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Not only is there healing and recovery for those who have experienced church hurt, but you can learn powerful and positive life-changing lessons on the journey through that dark valley. What I mean by church hurt is when you or a loved one is hurt by someone in the church body. The hurt could be inflicted by any number of people – a member, a Sunday school teacher, or a worker in some church group. Sometimes it is especially painful when a church leader such as a pastor or teacher says or does something that cuts feelings to the bone.
What happens when Christians aren’t behaving like Christians? What happens when the church – God’s House – doesn’t feel safe? What happens when you do not feel safe to be who you truly are among God’s called-out ones?
It’s important to understand a key thing about the church. The church is made up of imperfect people (much like the rest of the world and all of humanity). It is dangerous to cling to the idea that the source of all Christian faith, Jesus Christ, is a reflection of His followers. In reality, that would be backwards. The opposite is true, and sadly those called by His name are not perfect reflections. It is Christians who strive to obtain the spirit and attitude of Christ and the love of God, but our imperfect human nature tends to fall short of that. Another dangerous assumption is to view the whole of Christianity as exactly the same as the one person who hurt you. Perhaps your encounter or experience with a few self-proclaiming Christians was full of pain, but even so there are still many who do reflect Jesus well.
Christians cannot prove who God is based on the actions of His people no matter if those actions are benevolent and especially not if they are malevolent. We can only discover who God truly is by who He says He is in His Word, and what He did by sending His only Son.
The sad reality is that many Christians walk away from the church because they’ve defined Christianity by the shortcomings of its followers. That being said, there are a couple of things we need to stop doing that are doing more harm than good.
- Judging without knowing, listening, or understanding.
Some of us have taken “judge according to their fruit” to an extreme. It’s certainly in Scripture to discern how a person’s character and spirit aligns with his actions. That is wisdom. So what? That person may not have it all together – who does? This is the epitome of why we came to Christ. This is why we became a body, to help each other – not focus on each other’s flaws.
Here’s the core of it. We have shallow judgments because we have shallow relationships. I always say, “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” Judging someone you barely know is shallow, and being critical never helps. People who proclaim their Christianity then behave badly cause hurt feelings. This kind of behavior is particularly obvious on social networks like Twitter or Facebook. When you judge someone you barely know on social networks, a natural stigma accompanies this kind of negative behavior. It barely allows building room for deep, genuine relationships. Christians can build relationships on social networks, but it takes a serious and selfless effort.
For example, talking back and forth with someone online, sharing, caring, and praying for that person helps to build trust. But it takes time and concerted effort to build trust with someone whose expressions you do not see. Relationships come from mutual trust that one or the other person will not abuse shared information. In face-to-face relationships, the trust builds from months and even years of mutual belief in the other.
I could disagree with someone close to me such as my mother, brother, or best friend. We could correct each other all day long, but because we’ve built an emotional bank with one another and because there is a deep source of love for one another, the correction is effective and the other person understands the correction comes from a good motive. People feel safe in close relationships because of the love shared.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a)
Do you love a person enough to understand why they are the way they are? Why they said what they said? What brought them to this current place? Here’s a key question: Can you allow them to be just who they are, or do you have to force them into a box of your own design?
Do you genuinely care? Or are you just scrolling, eyeing, assuming and pre-judging. Correction and accountability is healthy, being critical and shallow is not healthy.
- Not going to the person you have an issue with.
This could very well be one of the biggest catalysts of not just church drama but all drama. But for the sake of Scripture,
If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” (Matthew 18: 15-17 NIV).
To paraphrase, if someone is doing wrong, or if you’re feeling bothered about something someone said or did, then go to that person directly; talk it out and settle it there. Pray before you go for a mature conversation (each one willing to understand the other) to take place diffusing resentment, bitterness, or the urge to gossip. If someone comes to you with a problem she may be having with someone else, direct her to the person she has a problem with. Nothing is wrong with being a sounding board for a brother or sister in Christ when another brother or sister in Christ needs confronting, but refrain from gossiping about it. Make sure to use the wisdom God gave you in the advice you offer.
If it can’t be resolved bring in a mutual, trusted, and sound third or fourth party to help find a solution. If someone isn’t willing to work it out or continues to be negative about it, forgive them and let them go. I’ve witnessed my fair share of unnecessary drama in ministry, church, and life because two people weren’t mature or courageous enough to talk out their own problems. This is something we all have to adapt to if we want to be effective in love and unity as a body.
I’ve only scratched the surface here. There are a number of things we can work on personally and all together. Here’s the fundamental truth. When we lose love as the central motive for all we do, we miss the power of the gospel. It’s love that changed us all. It’s love that died on the cross. It’s love that set us free. Any shallow acts of Christianity will backfire.
And a word of encouragement to us all:
It goes both ways. Even when we’re hurt by Christians, we can’t hold God accountable for the bad choices imperfect people make from their own free will. We still need to find it in our heart to forgive all people. I get it. It hurts when the people who are supposed to love and accept you prove otherwise. I’m sure at some point in time we’ve all been on both sides of this particular coin.
So what happens when the bad seeds are sown into God’s good ground? What happens when the world enters the church? Do we say “Forget this! I don’t want any part of this,” and walk away? Do we isolate ourselves to prevent another bad experience? I’ve been there! Here’s what I learned.
The good and the bad must grow together.
So the servants of the owner came and said to him, “Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?” He said to them, “An enemy has done this.” The servants said to him, “Do you want us then to go and gather them up?” But he said, “No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” (Matthew 13:27-30 NKJV)
If we run and isolate in the face of evil, we’ll never impact the world positively. The saying goes, “All it takes for evil to prevail is that good people do nothing.” If you see bad in the church, do something about it. Lead by example in the direction you aspire.
This attitude should not be just for Sunday, but for everywhere we go and in all that we do. Jesus said, “As you go, make disciples,” (Matt. 28:19). How will anything or anyone be transformed if good people cannot bring a positive shift to bad culture? Don’t stop growing into the best you can be because others have disappointed you. Don’t let their actions push you back or hold you down. Don’t stop pursuing Christ or seeking the truth of who He is because of a bad experience with His people.
Don’t lose hope! There are plenty of great, loving, serving, and generous people in the church. As I’ve grown, I’ve had an overwhelming experience of family embraces, sometimes even closer than family! I’ve encountered people who’ve helped changed my life for the better forever.
I can finally say that through overcoming a stronghold of church hurt I’ve learned these five things:
- God is good even when His people aren’t.
- We have to be the solution we want to see around us.
- We have to remain good in the face of evil, and not reduce ourselves to evil in response.
- We have to be driven by love in everything we do if we’re going to be effective leader builders.
- We have to forgive and pray for those who’ve hurt us (even leaders). This is by far more effective than harboring resentment, which leads to expressing that resentment upon the church body. If you think about it, that’s like slamming a hammer on your own thumb… on purpose.
If you’ve experienced church hurt or are in the midst of giving up because of bad experiences or know someone who’s struggling with some of these feelings, I really hope this was helpful. Let’s discuss solutions and how to talk to those who have hurt or are being hurt.