A few years ago I was having coffee with an old friend and colleague. I was in a pretty wounded state at the time, and felt compelled to tell him my story. He was compassionate, listened attentively, then asked, “How can I help?”
“I was thinking about visiting your church,” I said, “and just wanted you to know.”
“Well, I’ll be honest with you,” he replied. “We’re not much of a healing place.”
Wow. There it was. Translation: We’re more interested in fresh blood than spilled blood. But to be fair, his church was and is true to its mission as they perceive it. And at least he was kind enough to be honest.
For years I have heard the old saying, “The Christian army is the only army in the world that shoots its wounded.” Let me say right up front, that’s not accurate. If you really believe that, you’ve never been in a corporate “army” or a political one. The wounded get eliminated there all the time.
But the church is supposed to be different, right? We’re supposed to be trophies of grace, havens of love, lighthouses of hope and (make your own cliché here: [blank] of [blank]). So what’s up with that right foot of fellowship?
Defining “Its Own Wounded”
I guess we need to be on the same page here. Sometimes we use the word “wounded” to mean somebody who has been a victim of the sins of others. The good news here is that the church has a history of being more compassionate in those circumstances, at least for the most part.
“Wounded” in this case means someone who has been exposed to the enemy (the devil) and somehow has been defeated. In simplest terms, that usually means they’ve failed somehow. Little or big. Private or public. Wounded means you messed around and got yourself shot, and there’s nobody to blame but you.
But to be even more precise, this saying refers to its own wounded. We love to take in the world’s wounded or the devil’s wounded. We believe we have answers for that.
God’s wounded? That’s another story. And here are 9 reasons why:
1. It saves time and money.
I know that sounds crass and selfish, and I’ve never actually heard somebody say that. But let’s be honest. It’s a whole lot cheaper and quicker to read The Four Spiritual Laws to 20 people and get them in the front door than it is to do the dirty work of restoration and healing of one. Healing and restoration take time, and even in church world, time is money. With limited resources (money), we have to do the most good for the biggest number of people. I know what Jesus said about leaving the 99 and going after the one lost sheep, but Jesus didn’t have to deal with the competition down the street.
2. It makes the gospel harder to sell to the community.
Every time there’s another scandal or another embarrassment to the fellowship, it makes it that much harder to say to a lost and dying world, “Give your heart to Jesus and you can go to heaven when you die and be just like us until you get there.” Who wants to be like us when “us” is being a bad example?
After all, the gospel is only as big as the vehicle that carries it. Right?
3. Sometimes they have to pick sides.
This one’s awkward. Sometimes the wounds spread and involve others in the fellowship. Maybe a marriage gone sour or a business deal gone bad. And it isn’t fair to the congregation to have to choose who’s right or who to side with. But choose they will if they have to. (Hint: They don’t always choose the “victim.”)
I know Jesus prayed for unity and all that. But in the real world sometimes we have to choose the greater good.
4. They’re hurt.
Remember, the church isn’t a thing – it’s people. And even (self) righteous people get their feelings hurt by the failures of others. It hurts to feel betrayed, or embarrassed, or disappointed. I know that Jesus talked about forgiving seventy-times-seven times, but these feelings are real.
Paul said to the Galatians, “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).
Well, we looked to ourselves, and we would never be tempted to do what they did. That would never happen to us. And we don’t want to be guilty by association, either. We have an image to uphold.
Very few Christians get up on Sunday or Monday mornings hoping they can ignore, hurt, or reject another believer. But what they do want is a simple, easy life, with a relationship with God and His people that makes their lives even more simple and easy. They want answers to their questions, relief for their pain, and inspiration for their day. They don’t want their lives made more complicated by messed up saints. Anyway, isn’t that what professional help is for?
I used to have a dog named Eeyore. Like any dog he had his funny side and his barking side. I noticed something one day about him during one of his barking fits. He wasn’t barking because he was angry or threatening. He was barking because he was terrified. And he was trying to sound tough to keep the perceived threat away.
And that’s exactly why the Church sometimes “barks” at its wounded. The simple truth is, we’re scared. Scared to say the wrong thing. Scared of doing nothing at all. Scared mostly of being scared. So we bark instead.
8. They confuse forgiveness with approval.
Once I was part of a church that gave a baby shower for an unwed pregnant teen. Not everybody was pleased. One lady needed to vent, and I got to hear it. “What kind of message does this send?” I just listened as she went on about back in her day and all that, but my thought was, “I don’t know… but is a baby shower the place to pick that fight?”
The church has always had an awkward relationship with forgiveness because treating someone as if they had never sinned seems to be approving of the sin itself. I know that Jesus prayed for sinners while He was dying for their sin, but come on! Where do you draw the line?
9. They’re just as disconnected with God as the wounded soldier.
And they just don’t know how to say it.
Now… I need to tell you that I am who I am today in large part because of men and women in the Body of Christ who weren’t part of the cliché. Throughout my lifetime, they have walked in when the world (and church) walked out. They have shown me grace, held me accountable, and spoken truth into my life. They served me and let me serve them. They loved me unconditionally. And in the next post I’ll tell you what they did – and what they risked – to get this wounded soldier to a place of healing.