.
On one visit, I saw an advertisement for David Copperfield, who is purported to be among the best magicians who has ever lived. What does he do? He creates illusions. He makes things seem like something they're actually not. He's famous for making the Statue of Liberty "disappear." Did he actually do that? Of course not, but he flawlessly created the illusion. He caused people, if only for a moment, to believe he did.
Do you understand that Satan does the same thing? He's a master of illusion, of disillusionment. What does that mean?
According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the term "disillusion” literally means "to free from illusion or false ideas." But it can also be defined as "to take away the ideals or idealism of and make disappointed, bitter, etc." Has that ever happened to you? It has happened to me.
Facing Disillusionment with the Church
I entered Pastoral Ministry in the mid-1970s filled with idealism and hope. I believed every believer was virtuous, honest, and trustworthy. I believed elders and leaders of churches always had the Lord's best interests at heart and selflessly served to promote Jesus' fame.
I was wrong.
In my first role as a senior pastor, I was greeted warmly and, for the most part, accepted and loved. Things actually went well the first few years. The small church grew steadily, and it became apparent we needed to add staff. While the pastor's choice had weight, the congregation's vote ultimately determined whether a candidate would be selected.
A young couple I was interested in hiring came for a visit and did a superb job of sharing their gifts and talents. The church responded positively and warmly. It seemed obvious they would be a perfect fit for our growing congregation.
Again, I was wrong.
The vote was taken and resulted in only 51% in favor of them coming to serve. I'm still deeply saddened when I think about it. I was young and oblivious to the tactics of the "saints." Unbeknownst to me, the word had been spread to those who weren't even current attenders to "come and vote" with the clear implication to vote against the couple.
I had asked each board member if they would give the couple their support and every person said "yes." But following the announcement of the vote, one of the board members came to me, stood right in my face, and said: "I just wanted you to know who's really running this church."
My heart was broken. I'd been deceived. And it almost cost me my ministry. I served the church a few more years, but my heart wasn't in it. I finally resigned and took a secular job.
What I Learned from Disillusionment
I was disillusioned, broken, spent. My idealism was evaporated. I felt like an empty shell. Questions flooded my mind. But I learned a lot in that season about the frailties of man and the Adamic-nature with which each of us wrestles, not only as I viewed it in others, but as I experienced it in my own life.
How easy it was for me to see the "gnat" in another's eye and miss the "plank" in my own. How easy it was to be so focused on the sins of others, that I overlooked my own sinful attitudes and actions, to the peril of my own walk with the Lord. Have you ever let that happen to you?
The "deceiver," as Satan is sometimes called in the Bible, is no respecter of persons and, like David Copperfield, will create illusions believable by anyone, given the right circumstance. Remember, every illusion is based on false belief, causing us to believe something that seems true, or in our minds, should be true but isn't. There are many "illusions" related to the church.
The devil would have us believe the church is only interested in money; that Christians are exclusive and love to judge others; that everyone who attends church is kind, nice, thoughtful, caring, loving, on the one hand, or hateful, hypocritical, uncaring, prejudiced, on the other.
I wrongly assumed church leaders always put Christ first. I assumed that for them, His will was supreme. I didn't understand that church leaders, like everyone else, are human first, then Christian. I didn't realize, though I should have, if I'd only taken a closer look at my own heart, that church leaders, like every other Christ-follower, struggle with issues of self-worth, value, and independence (tempted to follow our sinful nature rather than the will of God).
May I let you in on a secret? There are people who love church and are faithfully devoted to the church, but they haven't yet met Jesus. Their "religion" is church, not Christianity.
There are those who have "prayed the prayer" and "received Christ," but they don't have a clue as to what that really means. They don't understand discipleship and devotion to Christ alone. They haven't come to grips with what it means to love Jesus more than they love their own life.
So, what's the point?
No one has arrived. Everyone is on a journey.
How We Can Overcome Disillusionment
So, what's the answer? Be cautious, but don't quit. The Lord has made it clear to me that another person's life choices are not to be my focus, that's His department.
My mission isn't to judge another person's decisions, only to love them as Christ has loved me. How does that translate? If you've been hurt by someone who professes to know Jesus, but doesn't always live like Him, shift your focus.
But how do you shift your focus?
We need to simply focus on Jesus.
Read the Bible regularly, especially in the New Testament. Become a student of Jesus. Learn how He lived, what He taught, what He expects of you, then follow Him, one step at a time.
But perhaps most important, find someone you can trust who truly loves Jesus, and ask them to help you understand what it means to follow Jesus. Learn together. Walk with Jesus together. Life in Christ was never meant to be lived alone but in community. That's why He gave us the Church.
After my heart had been shattered, I wasn't sure I ever wanted to serve in a church setting again. My temptation was to focus on the ones who hurt me (deceived me), so that I missed the many others who had loved me, prayed for me, sacrificed for me, and cared deeply about my family and me.
Finally, by God's grace and with His help, I forgave those who hurt me and realigned my focus on Jesus. Where did that lead me?
How to Find a Church Home Again
Sometimes, after facing disillusionment, it is easy for us to want to give up and walk away from the church. But that is not what God wants for us. He wants us to find a place where we can come as we are and be transformed by His love and grace. A place where we can fellowship with other Christ-followers and encourage one another. A place where we can help build up His Church by loving and serving others.
Ultimately, the Lord led me to Chase Oaks Church. My wife and I attended Chase Oaks for several years before moving to Las Vegas, and we loved it.
Is any church perfect? Of course not. As long as I'm attending, it will never be perfect, because like every other person who attends, serves, or leads, we're all in the same boat—we're all flawed by sin, we're all in need of a Savior every day!
Will you meet someone at a church like Chase Oaks who may hurt you in some way? Possibly.
What I found were loving, caring, considerate people who love Jesus and are laying their lives on the line every day to serve others. The deeper I looked into the "inner workings" of the church, the more I found to appreciate and admire. The structure of the church and the church's stewardship of money, people, and other resources seek to be biblical, functionally correct, and God-honoring. At church, I found growth and healing.
Wherever you are on your faith journey—from having no faith to having a lot of faith—you can come as you are, be transformed, and make a difference. Jesus loves you and desires for you to be part of a healthy community of faith. Come and see for yourself what it means to follow Jesus as part of a church family.