Why Church is Hard…

{From the archives} As Easter came and went this year, I realized in my post-candy-“He is Risen”-haze that I didn’t really feel connected to Jesus this Easter.

I can remember Easter’s past, when just hearing the name “Jesus” would cause my eyes to swell with tears and my throat to tighten. This was not that year. In fact, I felt little of nothing and that made me feel, well, a little guilty.

And as I was lying in bed on Sunday night, I tried to talk to God and understand just where I went wrong this Easter. I concluded, based upon His silence, that while I wanted to say that He just doesn’t care about the things that I care about–the truth is, I haven’t been caring about the things He cares about.

To add insult to injury, I have begun to question things that I have never questioned. I have begun to wrestle with things I have always assumed I would never need to wrestle against. And I’m scared.

I realized however, that I wasn’t the only one left feeling empty and disconnected this Easter. Except that this was new to me. I’ve never had an Easter like this, but I shouldn’t be surprised because…

…Church is hard.

Church isn’t easy. Being the church isn’t easy (and to quote Coldplay, no one said it’d be this hard).

But there is one glaringly obvious reason as to why church is hard. It explains all the heartache, disappointment, loneliness, isolation, disillusionment, and even anger that so many of us in the church experience…

Church is hard because it is made up of people.

Church is hard because it is comprised of imperfect, albeit new, creations.

Church is hard because just like family, you can’t really pick your church–a building, sure–but the body as a whole, no.

Church is hard because we are the church. Period.

And let’s be honest, sometimes we can be spiteful, judgmental, cruel, unloving, unkind, and anything but Christ-like. We make church hard.

I heard Frank Viola make this point once too: Have you ever noticed that the majority of the New Testament is comprised of letters written to churches in crisis? Paul wasn’t writing Corinth to congratulate them on a job well done, so much as to say “Hey, that guy who’s sleeping with his dad’s wife…uh, get rid of him.”

And if the first century church, still basking in the glow of Christ’s presence of earth, was struggling with so many of the same things we struggle with today, well, we should find that comforting, if not also a little convicting.

So as I sit struggling with some of the biggest questions I have ever grappled with in terms of my faith, I think the church is failing me. I want to scream “Don’t you see me? Don’t you see me crumbling?” I could blame them, point fingers at them, tell them that they have excluded me, forgotten me, misunderstood me.

But then, I am struck with the awesome understanding that this whole church thing isn’t so much about me, as it is about Him. He hasn’t accused me. He hasn’t abandon me. He hasn’t excluded or forgotten me…and He never will.

Who am I to question the means through which God chose to display His glory? He chose, in His infinite wisdom, to make us–the broken, contrite, lowly, and unlovely His beloved.

The Church, comprised of people, is God’s plan A. There is no plan B.

But that also means, church is hard.

Church is hard because people are messy, because family is messy.

Church is hard because often those closest to us, can hurt us the most.

Church is hard not because God made a mistake, but because we make mistakes.

And yet, it is still His representation to the world. It is still the imagery of the Bridegroom and the Bride. I’m not where I want to be in this whole broken family. I’m not feeling the most loved among its members right now, but when I stop to consider Her, I am amazed. I stand in awe of Him choosing us to show Himself. The Bride, in all her brokenness…just as lovely.

Do you find being in the church and being the church hard? Why or why not? When have you found church to be the most difficult?


35 thoughts on “Why Church is Hard…”

  1. Oh yes – being in the church is hard! Working for a church is hard, serving in a church is hard, loving the people in the church is hard (sometimes). But the hardest part is not being consumed by the church. The hardest part is staying connected to God when life & ministry is pulling you apart by the seams. I also felt regrets this Easter and felt like I had “missed it” in the busyness of trying to share it with others. Thank you for this article. You bring some sense to the madness!

    1. Marie, I think you raise a good point. So many people are consumed with doing church instead of being the church. They fall victim to thinking that participation in a program or ministry is all there is to church. They become busy in church life and so many burn out.

      On the flip side, I have seen so many people who are in the church and desperately want to be used. They have talents, gifts, passions and have never once been able to apply those things in ministry. Very often, I’ve seen this in churches where only “special” people get to lead and other get to watch.

      Both scenarios in sad and neither is what God intends for us. Thank you for the thoughtful comment.

    2. Church is hard because one gets to face their sins directly and accept them as they are, compare those sins with the sins of others and still be a peaceful church body. If anything it is the comparisons that are weapons, not judgement. It is difficult to know if my participation is adequete enough, if I am contributing to God’s standards. If every action, movement, word I utter, facial expressions are ok to God. It gets easier, I think, when I Know God wants the best for me and trust in his son. Church is a challenge when people do not meet similar perceptions of what a church is. Some people have one of two theories I would say. There’s one that goes like, “I love the church I was brought up in and will remain in until I part this world” and “I love the church I was brought up in and will love the church that God designates me to serve as a part of its body” I know there is a place in God’s heart for all churches.

  2. I have to say, as a pastor preparing for Easter, it’s my favorite day of the year for exactly this reason: it’s my opportunity to invite people bringing all sorts of baggage into a worship space to leave it. To embrace the hope of the resurrection breaking forth in the midst of a mess. LOVE LOVE LOVE

    1. Jr., Usually I’m right there with you. Since not always being a believer, I have felt like Easter is always this culmination for me of all of my hope in Jesus and the promise I have in Him. I guess, realistically, I can’t expect every Easter to be just as thrilling especially when God is taking me through new valleys.

      All that to say, while I know more people attend Easter than nay other time of the year–“the hope of the Resurrection breaking forth in the midst of a mess”–is always true, is always available. I know we capitalize on those who don’t usually attend church on Easter, but man, if we could embrace that hope throughout the whole year. What an impact it could have on those who are broken and longing for more.

      May the Lord continue to breath His life and His power into your ministry friend.

      1. Absolutely… I love referring to Sundays as “mini-Easters”. Really trying to take every worship gathering as an opportunity to experience Revelation 4-5 is a mental discipline I’ve been cultivating for the last few years. Of course some weeks I’m more “successful” than others, but still…

        Every time I write a sermon, I ask myself “What’s at stake for the congregation?” If I leave the platform and haven’t communicated _______ this week, what difference will it make? It’s made a huge difference in my preaching.

        On a totally different note, question for you: who is believing on your behalf while you’re in these valleys? Drawing on the story of the guy lowered through the roof – Jesus heals him because of the faith of his friends (not his own faith, which I find provocative and fascinating).

        It’s nice to know that when we’re in those dark or low places, our friends’ faith and prayer can be agents of healing. I assume your hubs is one of those people for you. I’m confident you have more as well.

        Grace and peace, as always sister. Thanks for the encouraging words.

  3. I get it. I was in the same place this time last year. Feeling hurt, disillusioned, and questioning absolutely everything. Most of last year was spent analyzing my own foundation and the people who helped me lay it. I spent so much time speculating on accusations – ones that could be made toward me, and ones I could make toward them. My faith was in crisis. But.. I let it be. I didn’t run away from my questions or allow myself to be placated with “quick fix” answers. I wrestled through it. It took the better part of the year, finally culminating in an honest conversation with my elders just a few weeks ago.

    The easy thing would’ve been to leave without explanation. But, like you say, being the church is hard. I had too many other good relationships that I couldn’t walk away from. So, after a minor breakdown and much encouragement from a dear friend, I chose reconciliation. Ultimately, I chose to believe the best, after spending a year believing the worst. And it’s paid off. I am so grateful.

    Yes, being the church is hard. But worth it.

    1. Bekah, thank you so much for sharing this with me. It really encouraged me.

      I’m glad that you didn’t run and that you didn’t expect quick answers to such difficult questions. And more than anything, I’m glad you chose reconciliation and that our God has been faithful to see you through this time.

      Church is, as you said, so worth it. I agree.

  4. This is EXACTLY what I had to come to grips with to be able to get rid of the fear of what if’s. Being around a family that tends to eventually find something wrong with a restaurant, church etc and move on I was challenged and fearful that the few Church’s I loved the most and have helped my walk with Christ the most would become this for me. That’s when I realized we are all sinners, even other christians…and much like as a child I identified my parents with Christ I had moved on to identifying the church and it’s people with Christ. The past few years that is the step I had to make to get rid of the fear of the beauty of Christ going away….. that God’s people are sinners saved by his Grace. They have and will make mistakes, and hurt will happen at times. Or sometimes it’s not a mistake maybe but because we’re human decisions can hurt. But if I focus on Christ, and the people and blessings the church has given me…. which so far have saved my life, through Christ, it helps keep perspective. Love your Post!

    1. Jen, yes! Keeping your eyes fixed on Christ makes all the difference and helps us to see all of the blessings He has bestowed on us, including the people He brings into our lives. Love you!

  5. Me and my wife have found church to be not only hard but discouraging. Since we’ve gotten married last year all of our major conflicts within our marriage has come from us both trying to both involved in church. The disregard and disrespect our marriage has received from church leaders and pastors is baffling as we both figured the church would be the last place to disregard a marriage.

    We both strongly believe in having a church-home to grow in and become involved in, but that’s being proven to be very difficult in every church we’ve tried so far. However we’re still hopeful and praying that we’ll be lead to the right church-home. We also do our best to support and help out the churches of our friends and family when their ministries have a need.

    Fortunately, our faith in Jesus continues to grow, we actually enjoyed this Easter quite a bit. We decided to read “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis together, which was awesome!

    1. Chris, it makes me so sad to hear that you and your wife have encountered such difficulty in finding a church to call home.

      Please don’t be discouraged or give up. God has a place for you both. I know this because He designed us for relationship and I’ll be praying He leads you there soon.


  6. I’ve found it hard this year…I’m working for a church and seeing ‘behind the scenes’ as it were can be pretty ugly! Naively I assumed with Christians would be different and that the usual personality clashes and disagreements wouldn’t happen as often!

  7. Such a good post. I want to steal so much of this. Church IS hard. I’ve been reticent to attend regularly. I know I don’t want to join a church, but I’ve found a church I want to attend. I don’t want to be on any committee or project, but I want to support the church. I’m thinking I may get a church directory and begin to pray for each person attending the church. Don’t tell anyone. I don’t want to start a group or anything. I’m just going to let this church wear off my rough edges. I hope that is what will happen as I bump up against these PEOPLE. :)

  8. Looking back, I guess I would say that church has been hardest when I was part of groups where no one could really be honest. It wasn’t the people, or the fact that people are messy, it was people not being able to be real – to be who they really were – because they had to maintain a facade of spiritual maturity. There was a tension level of people having to pretend to be existing in compliance to a certain standard – a standard of doctrinal, social, moral, political, emotional, or economic excellence – when they really didn’t, or weren’t actually in compliance. Now that I attend a church that is more affirming of folks who don’t fit any particular mold, it’s not hard.

    1. Ed, why is it that so many people in the church think being the church means acting like you’re perfect. It breaks my heart and drives me crazy.

      I’m sorry you were in that type of environment, but I am thankful that you aren’t now. I’m blessed to know that you are now in a community that allows people to be who God designed them to be.

    2. Maybe it should be. Hardness is a holy thing. It conforms us to higher authority. Sometimes it doesn’t matter whether that authority loves us or just demands our obedience. God is apart and above, and service to Him must be service to everything and everyone apart from ourselves – as if we had no best interest, in fact, as if we did not exist.

  9. I have to say our Easter was a little jacked up this year, too. We are out of our area of the country, Our car is in the shop a month tomorrow, it rain on Easter meaning because of my wife’s mobility challenges we couldn’t make use of the busses here. We are on the edges a little. We’ve slid to the margin. God is still there but we couldn’t rely on the tweaking of our emotions to prove that this season. That’s a good thing because He is more than emotion.

  10. I really enjoyed your writing Nicole. Church for me is hard because it seems to be all flesh of most the time. I can never get enough positive reading to help me with my walk. It seems that all the writings I read that have so much wisdom coming from them are young people like yourself………I struggle with the fact I am a senior and I should be putting out alot of wisdom myself for the younger ladies to admire as the bible so says, but I find I am learning much from the younger generation. Praise be to God! So with that said thanks for sharing and keep up the good work!

  11. Church is hard. I remember a really bad year in which one of my mentor couples divorced because of an affair, followed by the revelation that our senior pastor was causing division and strife in our church with his words. And after he left, I realized that it had been a long time since I had felt moved by the Holy Spirit in the church while he had been pastor. Once he left, it was another story. It was as if a dam had broken and the Holy Spirit came pouring back into our church and we felt the verse in Isaiah that talked about beauty from ashes. Just as we were recovering/healing from that, God moved me and my family 1800 miles away. Easter of 2009 was the last time I would celebrate it in my old church, where I had known people for more than a decade and they were as close as blood family and I cried through most of the service. The following Easter, I remember being downright angry with God for moving us. I think this is the first Easter in four years in which I was filled with the joy of the Lord and of His resurrection. And the problem has been me and my whining and complaining. Poor God!

  12. To be completely honest, I have not gone to a church (building) in over 3 months (other than the 12 Stations of the Cross a couple Fridays ago). I have been watching sermons on my phone or on my computer to get messages. I have been skyping with friends and then sometimes hanging out with friends to get some sort of fellowship. I am tired. Exhausted. I feel drained pretty much from the moment I get up in the morning. There are brief moments where I get excited or happy, but it dwindles away.

    Life is hard. Church is hard. I want to return to a church (building) and hear the music playing, worship, listen to the sermon, and then go home and talk about it with friends, but my motivation to do so is low. Please pray for me.

  13. Hi Nicole

    When I saw the title…and well, even after reading, I say that church is hard IF the Holy Spirit is not there and people are caught up in traditions and He is not invited.

    Like what you said though, of course, hard because there are people that make up His church.

  14. Nicole, church is hard for all the reasons you’ve stated. There are still “hard things” that I deal within in the church family context, but since I realized that (at least for me) the hardest part was the long engrained expectations of what things were supposed to look and be like if we were really “doing church” at any given time we gathered. I’ve stated several times that I think I would literally die if I had to return to the “old wineskin” approach. My “title” is pastor of our family, but I see myself and my wife as “father and mother” figures of this “house.” A lot of the people that are part of our family never learned how to pretend very well, so that’s a plus. Good article.

  15. What a great and timely post. Thank you for this one from the archives.

    I have found that if there are two things people are passionate about , it is family and church. It seems to provoke the strongest responses emotionally particularly when we don’t agree on something in church. The hurt that comes with that can be very painful.
    As I struggle with a hurt with from a fellow church member at this time, I feel that Jesus has been reminding me to look to the Cross and see the hurt that I have I caused Him with my own past mistakes. It doesn’t necessarily remove the difficulties with that person but it has helped give me a better perspective in how I view that person and how I handle the situation.

  16. Nicole believes that God doesn’t care that Valentina Suriani is DEAD. She should get her own family murdered so she can understand what Valentina’s parents went through.

    They live with the heartache of what your Born Again Christian Serial Killer did to their family. Even if he is SAVED.

  17. I have been a member of 3 churches in my life time and I agree it is hard for people are people and not always Christ like.

  18. Church is hard because it’s boring. I hate to admit that, but I must. I’ve been a believer for many years and church has bored me (except for the sermons) for most of that time. I listen to sermons all the time in my car, online etc. I love hearing God’s word explained and made real in every day life.
    But I struggle to sing the contemporary songs which I find bland and un-engaging. And LOUD. And I’m often distracted by the whole “worship band” thing, performing up front. Wrong model for vertical worship!
    I struggle to be in a prayerful attitude when we’re allowed a whopping 11 seconds of silence before communion.
    I struggle to engage with people I don’t know and have little or nothing in common with and would never spend time with except in church. Contrary to many Christians’ opinion, it takes more than a common love for Christ to make a friendship or even a connection. I love those in my church, but I don’t like many of them. That sounds worse than it is, I hope it’s understandable.
    I have never enjoyed sitting next to a stranger and trying to chit-chat at a pot luck dinner.
    I spent years happily ushering, setting up and taking down, helping with children’s ministry, maintenance, committees…now I just want to leave as soon as possible after the service. Maybe it’s time of life – I’m 63 and have been involved for 28 years.

    I long for quiet, some silence, less music, more message and prayer, a little ceremony. Today’s church has turned it’s back on most of that and comes off like a youth service.

    I know, many will say I’m shallow and expecting something that church isn’t supposed to give, but I think it’s the other way around. Church has abandoned quiet meditation and thought for entertainment, keeping things “upbeat”. That’s what I find to be shallow.
    I go out of obedience. Period.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *