When You've Been Hurt by the Church

February 04, 2015

How do you handle a painful experience with another believer?

I want to preface this post by saying that though this a subject I have personal experience with, it is not a fresh wound in the sense I am not writing out of spite or anger, or any motivation other than a sincere desire to see those who have strayed come back into the fold.

That being said, it breaks my heart any time I hear stories of how someone’s perception of God was permanently altered because of a negative experience they had with a pastor or other member of their local congregation. These events range on the scale from the inconvenient to the downright traumatic. What do you do when something painful happens to you? What can you do? It can be awkward and very difficult to navigate these situations, but fortunately there are steps you can take to facilitate healing and move forward.

1. Know that it WILL happen, if it hasn’t already

I don’t mean this as a foreboding prophecy, but every believer who is actively engaging with a community of faith will be hurt in one way or another at some point in time. It’s just the nature of living and doing life with other people, and it’s nothing new either. We should never be surprised when the pain and suffering of the world infects a local church community.

2. Own what is yours, and let go of the rest

It can be tempting to want to lash out, immediately move on from the incident, or just ignore it altogether. None of these responses are particularly helpful to the wounded or the offender. If you had some participation in the offending incident, however minuscule it may be, offer your apologies for that portion. It will release some of the gangrene attempting to fester in your heart.

3. If needed, seek out help and a safe environment for healing

If the event that transpired was traumatic, you should likely seek outside help from a counselor who can offer a non-biased assessment of the situation. If you have attempted to reconcile with the offender, but they don’t seem interested or won’t admit they did anything wrong, it may be wise to remove yourself from the situation altogether, if only for a season. Pray that God would provide you with a safe community of believers who can support through your trying time.

4. Being hurt by the church is never God’s heart, and also never a reason to resent or reject him entirely

Because so often the perpetrator is a pastor or other leader in the church, it can be very easy to associate that person’s actions with God’s heart for us. This is almost never the case. It is certainly warranted to express your anger and pain towards God, wondering how or why this could happen. But using a hurtful pastor as a reason for rejecting God is like claiming a sick sheep is evidence of an unloving shepherd. Things happen. People get sick and hurt each other. Jesus is the Great Physician who has already and continues to absorb all the hurts of the believer unto Himself.

5. There are healthy communities out there

Don’t give up hope! If you’re like me, you may be tempted to use a hurtful incident as an excuse to detach and remove yourself from the church body. This almost always goes badly. We were designed to live life with others, and our flourishing depends on speaking and receiving the truth of the Gospel. God is capable of redeeming every painful experience to bring more glory to Himself. And that, thankfully, is extremely loving.

What are your thoughts? Is there anything you agree/disagree with? I know this is a very personal issue, but it’s one I would like to see more discourse on in the faith community.

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