Words escape you. The leaders you trusted let you down. The reasons vary, as do the weight of those scenarios. You, like many in Christian circles, have experienced church hurt. But the question is, “now what?” Do you ignore the hurt and pretend like everything is ok? Do you tell everyone you know, so they will understand how you’ve been wronged? While our gut reactions may initially lean in one of those ways, those emotional responses still leave us with unresolved aches and wounds that time does not heal. In fact, they can grow worse or infected. How do we walk through church hurt? How can God use that in our lives?
The Blind Side
However complex or hurtful the scenario, one commonality is this: we didn’t see it coming. The pastors and leaders we confided in, trusted, and admired, committed an act we never anticipated. But sometimes in that mountain of emotion, we experience a shame that’s hard to put into words, especially at the onset. Why didn’t we see this coming? How did we miss the signs? Am I too trusting of people, of church leaders? Did all of this really happen or are things being blown out of proportion? We have questions. We may even be in denial of what has happened, trying to lessen the reality/pain of the situation.
Admit what’s been hurtful.
When church leaders step down or are asked to step down, everyone has questions; everyone is taken aback by the unexpected turn of events. Some situations are public with clear reasons, and others are vague and confusing. Maybe a church leader acted in a hurtful way, said sincerely unkind words, or held people to too high of a standard. Perhaps, as one of the singles in the church, you’ve been overlooked time and time again by the leaders who, from the stage, confess that every person in every season of life has a valuable place in the church. Or further still, maybe they grievously sinned against you and others in a way that requires confession and restoration if the church has any hope of continuing.
In short, their words didn’t match their actions. The question is, have you expressed to the Lord why the situation holds such weight or anger for you? For many of us, someone we trusted and confided in, someone we looked up to as an example, failed. We feel the pangs of sincere disappointment.
But how we respond to the hurt makes all the difference.
Grieve with the Lord
The Lord is near to all who call upon Him in truth (Ps.145:18). However messy or cynical we may feel, we must acknowledge those feelings to the Lord. In situations like this, that’s easier said than done. But healing can’t come if we don’t expose the wound to our Physician. What we need most are not explanations or even apologies from those who have wronged us (although the Lord deeply values reconciliation). Our Heavenly Father is the only one that can provide lasting healing.
But we often push against this because it’s vulnerable. We often like to feel in control of our own emotions and thoughts, but the Psalms teach us to pray through our emotions. David said in Psalm 25, “My problems go from bad to worse. Oh, save me from them all! Feel my pain and see my trouble.” Later, in chapter 88, the psalmist ends by saying darkness is his closest friend. God wants the raw and the messy, for in so doing we are trusting the Lord with all our heart and not leaning on our own understanding.
Examine Our Own Hearts
Bitterness and resentment can often be hard to see in the middle of such a trial, but the temptation to pass the buck comes so naturally to our sinful hearts. Excuses begin. We no longer want to come to church, to open up in our small group, to serve. Maybe we just need a break from church.
Those are serious warning signs for us to examine, probing some further examination. Am I coming to church to follow men or to follow Jesus? Sin needs to be dealt with, and leaders need to be held accountable for their wrongs. God deeply cares about us having the right leaders – they should be trustworthy people (just look at the list of qualifications in 1 Tim. 3!). But is it possible my dependence on human leaders has exceeded my dependence on God and His Word?
As with any trial, we must ask ourselves if we trust God in His sovereignty. The reality is, however hurtful or complicated the situation, God allowed us to experience it. Does that reality bring comfort or anger? The answer reveals the current posture of our hearts. But oh what security comes from resting in God’s sovereignty.
The reality of God’s sovereignty is the fear-incinerating, boldness-making, perseverance-producing antidote to everything that would ever trouble us.Adam Ramsey, Truth on Fire
The Bad Doesn’t Erase the Good
One complex element of church hurt people experience is the realization, in the aftermath, that some significant, life-changing events occurred during their time in that church: they came to Christ, their mentor baptized them there, they received Gospel-centered counseling that brought rich healing, they experienced the beauty of the godly community… those precious chapters in our lives don’t become any less valuable. Hurt can add complexity to certain memories, but that doesn’t erase the fruit God produced in us during that season.