Church hurt is real. There’s no use pretending it’s an anomaly or that true followers of Jesus should simply forgive, forget, and move on without a hiccup. Whether in the body, the mind, or the soul, a wound doesn’t go away by ignoring it or simply with the passage of time. Healing can happen, but it’s not automatic. If you’ve been hurt in church I weep and hurt with you.
One of the most common pictures of the church in the New Testament is that of a family–the family of God. And family is messy. At least any family that includes humans. And because humans comprise the family of God, it’s always messy too. Some families are reasonably happy and some are tragically, dangerously dysfunctional.
God’s design is that every family dysfunction, whether a blood/marriage family or a church family, be healed and made whole. But that does not only depend on God. It also depends on the choices of the human beings involved. Being honest about church hurt is not anti-Christian or anti-church. Both the Old and New Testaments have numerous examples of God saying very harsh things to those harming others in His name.
The varieties of church hurt are many. Perhaps you’ve experienced one or more of these.
Exclusion or Division
Ever since the Tower of Babel human beings have divided themselves into groups based on ethnicity, culture, social class, tribe, or other categories. You’re not one of MY people.
And as Pete Scazzero says, in the new family of Jesus everything is different. At least Jesus designed everything to be different. Characteristics such as gender, social class, ethnicity, etc. no longer define us. “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:27-28). The only real criteria should be, Am I a real follower of Jesus?
Not all in the family of Jesus operate with that understanding. Too many still divide along the lines of Jew/Gentile, male/female, rich/poor, right/left, single/married, “sinner”/”non-sinner”, black/white/brown/yellow, and a whole host of other categories. You may have felt on the outside, excluded, or somehow second-class.
If you’ve been hurt in this way, I weep and hurt with you.
Gross Misuse of Power
Over the past several years we’ve heard of far too many prominent church leaders who have gravely exploited those under their care. God-talk becomes mixed up with narcissism, power grabs, financial extravagance, sexual manipulation or abuse, and more. Unswerving obedience to the top “leader” becomes a requirement for membership in the “club.” Those who dare voice concern can be harassed, shamed, cancelled, or pushed out.
The size of the organization is no measure of this misuse of power. It can be exercised just as cruelly in a church of 50 as it is an organization with 50,000 “followers.” And there are many leaders who fill their roles with integrity and humility.
But for those who wield power in a manner God finds abhorrent (see Ezekiel 34:1-10), the damage is far reaching. The name of God and the cause of Christ are blasphemed in the church and in culture. “Lower” leaders under these individuals may have their careers and Christian influence tarnished for what feels like forever. Men and women anywhere in the organization develop a picture of God that requires near superhuman effort and often many years to recover from. Some never recover.
If you’ve been hurt in this way, I weep and hurt with you.
Spiritual Junk Food
Living water. Bread of life. Those are descriptions Jesus gave of Himself. (John 4:14, 6:35)
And sometimes the bread and water offered in Christian churches or institutions seems more like salt water or Twinkies. Sometimes it tastes good, but it’s all fluff. The matters of the heart, the stuff you’re really struggling with, what’s under the surface, is never dealt with. “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14).
Some churches give the impression, unstated of course, that a feel-good junk-food message at church should fix things for you. And if your other problems don’t go away it’s your fault. Mental health struggles, substance abuse, sexual addiction, domestic violence, and a whole host of other issues are ignored or treated “lightly.”
The church is not a social services agency. However, if the gospel doesn’t have an answer for the deepest human problems, is it really any good for anything? I wish I could say I was surprised to see so many spiritually malnourished and immature Christians. Some struggle to find any nourishment or refreshment in church and find themselves leaving, dying of thirst and starvation.
If you’ve been harmed in this way, I weep and hurt with you.
What to Do Next?
What do you do next? I’ll explore more of this in coming weeks. For now, let me offer these few thoughts.
- God is patient. If you’ve been hurt in the name of God you may well need a new God. In other words, your entire mental/emotional construct of the idea of God may need a complete overhaul. That can take time, sometimes years. Your old “relationship with God” may require a whole reconstruction. And God is incredibly patient. It’s OK.
- God can be trusted. You may well feel as though you can’t trust God right now. He understands. But God will not stop until everything, everything, is made right. That includes the harm done to you in His name. How quickly and in what form things will be made right is out of your control. But God will make things right.
- God sees. If you’re a Christian leader, this is both wonderful and sobering news. He sees the struggles you have too, to grow your own character while under scrutiny, to walk with integrity while others are lashing out, to navigate under stress. You may be feeling a lot of leadership pain yourself. And He also sees you if you’re harming His children. Your best and only hope is to fall on your knees, on your face, before Him and follow Him. He doesn’t follow you; you follow Him.
If you’ve been hurt in the name of God, I weep and hurt with you.
And I offer you a listening ear. Feel free to borrow from my faith for a time if that would help. And know that you can find healing for your hurt.
Your Turn: Have you been struggling with church hurt? Has anything in particular been helpful? I’d like to offer encouragement if you’re willing. Leave a comment below.
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