When the Way the Church Fails Becomes Your Identity

by | Aug 11, 2014 | Beauty, Encouragement, Identity


There were many things different about our vacation this year but one of them stands out from the rest.

For years the lack of fish in our lake in Canada has been a mystery. Many epic folktales are shared around campfires regarding local fisherman rowing across still waters at daybreak and dusk, returning with fresh catch from secret nooks. Only a special few from the area know the coveted fishing spots, so the story goes.

My kids grew up learning how to cast from the dock and boats without expecting any nibbles on their hooks. But hope prevails for decades.

This year, my son and his three cousins are fueled by fresh determination.  Daily, they paddle from the lake to the mouth of the Bonnechere River, positioning canoes loaded with bait, empty pales and expectancy. Casting their lines with worms on the ends of hooks, fingernails full of dirt; they sit, wait, talk, reel in and repeat the process, for hours.

One day, while sunning on shore, I spot the canoes on the horizon skimming slowly toward home. I alert the adults. We smile and comment on their childish conviction; fishing poles upright like empty sails between them.

Sliding the bow onto shore, kneecaps and arms sunburned, they climb out carrying buckets full of water, faces beaming with idealism. And they surprise generations of storytellers.


“What in the world has happened to the lake,” is a phrase repeated often this year on vacation, by aunts and uncles who have been cottaging for decades.

And then something even more surprising happens.

After releasing the fish back into the water, they practice casting. And in front of a captive audience of family members, Jordan pulls a fish out of the lake, flapping on the beach.

And one by one, each of the boys repeat the miracle.

“They are catching the same fish they threw back,” declares H from the gazebo.

“No, these fish are different, bigger and another color,” I yell back to him while inspecting.

And sure enough, as neighbors lean over the buckets to witness the marvel for themselves, mouths, young and old, hang open in astonishment. Catching fish in this lake is an anomaly. And right in front of our cottage – a miracle.

At dusk, those same neighbors paddle toward the river with canoes full of tackle and fishing rods.


When you allow the way the church has failed you to become your identity, you turn into a complacent fisherman void of expectancy. And your disenfranchised platform can dictate how the next generation perceives fishing from the lake in your community.

Becoming a successful fisherman for the Kingdom isn’t a secret only reserved for a special group. The only requirement is passion for Jesus and a desire to practice presence with the fish God gives you.




A few days later, our cousin Noah from Uganda, a former chef, visits the cottage with his family. Under a starry sky, we sit on lawn chairs around a campfire, swatting black flies at our ankles. While young hands pull toasty marshmallows off the ends of roasting forks, laughter erupts through waves of storytelling. And Noah promises pleading boys he will take them fishing in a new spot.

The next morning, they push off before the house stirs from sleep. And return with several fish; two large enough to keep.

Huddling on the beach at dusk, Noah teaches the boys how to clean and fillet fish properly. then cook them over a campfire. With each succulent bite of fish, they want their teacher to taste some of it.

“Oh no, that is for the boys, I want them to enjoy it,” he smiles, leaning back in his chair beside the fire.


People are hungry for hope, for answers to their doubts, failures and questions. They long for you to feed them Jesus, even though they haven’t tasted his goodness yet.

The lost aren’t as interested in how the church failed you as much as your willingness to climb into the boat with them.  Help someone navigate through the mystery by sharing redemption and wait patiently with them for the answers.

You can make the expedition an adventure or a reason to stop fishing.



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  1. Kris Camealy

    Shelly, this is so rich and full of grace! Wow. I love the heart of this message, the reminder to keep going, to always have hope, even if all reasonable experience argues against it. That’s the kind of faith I pray for, impossible hope to believe in miracles great and small. So grateful you shared this. XO

    • Shelly Miller

      God is always speaking through our surroundings and through our children, huh? Sometimes it astounds me. Thankful for you Kris.

  2. Shelly W.

    “The lost aren’t as interested in how the church failed you as much as your willingness to climb into the boat with them.” Thank you for saying this, Shelly. Such amazing truth here.

    • Shelly Miller

      I’m glad it resonated with you Shelly. I think sometimes it is easy to forget the reason why we are Christians. When our faith becomes self-centered and critical regarding how the church isn’t serving us, we’ve forgotten our part in the Great Commission. That must grieve the heart of God for his children. I know it convicts me greatly.

  3. Elizabeth Stewart

    I’m so glad you wrote this post. This has been on my heart, how there are whole groups of believers who’s common bond is more about how the church has failed them then about how Jesus has rescued them. This grieves and concerns me. You and I both know, as ministry wives, how deeply we can be hurt, betrayed and disappointed by the church, but we also know the great joy and healing and hope that can be found when we push through the pain and root deeply into relationship with Christ and one another.

    • Shelly Miller

      Yes, me too Elizabeth, to everything you say here.

  4. Mary Gemmill

    It was great to read of God showing up on your holiday….and using the fishing to inspire you to write this post which is very timely indeed..I love what Shelly Q and Elizabeth have shared. When we stop to “Listen” God is faithful to speak wisdom and understanding into our hearts,,,,,,we all just need to go fishing or to a place of rest to silence the busyness voices and tune in to Him.

    • Shelly Miller

      So true Mary, I always hear him well at the cottage.

  5. Pat Baer

    Another lovely picture of redemptive beauty. Thanks Shelly.

    • Shelly Miller

      Thank you Pat, appreciate you being here and leaving a comment.

  6. Christie Purifoy

    Such a lovely, hope-filled story! Love this. Also, I am so, so glad that “cottage” can be a verb. It makes me very happy to know that. 🙂

    • Shelly Miller

      Ha! I had to laugh at that comment. We are such writing geeks, yes?

  7. JViola79

    Oh my gosh, Shelly, this is such a powerful post! Sure the church can fail us but may we never perceive this as a reason to stop hoping, to end relationship, to stop sharing with others because Jesus will never fail us. May I continue to get in the boat, to keep casting line & never give up hope. He is faithful!

    • Shelly Miller

      Me too! I want to keep casting and wait for his faithfulness to do good work. So glad you stopped by!

  8. June

    It’s so easy to focus on our need, or hurt, rather than the greater need, the greater hurt. Beautifully written, Shelly. Blessings to you.

    • Shelly Miller

      So true June. I think of of my friends who lived through the genocide in Rwanda and how they smile and offer forgiveness to their perpetrators. Their faith gives me perspective.

  9. DeanneMoore

    If there is a boat, a pole and a boy (or boys) there will be fishing…no matter what the “storytellers” have told…On our Saturday shopping trip with Luke he was gathering what he needed to leave for his gap year and came running with a collapsable fishing pole and a spinning reel. He later showed me how he can strap it on his backpack (the small kind) and it stood up like a periscope. A fishing pole wasn’t on the list for working in inner city Philly but who knows, and maybe that fishing pole may be the touch point for the greater thing God is doing in my boys life in the year to come. I hope so… One thing I’ve observed from the fisherman I know, is they never quit trying…I suppose that’s why Jesus called fisherman out to follow him. Happy for Harrison and the cousins and for the reminder to keep casting out the good news…it takes faith to believe there are fish under the water.

    • Shelly Miller

      Oh my goodness, I laughed out loud when I read about Luke’s fishing pole going to Philly. Isn’t it uncanny the way our lives criss-cross into each other? And you are right Dea, I hadn’t really thought about the way fisherman are so persistent and don’t give up easily. I like that.

  10. Lisa notes...

    Yes, yes, yes. This is a great lesson for all of us who have either been hurt by the church, or who are friends with those hurt by the church.

    Love this:
    “The lost aren’t as interested in how the church failed you as much as
    your willingness to climb into the boat with them. Help someone
    navigate through the mystery by sharing redemption and wait patiently
    with them for the answers.”

    Thank you, Shelly!

    • Shelly Miller

      I’m glad you think so Lisa. I’m grieved by seeing the way people are finding a platform in negativity about the church, yet the church was and is God’s idea, not something someone thought up.

  11. HisFireFly

    thank you!
    all the sniping, the bitterness, the spewing of pain we may have held on to far too long — this does nothing to help the cause of His cross!

  12. JosephPote

    I’m reminded of the words of Christ, “Cast your nets on the other side.”

    We musn’t give up fishing. Instead we should try fishing from a fresh perspective.

    Thank you, Shelly, for sharing this beautifully illustrative story!

    • Shelly Miller

      I thought of that same passage as I was watching the boys fish Joe. Thanks for pointing that out.

  13. Kimberly Sullivan

    so. beautiful. You are moving to your dreamland dear friend! I have often delighted in this with you since I’ve heard the news, even though I haven’t taken a moment to write. It is times like these that I am grateful for technology because for me, just as always, you will only be a keyboard away. And this post is so relevant! My pastor often says that we should never make someone else pay for what another has done. I guess that’s kind of what we do when we wear the hurt of church’s failures on our sleeve. We make all of those lost and dying for a drink of Heaven to suffer because we haven’t learned how to live in family yet. May it not be true of me!

    • Shelly Miller

      Kimberly, you will always hold a special place in my heart. It is because of your unceasing generosity in sharing my posts in the early days that I am still blogging today. I cannot tell you how much that still means to me. We WILL keep in touch!

  14. pastordt

    Oh, YEAH. This right here: “The lost aren’t as interested in how the church failed you as much as your willingness to climb into the boat with them. Help someone navigate through the mystery by sharing redemption and wait patiently with them for the answers.” I, for one, am exhausted by so many how-the-church-failed-me stuff everywhere. Yes, the church will fail – it’s made up of humans, right? But The Church? Never. God is not done yet. Thanks, Shelly.

    • Shelly Miller

      Me too Diana, exhausted by it. And the church will always be with us when everything else falls by the wayside. That is really the only thing we can count on.

  15. Natalie

    Evocative and challenging words. Your last sentence is so true–perspective changes everything–especially when it seems easier to expect the worst and believe things will always be as they once were. What a great illustration of truth and a wonderful example of how God uses what we see in creation to bring home the most important things.

    • Shelly Miller

      Well, your words humble me Natalie. Thank you.

  16. Amber Cadenas

    I can’t help but agree with Natalie: these are evocative and challenging words, indeed. You weave truth in with story and moving images so effortlessly, Shelly. Your words remind me to check my perspective and to always remember the potential impact of our words on other fishers – or those who still need to know there is fish in the lake, more than enough to feed them.

    • Shelly Miller

      What a lovely comment Amber. I’m touched by your kindness. And truthfully, I could say the same thing about your writing. Thanks for being here, it is a nice surprise to see your perspective in the comments.

  17. Paula Gamble

    Wow, Shelly, this is so so encouraging! I love the same quote as Diane. I’m still healing from a cult experience so I have been afraid to “go fishing” again, but I can definitely attest that genuine lovers of Jesus have climbed in my boat with me and patiently listened and hoped for me – believing that redemption always wins. This has given me courage and maybe I will “go fishing” again in time.

    • Shelly Miller

      Paula, I’m so sorry you had that experience and I’m also encouraged to know that God has brought some healing through authentic Christian friendships. Empathy goes a long way toward healing, at least that has been my case. I hope you will find a place where you feel comfortable to cast your line back into those scary waters, trusting God for the outcome. Thanks for being here, appreciate your vulnerable comment.

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