How many times have you heard someone say, “I’ve been hurt by the church. Why would I go back? They are a bunch of hypocrites.”
It is certainly understandable to feel that way since we don’t expect church people to hurt us. It’s painful to see hypocrisy, people treated poorly by church members, or used and abused by leaders. But maybe our expectations are part of the problem.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not justifying church hurt. However, churches are filled with broken people, who don’t always get it right. There is risk of hurt in any relationships in which we willingly engage. But we don’t stop trying to develop intimate relationships because we have been hurt. Think of it like this, when the brakes go out on your car, you don’t abandon the car, you fix the brakes.
Yes, I’ve heard the dark workings of many a power hungry, entitled or fame-driven church leader. I know of pastors and parishioners who have abused people in their congregations. All of it sickens and grieves me. But what also grieves me is people giving up on the church because of the hurt caused by certain individuals. To use our analogy, the brakes are bad, yet they abandon the car.
The church was Christ’s idea. So, when broken people do broken things, we need to be careful not to throw out the church in response to the hurt. Instead, work towards accountability, reconciliation, and unity. Basically, fix the brakes as the church has great importance in our lives. It provides a place to belong, to build community, to heal and have prayer and communion with others who are on a faith journey.
If you have experienced church hurt, here are 8 ways to heal:
- Acknowledge and feel it. It’s real and don’t fall into the trap of staying silent if it happens to you. Suffering in silence is not healthy and does not bring accountability to anyone.
- Take your hurt to Christ. He has experienced it all-betrayal, abuse, gossip and more. He tells us to cast our cares on Him. He is the healer and can work your through the pain.
- Go to the people involved. If that is a leader, take witnesses. If the person refuses to acknowledge the hurt, go to the next level of authority. If sin is involved, it needs to be addressed. Just like in a family, ignoring problems is not healthy. Speak the truth in love. If a church has no accountability structure apart from the pastor, I would be hesitant to attend that church.
- If you need time away to process the hurt, take it. But don’t give up on the church. Find a different church to attend during a time of healing. Don’t isolate in your anger and hurt.
- Find a trusted friend to talk to in this process. You might even consider a therapist to walk you through the process of healing. Talking to a third party brings perspective. It can also help you prepare for dealing with the issue.
- Choose to forgive. Regardless of the response of the people involved, you must forgive to move forward in your own healing. Forgiveness is also a process and usually takes time. But hanging on to offense will lead you to bitterness. It’s like having a clog in a drainpipe. Forgiveness is the agent that unclogs the pipe.
- Attempt reconciliation. This does take two people to accomplish. If it is not possible, forgive anyway and move on to other people or even another church if you feel this is the leading of the Holy Spirit. There are times when small offenses can be worked out. Other times, this may not be possible.
- Above all, guard your heart. People hurt you, not the church at large. Jesus built the church to give us Christian community, to care for others, to serve, to be in relationships to encourage and build our faith. This is so needed in our culture today. We need a safe place to belong. Find a safe church, one that is living out the gospel with healthy leadership.
My bottom line is this: If you have been hurt by the church, acknowledge it and deal with it. If you simply walk out the door, you carry the hurt to the next church or group. And it will eat away at you. Deal with the problem and if leadership is unwilling, carefully consider another place to grow in your faith. But don’t give up on the church.Hurt by the Church