Whether you’re a pastor or a layman, virtually all of us at some point or another have been hurt by a church group in some way. We may have been victims of differing kinds of abuse. We may have experienced being let down, betrayed or lied to.
1: When you’ve been burned by the church and how to handle it.
Over the course of my life I have become acquainted with many church groups, and well, some members of said groups have utterly infuriated me, to be frank. When talking to some, I have had to suppress the urge to use language a pastor’s wife should probably not use.
It often comes as a shock to us when this happens within the church, especially from leadership. We think, “You guys are THE BRIDE OF CHRIST! Why don’t you &*@%#*^@ act like it?” (Oh, there’s that language pastor’s wives shouldn’t use.)
I could use the clichés of “no church is perfect,” “you have to let it go and reconcile,” “stop being bitter,” but I haven’t found such advice really practically helpful in the midst of serious heartache and messy relationships. Saying these things to someone who’s been really, truly burned by a church is like kind of like saying to someone who’s been stabbed in the chest, “Just ignore the pain and move on. And stop bleeding, you’re going to stain the sidewalk!”
Let me remind you that all believers are part of a worldwide body called The Church, but that of course we meet in church groups, some bigger, some smaller. There is a difference between referring to, “the church” and, “a church.”
So why do some church-goers act so abominably?
It boils down to people easily falling into the trap of selfishness. Relationships will enviably fail when we don’t put up healthy boundaries and put our desires before the needs of others.
Certainly not everyone who attends church or claims to be a Christian is mature emotionally, or is mature in their faith. Maybe someone who hurt you at church is a new Christian or is actually not yet a Christian.
What’s hardest is when it’s a church leader who is doing the damage. In Hebrews 13:17 it says, “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority.” Spiritually abusive leaders will use this verse to say something to the effect of, “God has given me authority over you; thus, to disobey me is to disobey God.” But in Ephesians 1:22 it is said of Jesus, “And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church.”
25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
Christ loves The Church as a good husband loves his wife. It says in Ephesians 6:12, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Our real enemy is Satan, and he has been launching an attack against the Bride of Christ since The Church began. It makes him unspeakably angry to see God’s children acting as vessels of the Holy Spirit, and he knows if he can bait believers against each other he’ll win a great victory.
2: When the issue lies with you.
I have known several people who won’t go to church, or will “church hop,” because they just can’t seem to find a church where people aren’t “hypocrites” or “fake” or “living in sin.”
People will hurt you anywhere you go, in any setting, spiritual or secular. Is the number of hurtful people in your church greater than the number of hurtful people in any other close-knit group of humans?
Maybe you do go to church regularly, or are in ministry, and you are conscious that you have hurt someone out of selfishness. I know I have! It’s very hard to admit to yourself because once you do, you may be overwhelmed by feelings of guilt and regret. But God’s wrath towards your sin was poured out upon Jesus at the cross.
3: Forgiveness and Healing.
It’s of the upmost importance that we ask God for an attitude of grace.
Read the last 3 chapters of the gospel of Luke. Judas wasn’t the only backstabber in Jesus’ 12. All of them ran away like cowards when Jesus needed them most. Peter even denied he knew Jesus, yet Jesus was able to reconcile with him and commanded him to be a missionary.
Judas committed suicide because he saw no hope of redemption, so Jesus never had a chance to reconcile with him. But after the resurrection Jesus returned to the remaining 11 disciples, forgave them, and they all ended up becoming passionate apostles for Christ who would later on die for their faith.
This is just one example of God transforming the lives of sinful people. My point is that God can change biggest morons into saints. We can’t afford to hold grudges, for that will not benefit anyone, and who knows what God sees in a sinner? Maybe God will transform their life. He certainly loves even the worst sinners and desires to redeem them, which is how we all have been saved.
Here are some main keys to healing relationships:
Be Humble: Be always humble, gentle, and patient. Show your love by being tolerant with one another. – Ephesians 4:2
Communicate Well: Remember this, my dear friends! Everyone must be quick to listen, but slow to speak and slow to become angry. – James 1:19
Have Patience: Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles, and pray at all times. – Romans 12:12
When you’ve been hurt by someone:
1. Forgive them, but don’t allow yourself back into the same bad situation. I would not tell a person who was bitten by a dog to go back to the same dog and pet it. Forgive the person who hurt you, but henceforth keep healthy boundaries between you and them.
2. Remember that talking about what happened in order to process or seek help is not gossiping. But choose a very limited number of people and always go back to them as you process over time. That way you don’t risk gossiping. Choose people who are mature in matters of relationships, the church, knowledge of Scripture and who will give you a loving but honest perspective, and not just tell you what you want to hear. If other people are affected by what happened, give them only the details that they need, and in a way aimed to protect them and glorify Christ. I.e. Don’t sweep things under the rug – deal with things openly – but with the goal of healing and growth, not with the goal of getting everyone on your side and hurting the other person back.
3. Seek reconciliation. Even if you’ve made the decision to leave a church, if you are able try to reconcile so that you don’t leave on a bad note.
When you’ve hurt someone:
1. Apologize and reconcile with the person you wronged. If you are able to make things right with the person you wronged and apologize, go and do so. Whether they forgive you or not is between them and God.
2. Forgive yourself. This can be the hardest thing to do, but Christ has already forgiven you.
3. Repent and change your ways. Ask a trusted friend to hold you accountable so that you don’t fall back into the same hurtful behavior.
And most importantly, don’t loose faith in God because of something one of His children did.
My friend Shelly posted this on Facebook:
1 Peter 3:8-11
Suffering for Righteousness’ Sake
8 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. 10 For
“Whoever desires to love life
and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
and his lips from speaking deceit;
11 let him turn away from evil and do good;
let him seek peace and pursue it.