No Excuses: Village Church

For our From the Front Lines series, we asked several pastors to share the stories of their church plants. These pastors will be checking in online with regular updates on their churches and experiences, allowing readers a front-row seat to the ins and outs of church planting.

Village Church: Update No. 2

Most church planters that I know started their churches with the goal of reaching folks who are not yet Christians. This includes myself. We read books, attended conferences, watched webinars, got tattoos and grew beards, learned about craft beer and indie rock—all in an effort to connect with the lost. Our motivations were pure. We had a profound love for Jesus and the gospel, and we wanted those who didn’t know about Jesus to experience him for themselves. We wanted to be a small part of that change in the lives of the lost. We invited our not-yet-Christian friends to join our launch teams, we asked them to tell us what we needed to do to be relevant and approachable, and many of them have become part of our churches and communities. Some have even responded to the gospel.

BUT, many of the people who have become part of our churches and communities are not lost, at least not in the same way as not-yet-Christians. They are folks who have come to faith somewhere else, in a different church or faith tradition. Many of these folks have been instrumental in helping us get started. They have served and given time and money to our churches, they have invited their friends and demonstrated hospitality and generosity, and that makes us proud to have them.

Some of these “church folks,” though, are here because they have baggage from some other church that has wronged them. They wear their hurts on their sleeves. They are cagey and untrusting. They usually have an agenda, and will be quick to tell you about the “other church” or “other Christian” or “other pastor” that hurt them. This baggage and the negativity that it brings along can be poison for a new church.

You would be hard-pressed to find someone who has more skepticism about the church and than I do. I am the son of a pastor who spent a predictable season of my life in rebellion against God and the church, blaming the church for keeping my dad away from the family. I could tell you harrowing tales of hypocrisy and the damage that it inflicted on our family. I have deep resentment and bitterness towards the way some folks—who were leaders in the church—treated our family while they claimed to follow Jesus. I still spend time in prayer asking God to help me move on and forgive them.

But here is my confession and the lesson I’m learning now: I cannot allow other Christians to determine whether I choose to follow Jesus or not. We must not confuse Jesus with the imperfect people who try to follow him.

I sat in a meeting recently and listened to a few individuals talk about how the churches they grew up in were of no service to them at all. The churches didn’t value their gifts. The churches didn’t encourage them or the tried to coerce them into ministry. The church tried to stifle them with rules. The church wanted them to live like Jesus, but didn’t teach them how to do it … on and on these statements kept coming.

I listened quietly and my blood began to boil. I was angered at the excuses that were being offered, the condemnation that was being levied at the church and the general lack of responsibility that was being taken by these individuals. They had a consumeristic perspective on what the church was supposed to do for them.

Then it occurred to me: I have done and said the same things.

I wanted to start Village Church to reach those who are not yet Christians, but I also wanted it to be different than the churches that I was fleeing from. One of those motivations honors God, the other is more about selfish rebellion. The reason their excuses made my skin crawl is because they reminded me of me.

The church is a dysfunctional organization because people are dysfunctional. People are great at hurting one another, experts in getting it wrong. These should be freeing words for imperfect people, but they can often lead us to make excuses to walk away from Jesus. I have far more grace for those who are far from God than for those who are following him poorly, even though I often find myself in the latter camp.

If you have been hurt by the church or by church people, I am truly sorry. I am especially sorry if you have been hurt by the church and you are not a follower of Jesus. But the decision to follow Jesus has to be made based on Jesus himself. Too many times we leave the church with baggage because we won’t do the difficult work of making peace, one of the very things that Jesus asks us to do. We cannot blame others for inflicting pain on us if we have not even attempted to work through the conflict with them. There has to be a better way.

It is my sincere hope that everyone will find a community that meets his or her needs and helps him or her to follow Jesus well. I hope that Village Church is one of those places, but I can’t promise you won’t get hurt here or that we will always get it right. I can only cling to the promise that the grace of God is bigger than my mistakes, that the invitation to follow Jesus comes from Jesus and that the rest is up to you.

Read more from Jeremy Hazelton and Village Church »

Read more church plant stories From the Front Lines »