The Church can hurt!
(Church here used to imply any Christian group setting)
Ideally Church + hurt should not even fit together in a text if we are to view it through the lenses of holiness and the role of the Church in the Bible. But church is made up of people, like myself, who are not perfect.
I should first mention that I really do love the church. A lot! Her flaws keep glaring all the time but I believe the church is worth fighting for, enough that Jesus Christ died for her and He will still come for the Church-His bride. I also believe that the church has been a great source of healing, encouragement, correction, growth and so many other major positive highlights for many in the world. I praise the Lord for the wonderful things He has continuously used the church to do.
However, most of us who have been in the church long enough know that church hurt exists. Church hurt can come in different forms; it could be conflicts and fall-outs with fellow church members, scandals, church gossip, disappointments from leaders/pastors, members also hurt their leaders/pastors, ministry burn-outs and so on. Just like a family, the church is made to exist in love with one another as members of one body (1 Cor. 12:12…) and we do not always expect to get hurt by those that we love. Church wounds can be very painful especially due to the high expectations we all have concerning how people in the church should behave. Due to this expectations we have ended up placing our leaders/pastors and other brethren on a pedestal and we therefore do not expect to experience their sinful human nature.
I have served in the church from a very young age and I have had my own share of church hurt and also watched people that I love experience it. In as much as you sometimes know that people can hurt you, no one is ever ready or prepared to get hurt, it comes unexpectedly and in different forms. Church wounds can be very painful and can leave you emotionally wounded, sometimes even physically sick. The pain from this wounds most times, makes us vulnerable to some temptations like tearing the church down with our words, stepping down from ministry or withdrawing from church altogether, exposing the church’s weaknesses and struggles and many more.
Here are reflections/reminders/steps that the Lord has helped me take that have helped me heal from Church hurt:
- We need to remember that we can tell God about your frustrations- experiencing church hurt can be devastating and the pain of being betrayed by the ones you trusted can be unbearable. When we are hurt by the church, the enemy is quick to tempt us to think that God also hurt us, because His bride was involved. We forget that God is perfect, in Him exists no sin (Ps 92:15), He is the one we can completely trust and would never betray us. We should therefore spend time, vent out our frustrations and surrender our broken hearts to him for He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalms 147:3).
Someone once told me that the church is like a hospital, with different people ailing from different sicknesses. Taking that example; if patients go to the hospital and the doctor prescribes different medication for them to take but some patients decide not to take the medication, do we blame it on the doctor? No. Just like the patients we have in Church, God- our doctor gives us different ‘medication’. To some He prescribes, ‘Do not spread false reports. Do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness’ (Ex 23:1); to others, ‘Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen’ (Ephesians 4:29); He even advices all of us patients in James 4:11 ‘Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it.’ But sadly, most patients still go ahead and gossip, bear false witness, lie and so on and it hurts. God understands, He is not unaware of our struggles neither is He apathetic to our pain. He is close to us when we are broken, lonely and depressed. Jesus experienced persecution and betrayal from the Church, actually they even crucified Him- so He understands the betrayal we all feel when the church rejects, abandons or misunderstands us.
- We need to pray for Grace to Obey God. You remember the doctor- patient illustration above? Many times when we are hurt, we forget that we are also patients who need the doctor-God. I have discovered that when I feel the most to pull away from God, I need to draw closest to Him, I need to spend more time in prayer and reading His word to get the right prescription for my healing, He asks us to ‘Forgive for He has forgiven us’ (Col 3:13). Lewis Smedes says ‘Forgiving is a journey, sometimes a long one, and we may need some time before we get to the station of complete healing’ and I agree that it may take some time as the Doctor works in us to help us forgive but we must be ready to obey the Doctor’s instructions. In my Journey of Faith I have learned that obedience does not happen when I feel justified to obey; whether I feel so or not- My feelings are not God. God is the doctor.
When people do something that frustrates us, our perspective is often self- centered. We think exclusively about how their actions have affected us and feel justified to stay bitter at them; In the case of Church hurt it might be good to appreciate that we have also hurt others in the church, either intentionally or not, so shouldn’t we extend the same grace of forgiveness that has been extended to us to them also? The truth is that forgiveness is not optional for Christians. (Matthew 6:15)
- Practise truth telling with love- Some may call this confronting the offender. In Matthew 18:15, Jesus says, “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.” Most of us avoid approaching our fellow brethren when they hurt us ‘For the sake of peace’ but when a conflict has not been resolved peace cannot be present. This I believe, is also a form of holding brethren accountable in the church for their actions. To stop the cycle of church hurt, we must appreciate the place of giving feedback in love and on time. Some people for example enjoy gossip and slander but we need to start pointing out this sin in the church just like we point out sins that we consider ‘big’ like sexual sin. Gossip tears the church down and the sinners just like murderers will face God’s judgement. ‘There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.‘ (Proverbs 6:16-19)
Confronting those who offend us is not only to help us resolve a conflict, but also helps in building the church of Christ through holding each one of us accountable. It also gives us an opportunity to listen to the other person. Could there be another side to the story?
- Remember who exactly the enemy is. I read this quote from Kristin Tabb- ‘Jesus has an enemy, and it’s not the person in the next pew.’ Most times we view the brother or sister in the next pew in church as the enemy when a conflict arises but the real enemy we have as believers is the devil. Behind the raging conflicts, the quarrels and fights in ministry, controversies etc. is the devil who is actively seeking what to devour (1 Peter 5:8), he passionately wants to destroy the unity and love among believers, but praise Jesus that even the gates of hades cannot overcome the church-(Matthew 16:18). As believers, we will have a whole new perspective when we are able to notice that we are not each other’s enemy, we only have one common enemy and He will soon be disarmed, He will soon be destroyed and will hold no power against God’s people. Maranatha!!!!
- You need to ‘Take off the bandage’- Just like when one is wounded and bandaged, there is always a time when we are required to take off the bandage. God will definitely heal you, but you need to take the step and remove the bandage- come back to the fellowship, love and trust again. Don’t give up on the church! You can take a break yes, you can also take time to share with trusted people, but don’t abandon the church. It is worth the risk- even when it may mean getting hurt again, the church is worth fighting for! Trust me, you are safer in the church than out of the church. Your hurt is legit, am sure. But as diverse and personal all our hurts are, Jesus can heal them all and restore us back to the church, which He dearly loves.
Finally, this is for the people who are still hurting because of what the church did and keep expecting an apology from those who hurt them but it is not forthcoming. You deserve to heal. On behalf of myself and for my brothers and sisters in the body of Christ- “I am sorry! I mean it, please forgive us, and I love you.”
Jesus loves you with an everlasting love,