Peace family, how should we react when we are hurt by the church?
There are so many different ways that people in the church can hurt us. Maybe the leaders sinned in a big way, like the pastor running away with the secretary. Maybe you feel ignored and overlooked by your leaders, they have ignored you in an area where you offered to serve, they have not listened to a concern, or they have ignored you when you were in need. Maybe your leaders seem to consistently misunderstand (or have even made demeaning jokes about) your demographic. Maybe they have said, done, or taught things that were not biblical, or taught biblical truths in a haughty, unloving, or sarcastic way. Maybe you do not feel appreciated for ways that you serve, have been taken advantage of, or have felt taken for granted. Or maybe you have felt more hurt in your relationships with your “peers” in the church: someone breaks your confidence, someone falsely accuses you of something, people make promises that they don’t keep, or you end up embroiled in an argument about what color carpet should be bought for the sanctuary. Do any of these sound familiar? If not, then you probably haven’t spent much time in the church!
I don’t have all of the answers, and I still have my own issues to work out, but I do think that there are some positive steps that we can take as we work through our hurts and disappointments with the church. These are some things that help me personally.
The first step, is to remain submitted to God and pressing into him through your personal relationship with him. So many times, the mistakes of a leader, a parent, or some other person in authority can negatively impact the ways we feel about or view God. Has a bad experience caused you to reflect that person’s behavior on God? Ask him to heal your heart, compare what was said or done to what the Bible says, and ask God to forgive you for holding someone else’s sins against him. Ask him to help you forgive them, as he has forgiven you, and to give you a better idea of his character. Even if you find that you need to take a break from certain people (or if you have been abused, figuring out the best way to seek justice), make sure that you are running to God, instead of away from him.
The second step is to extend grace. Remember that the church, including its leadership, is made of broken people. None of us are perfect (including me and you), and part of what makes the church beautiful, is that it is a place where we should be living out the grace of God for one another. I hate conflict and don’t always know how to approach people who have hurt me in the ways mentioned above, but I can do my part to pray for them and ask God to help me to forgive them. I also try to consider what part I might have played in the bad experience, if any, and pray about that. None of this is easy, but it’s important. Until we can truly let go of hurtful people and entrust them to God, then our own hearts will be dragged down.
Another way I try to live this grace out, is that I don’t immediately cut off a church that has hurt me. I try not to spread gossip about the people who have hurt me, though I might try to respectfully discuss what happened with a trusted friend. I try to remember the ways that I have been blessed by that specific church body, or the member (or members) who hurt me, and I try to be fair. There are valid times to immediately leave a church, but I personally try not to leave a church in the height of pain and anger. I try to at least stick around long enough to try to resolve my problem, at least until I am not so angry and hurt, or until I feel like God says it is okay for me to find fellowship elsewhere.
If you have had this kind of experience, have left a church, and haven’t attended a church consistently in a long time, I’d like to encourage you to start visiting some churches and find a new place to plug in. When we’ve been hurt by the church, it can be very tempting to isolate ourselves, whether out of trying to protect ourselves, or because we begin to feel superior over the people who have hurt us. We have to remember that no church is perfect, and God built a need for relationships into us, even though our relationships outside of Heaven will not be perfect.
A third step to help bring healing where we’ve been hurt by the church, is to examine whether there are ways that we personally might have hurt (or are still hurting) someone in our churches. What are some ways that you can step forward and work for peace and unity in your church? Is there anyone you should apologize to, or an area where you need to come clean? What are some ways that you can live out better communication and a better understanding of God’s truth and love? Examine your life, give it to God, and do your part!
I don’t have all of the answers, but part of the supernatural beauty of the church, is Christ’s transforming love. Let’s not give up on broken relationships within the church. Some of the deepest pain and destruction in my life has been caused by other believers, but I know that God loves them, and one day, I will be at complete peace with them in Heaven, even if I am never able to feel completely at peace with them during my life. Through his grace, I can do my best to love God, and love and forgive others, because he loves them. My prayer for you today, Peace Family, is that you can be healed and find true glory and transformation in your relationships within the church!