Reforming Insignificance in the Church
I’ve met dozens of strong-minded atheists who, not without good reasons, left the church and will never consider going back. A clear majority of these individuals left not because they objected to a theistic worldview – and if so, it certainly didn’t start that way. It was mainly because most had issues with its controlling authority structure shunning curiosity and limiting abilities. I realize that this type of culture does not predominate all Christian churches, but I do have to acknowledge that these types of communities exist, and I’ve been a victim of them.
The number one reason that constantly leads me to question my own faith has almost always been imperfect people. I did not have issues with having a Christian theistic worldview until I came across all sorts of Christian theologies that I did not know existed, as well as a good share of name-calling and threats of hell from church “leaders” who always seemed to look down on me. In the process of questioning my identity in Christ and my purpose for being alive on planet earth, there were moments when I felt valueless for prioritizing being a part of a church community for many years. I’ve been told several things that have left me very confused and in tears, such as “God only speaks to His leaders that way; He won’t just directly speak to you” or “You’re not ready to receive Christ; you’re just a little kid, you don’t understand.” These would have been sufficiently credible reasons for me to completely walk away from the faith, but on top of that, because our family was extremely broken and impoverished, we were treated as though we were burdensome to the church. When I started to pull my focus away from engaging in that community, I was fortunate enough to be in an academic environment that valued student potential. This setting enabled me to grow in confidence and launch two sustainable high school programs as well as a TEDxYouth movement in Southern California. I thrived outside of the church and there were practically no reasons for me to go back to being a part of that disempowering environment. This is why I could easily empathize with many headstrong atheists – because I would have become one.
The reason I did not leave the faith is because I was able to rationalize that I was merely upset and resentful towards a community of people, not the Christian worldview itself. Even though I could have easily questioned the injustices and suffering that I’d endured, not just by the cruel world but also by the people who were supposed to be my heavenly family, these were not the inherent issue for me. Frankly, many ancient and modern philosophers already had great answers to these issues. I also stayed because there was at least one Christian individual who I was able to trust and whose maturity in the faith and genuine love for me as a sister was sufficient to sustain me to not lose sight of who I am and what having this worldview actually says about the nature of my existence.
Believing in the God of the Holy Bible means believing in a Father who wants you to succeed – whose plans are to prosper you and not to harm you, who wants you to realize that you are meant to be significant. You were created in the image of God to be exalted and to take dominion over every living thing. When the Bible speaks about being made out of dust, even science can confirm this – have you not seen the Symphony of Science “We are Star Dust” music video? You are also gifted with such an incredible combination of abilities and talents that resoundingly enables you to live out every page of every chapter that God has planned for you. God has special promises for every one of His children, and He will NOT fail to fulfill them. Recognizing your worth and significance as an inherent biblical truth is the first step to not allowing lies and others’ hurtful remarks deplete your identity and those promises.
It took me a while to understand that the imperfect nature of people – especially those in leadership – was actually what I had been hurt by all along. And it’s not shameful to be hurt by this – Jesus even grieves about it. In fact, the Bible says we should treat one another as brothers and sisters, regardless of how knowledgeable and “grown-up” we are in the faith. We are to regard each other as equals, giving honor to one another selflessly – without asking for honor in return because Christ honors us for honoring them. I know now that most mature Christians placed in leadership positions are trying to model this in the best way they can, but in the process of trying to carry out their leadership role, they may fail to recognize how their efforts in discipling others to be “righteous” may devalue and even undermine some of these individuals’ sense of significance and identity. This is exactly why Paul cautions us to first seek peace prior to strengthening one another as fellow brothers and sisters, being careful to not destroy the work that God has done in each individual’s life. This framework has shifted my mindset to realize that just because someone is an appointed leader in a church community, that doesn’t make them flawless or more gifted than you. For instance, a leader’s measure of faith may be lower than the person they are discipling. Another reason why Paul cautions us again in Romans 12:3 is because this issue of different measures of faith can be directly related to pride and doubt – the antithesis of humility and faith. The passage also encourages us to see the best in others and to not undermine them in their current role and in their hopes, dreams, and goals – as unrealistic one might think they are.
With all sorts of flawed people and systems everywhere, I often get asked whether there is a certain set of standards one HAS to follow as a Christian, the most common being the obligation to belong to a locally organized church. Understandably, the line of thinking behind this goes into being able to just avoid all the mess and commitment involved in being a part of a church community. I’ve grappled with this question myself for the longest time, so my response to it, unlike many others, will not be an enthusiastic “yes.” I am aware of how many individuals are hurt by these institutions and I’m not going to try to defend any sort of corruption in the system. The term “church” in a biblical sense is defined as the Body of Christ, the People of God, and in a much more unified way: the Bride. As someone who has also studied the ways by which power can corrupt, church leadership (with a hierarchy system as opposed to just having Christ as the head) can definitely fall into the same pothole. Yet I do however, see that part of our responsibility as Christians is to continually build and reform the “church”; having a local community you belong to that actually respects your input and enables you to live your God-given destiny just makes this responsibility easier to fulfill. This type of community can certainly be hard to find – depending on who you are and where you look, but this shouldn’t discourage you from looking or starting your own Christian community. Your calling and identity should not be diminished for the sake of being able to commune with other Christians. But sometimes, compromising one’s sense of self-significance for the sake of loving other people well may just be something that God is giving you the peace to do.
In all cases, walking with God means allowing Him to directly situate you where He wants you to be. The best part of pursuing a closer relationship with Him is realizing that, actually, He is the one pursuing you.
1 Jeremiah 29:11 NIV
2 Genesis 1:27-28 NIV
3 Genesis 2:7 NIV
4 Melodysheep. “‘We Are Star Dust’-symphony of Science”. Filmed [May 2012]. Youtube video, 2:58. Posted May 2012]. https://www.youtube.comwatch?v=8g4d-rnhuSg.
5 Psalms 139:16 NIV
6 Numbers 23:19 NIV
7 Matthew 23 NIV
8 Matthew 23: 8-12 NIV
9 Romans 14:19-20 NIV
10 1 Corinthians 12:27 NIV
11 Hebrews 8:10 NIV
12 2 Corinthians 11:2; Revelation 19:7, 21:9 NIV
Diana Lutfi is an Interdisciplinary Studies major with a field focus in Medical Ethics. She directs a large worldview decal called Faith & Reasons (faithandreasons.com) that aims to investigate Big Questions of life and allow people to develop a resolved perspective about these questions. Diana has a huge heart for seeing a chosen generation of young people arise and fulfill their God-given callings.Tags: atheism, church, community, love, philosophy