Now I appeal to Euodia and Syntyche. Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement. And I ask you, my true partner, to help these two women, for they worked hard with me in telling others the Good News~ Philippians 4:2-3 NLT
Anyone who has gone to church for any length of time knows church-hurt is a real thing.
It comes in all shapes and sizes.
Sometimes church hurt is born out of something as basic as unresolved conflict, being excluded from a group we wanted to be a part of or feeling marginalized by Christians we assumed cared about us. Church-hurt also occurs when we discover we have become the target of gossip or because of doctrinal disagreements. By far, the worst, most brutal and damaging form of church-hurt comes at the hands of evil pastors and false teachers, who use their spiritual authority to lie, control, manipulate, defraud or sexually exploit those they have been tasked with caring for (Isaiah 56:11, 2nd Timothy 3:1-9). The Bible assures us there is a special place of punishment for those leaders (Jude 4-16, Matthew 24:48-51, 2nd Peter 2:1-22).
How deeply we are wounded by church-hurt depends on a whole host of factors. Those factors include, but are not limited to how new to the faith we were when we were hurt, our over-all maturity level at the time of the offense, who hurt us (pastor vs. church attender), the seriousness of the hurt and the willingness on the part of the offender to own their part in the hurt.
I am convinced church-hurt is the leading cause of church dropouts and at the root of most cases of “spiritual deconstruction”.
I have been in and around church long enough to know church-hurt is inevitable. Anytime sinners are in close proximity to one another there will be hurt and pain. Hurt and pain are simply part of being human. That said, hurt does not have to devastate our lives or destroy our faith in God’s goodness. How and why one gets hurt in church is far less important than how one handles the hurt. In the interest of preventing anymore church dropouts, today I am going to give four (very basic) guidelines for recovering from most church-hurts.
Don’t misplace blame-
This is without question the one that matters the most. Healing from church-hurt can only occur if we understand and embrace the reality that God is not the CAUSE of our hurt. Another Christian (or someone who claimed to be a Christian) hurt you and caused the pain you are feeling, not God. God can and will use the pain you’re experiencing (if you let Him) for your good and His glory. However, He is not the cause of it (Psalm 5:3-5, Isaiah 1:4, Matthew 13). Nor, is He okay with what happened to you. Sadly, many Christians never fully recover from church-hurt because they blame God for things that were not His will and that He literally had nothing do with.
Honestly evaluate the level of hurt that occurred-
Some things are never okay. No one should causally dismiss abuse, lying, embezzlement, or vicious slander. Nor should we demand someone who has been wounded by say, sexual abuse at the hands of a church leader just “get over it”. Big hurts (like sexual and spiritual abuse) require special attention, care and time to heal. That said, there are other forms of church-hurt such as: petty disputes, being treated rudely, or feeling excluded, that are very real and super painful, but that need to be put in perspective and forgiven quickly (Ephesians 4:26, Hebrews 12:15). We do not forgive for the sake of the person who hurt us. We choose to forgive for the sake of our own mental and spiritual health (Matthew 6:12-15). It is critical we remember, being a follower of Jesus does not automatically mean a person will never be rude, stuck-up, self-serving, insensitive, flakey, or stupid. We are all guilty of those particular sins from time-to-time. Therefore, we ought to give grace accordingly and move-on (Proverbs 19:11).
(Almost) always make an attempt at reconciliation-
There are cases of severe abuse or where there is a refusal to take ownership of sin when attempts at reconciliation (being friends again) are ill advised and even dangerous. That said, in most cases if you cannot simply forgive and move on, an honest conversation to clear the air is in order (Matthew 18:15). The key to making these conversations productive is a heartfelt desire to restore the relationship rather than a desire to punish, prove a point, or justify your feelings (no matter how justified they may be).
Don’t get stuck-
It’s normal to be angry when we suffer especially when the hurt is at the hands of someone who ought to know better. It is a good and healthy thing to honestly grieve hurt. However, it’s not healthy or spiritually wise to stay stuck in perpetual state of woundedness (Yes. I made that word up.). Choosing to stay stuck in anger (and yes, it is a choice) inevitably leads to bitterness and bitterness is guaranteed to ruins us for every good thing God has for us (Hebrews 12:15). Reconciliation may or may not be advised, but with Jesus, forgiveness is always possible (Matthew 6:15). Remember, forgiveness is a process, not an event. It will likely take time and may require some help from a wise and mature friend, Christian counselor, or pastor to work through. Get help if you need it. The health of your soul and your usefulness to the Kingdom is at stake here.
Church-hurt is as old as the church.
Paul, Peter, Barnabas, Mark, Euodia, and Syntyche were New Testament believers who all experienced serious hurt at the hands of other believers (2nd Timothy 4:14, Galatians 2:11-14, Acts 15:39, Philippians 4:2-3). Every one of those men and women recovered from their hurt and went on to do great things for the Kingdom of God because they chose the painful but life-giving path of forgiveness, grace, and reconciliation. You can too.