By Heidi Kim
Heidi Kim is a graduate of UCSD and is currently pursuing a career as a teacher.
At one point in our Christian lives, we come to a crossroads where we ask ourselves whether or not we should leave our church for an array of reasons. This article does not answer that question; it instead shares my experience of why I chose to stay at my home church, Cerritos Mission Church, despite my spiritual struggles for a few years.
The trials within my church were nothing out of the ordinary. The community as a whole went through a spiritually dry season: we were without a permanent pastor and vision for over a year, there lacked a spiritual intimacy within the body, and members dwindled to less than twenty as we waited for new leadership. It was an extremely difficult time for all of us, yet the Lord continues to weave a beautiful testimony out of our church’s brokenness.
I never wanted to admit that my church was struggling. I didn’t want to say that I was drained rather than rejuvenated on Sundays or acknowledge that people slowly stopped showing up for worship. However, there was a point where I couldn’t run away from reality. I began to dread Sundays. I served solely out of duty and a ‘Savior mentality’ because I saw the need in our church. There were moments I felt very alone and in pain. My bitterness towards the community and my frustration of not having a pastor fostered a greater anger in my heart. I constantly told myself to not be upset, but to have faith and perseverance. I was discouraged at myself for being unable to forgive, be joyful in all circumstances, and trust in the Lord. Months continued to pass, and I began to lose hope that my church’s situation would improve.
I eventually reached my breaking point. How much longer am I called to persevere? I had exhausted all options of how to serve, what to do, who to talk to, and what to pray. For the first time in my life, I wrestled with the idea of leaving my church. My soul was crying out for something to change, but I was unsure if change was the solution I needed.
My Grief Was Real, But My Expectations Were Not
I often shared about my struggles to close friends within the church. Most responded by saying I should consider leaving the church, checking out another church for a while, or trying a little harder. For some reason, no answer settled right in my heart. As difficult as it was, and although at one point I did have valid reasons to consider other churches, leaving was not a solution for me. It was harder for me to leave my church than to stay, but I also felt suffocated with the thought that my only other option was to keep trying.
My idealistic view of the church as strong, sturdy, and reliable was torn down. My heart grieved over all the false expectations I had for myself, the community, and the church. As much as I wanted to place all my trust in the church, it is made up of broken sinners. Therefore, there will be pain, conflict, hardship, and sin. I had put my hope in an entity that although is closely related to God, isn’t God. My heart ached over all that I wanted for the church and myself, but didn’t have. And no matter how hard I tried, I was brutally humbled when my efforts seemed to make no dent in the church’s standstill.
I was on the brink of leaving my church when our English Ministry hired a new pastor. Despite all that had happened, it did not make sense for me to leave when God had provided an opportunity for our ministry. The Lord knew my heart and wanted me to stay. I fully recommitted my heart to fight for our English Ministry’s new vision: “becoming disciples transformed by the Gospel to make disciples.” Through my pastor’s heart for the church and our member’s convictions through the Lord, I slowly began to see hints of hope. One year later, I thank God every Sunday when I worship with my church for the beautiful work He has started and is continuing. We are a church-in-progress, slowly yet surely working towards our vision.
We all want a close community with whom we pursue God’s kingdom together. We naturally seek ministries that are thriving and challenging, and we become disappointed and hurt when our standards aren’t met. But who ever said that the church is perfect? God taught me again that He came for the broken. He has compassion, patience, and love for His children, wherever they may be in their walks with Him— He challenged me to have that same heart. I had set myself up for disappointment when I expected my church to perfectly answer to my needs, when in reality, it’s just as broken as people and I outside its walls.
Beauty in the Broken
I will be the first to admit that my church was very broken, and it still is. But I also think that is what makes my church absolutely beautiful. It is a living testimony of Jesus’ undying love for His church. He kept us together, barely alive, until now. We are beginning to replant our seeds as a ministry praying to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our lives and to others. We are weak, broken, and few. However, that is how we can fully glorify Him because we are called to fully rely on Him. He is the one leading and growing the church. We are merely the servants sowing the seeds.
God taught me that the greatest church is not one with the most members, the best programs, or the best speakers— the greatest church is one that has Christ. My church went through many years of incredible hardship and spiritual struggle. Yet, I see my church as a standing symbol of the Lord’s faithfulness and strength. We have been humbled to our knees after many years of a legalistic culture; As He does with His people, God allowed my church to go through trials in order to be sanctified and honoring to him. The Lord showed me the reality of how broken the church is, but in return, how steadfast his love is when we are weak. Wherever you may be with your church, take heart in knowing that Christ has a perfect plan for his beloved Church; he will take the seeds you faithfully sow and make his kingdom known.