In a sense, the mess is purposeful. The church has always been a place where people with problems come to find God’s grace. Since the soul’s healing process takes time, we should not be surprised when people who worship Christ do unchristian things.
The ministry of mainstream congregations has also changed over the years to mend brokenness in a context of faith. This has always been the mission, but in recent years organized outreach to people entangled in addictions and other destructive lifestyles has become commonplace in the church. Not all of those who attend have left their old lives behind, but they are welcomed and loved in the hope the Holy Spirit will move in their hearts through the teaching of God’s Word and the nurturing attitude of His people.
If these circumstances defined the extent of the mess, the outside world might be more gracious in its perceptions. Unfortunately, this is not the case. More than one church has been forever stained by the actions of those who know better.
If you were to ask some believers in Christ why they don’t attend church, or non-believers why they dislike the church, their answers might sound surprisingly similar. They might tell you the church is full of hypocrites who spend more time judging than loving. They will likely reference the sins of the church against its members and its neighbors. And there is a good chance they will have a story or two of how they have personally been hurt by those who claimed to love the Lord.
I don’t believe for a moment those who think these things are totally correct in their assessments. But I cannot pretend they are totally wrong either. I am not even able to definitively say if one of these options is more accurate than the other since I have no way of knowing everything that has truly transpired between God’s people and the lives they have impacted.
This leaves me with only one honest appraisal: the church has messed up. Don’t misunderstand. She has not lost her place as Christ’s Bride, and she is still clothed with His grace. But I must admit to myself the world doesn’t see the church through the eyes of grace, or even through the personal bias of its members. We need to pursue this truth further in order to fully understand the scope of the problem.