The man leaned forward in his chair, and I knew whatever was coming next was not open for debate. “I don’t have much use for any religion. But it is okay, because me and God are good.”

There they were again, words I seem to be hearing more frequently than I want. It may be part of what is going on all around us, as people seem to be more and more disillusioned with well, everything.

As I learned more, I discerned these words came from someone who had been hurt, harmed, and so disappointed by a community of faith, by a church.

The result was a deeply held resentment that seemed to crowd out any possibility of connection with other believers, fellow pilgrims on the journey. While I sensed the flicker of faith in God was still present, the desire and willingness to share the experience in community was all but snuffed out. And it made me so very sad.

I am aware, painfully so, how the Church that Christ entrusted to carry on his work often ends up hurting more than helping, discouraging more than encouraging, and hindering more than enabling.

And when it does, some people – like this man sitting in my study – suffer and are made poorer by the whole experience.

Yet, despite its failures, shortcomings, and brokenness, the Church is still God’s best idea for the redemption of the world. Perhaps precisely because it is made up of imperfect people, it is the best place for God’s power to shine through.

But being part of the community called the Church is not a place for sissies. Refining, nurturing, and growing one’s faith amid even other believers will be challenging, stressful, and at times even exasperating. This I know too!

Being involved with a community of believers means one cannot simply define faith, salvation, obedience, and any number of other critical topics by oneself. To do so means we risk creating God in our image instead of acknowledging that we are created in God’s image.

Rather, our faith must be tended to amid the shared understanding and experience which we call religion. Religion becomes the crucible in which our personal spiritually is achieved. Sometimes easily, but most often with struggle and much effort.

I couldn’t convince the man that perhaps his issue was not so much with religion but the specific expression of religion he had experienced in a specific church. I still have hope that he finds a community of faith that will help him on his journey.

If he does, then I have no doubt he and God will indeed be OK. May this be true for you too!

Pete Berntson is the pastor of Church of the Palms United Methodist Church in Okatie.