A couple years ago my husband and I were hurt by the church. Hurt bad. This church that we had committed our lives to serving suddenly turned on us, rejected us, broke our hearts.
We had been serving in ministry faithfully for most of our marriage and had dug our heels in deep when serving and leading had become exhaustingly difficult. When everything was falling apart we’d walk around our house and repeat, “Burn the boats. Burn the boats.” This was our way of saying “double down and don’t give up.”
Despite our greatest efforts we failed, our church folded, and we found ourselves on the other side of burned bridges and broken relationships.
I was done. I was done with vocational ministry, done pouring out my time, talent and treasure only to get stomped on. Done with being made the subject of gossip, done with betrayed, done with it all. My heart was hurt. We were hurt. The church had hurt us.
Maybe you’ve experienced something similar?
Whether you’ve dedicated your life to serving in ministry, or have served in a volunteer capacity for your local church or have simply shown up and received the freedom in life in Christ, maybe, you’ve experienced pain, betrayal, confusion or just plain nastiness at the hands of the church. If this is you, like it was me, you’d be fully justified in bowing out of church life for a while or altogether.
I’ve discovered that in the same way that yes or no can be a complete sentence, so too can “but.” As God has worked in my heart, taught me forgiveness, reconciliation, repair and return I lived and breathed in the “but.”
I’d ask myself questions like, “But, what if I get hurt again?”
“But, what is God calling me too?”
“But, why do I have to forgive?”
“But, look at what they did.”
And then ultimately, “But, what about what Christ has done for me?”
I’ve come to look at my relationship with the church much like my marriage. After all doesn’t Christ refer to the Church to his bride? Marriage is really messy sometimes. We fight, we get tired, fed up, confused by the world around us and bring all of our baggage and damage into our marriage. Sometimes we let all of our brokenness make a home in our marriage. Sometimes we forget to “work” on our relationship and just sink into apathy.
Just like God has called us to put in the work in our marriages, so too has he called us to invest in our local church. We are to be committed, like, marriage committed. Keep in mind that there is no such thing as a perfect marriage, likewise there is no such thing as a perfect relationship with the body of Christ, the church. We each come with our mess and occasionally spew those messes across pews and aisles. It only makes sense, if you can’t show up and bring your mess to church, where else can you bring it?
Nonetheless, an understanding that churches are imperfect and often messy doesn’t necessarily safeguard us from experiencing church hurt firsthand. When my husband and I walked through that season of church hurt, do you know why it hurt our hearts so badly? Because we cared, we loved, and we had invested deeply into relationships with the people who made up our church.
Who Behind the Hurt
If you’ve experience something similar, perhaps a good first step might be to identify the true source of the issue. When I was in the middle of my church hurt I started painting with incredibly broad strokes. I’d make statements like, “I’ve just been really hurt by the church.” Or, “My relationship with the church is just very complicated right now.”
To be fair, showing up to the church that hurt us caused me full-blown anxiety-ridden melt-downs. Yes, my relationship with the church was very complicated, but the reality was that it was complicated because of a handful of people, rather than the whole congregation. I felt hurt by the church, but in order to begin the process of healing and forgiving it became imperative that I pinpointed the “who” behind the hurt.
Once I was able to identify “who” had actually done the hurting I was able to separate them from the church as a whole. Suddenly, I wasn’t really experiencing “church hurt” but rather “relational hurt.” Being able to identify the source of the issue helped me to reconcile with the church as a whole—although to be completely transparent I did not return to the specific church that was the source of my pain.Being able to identify the source of the issue helped me to reconcile with the church as a whole. Click To Tweet
When Church Hurt is Actually Relational Hurt
Pinpointing the source of our hurt gave us freedom to reconcile and repair where we could. The sad truth is that in some instances the individuals who hurt us have never acknowledged, repented or attempted to repair the damage that was done.
In my justice heart, all I wanted was for one person in particular to publicly acknowledge what they had done and ask for forgiveness. In some ways I think that I was secretly holding out for this. I wanted public vindication, I wanted everyone who had a false narrative fed to them about my husband and me, to get the story straight. I’ve learned to exhale out that desire.
In the years since that experience God has become my source of protection, vindication and restoration. In his kindness he has allowed my husband and me to be vindicated by the people who we were working alongside. It took years, but they, one after the next, have called us and expressed remorse for how that situation played out.The sad truth is that in some instances the individuals who hurt us have never acknowledged, repented or attempted to repair the damage that was done. Click To Tweet
Talk to Your Brother or Sister
In nearly a decade of church service I’ve learned that often the clearest path to reconciliation and healing is a direct one. It doesn’t always feel fun to engage in difficult conversations or conflict, however on the other side of those uncomfortable moments can be tremendous healing.
If you’ve experienced church-hurt at the hands of a person within your congregation, perhaps the best way forward is to connect and talk to the person who hurt you. Do they know they hurt you? Are they even aware that you’re harboring and holding pain because of their actions? It’s almost unbelievable how many times I’ve heard this story: Someone is hurt, but the offender is blissfully unaware. Or conversely, someone is hurt, but the other party’s actions actually had nothing to do with the “wounded” person.
If you’re walking through a hurt right now, take a moment to press pause on the emotion surging through your veins, and determine if this is an issue that you can take directly to the offender. We call this a Matthew 18 moment in church vernacular. Taking this step could very likely be the first step in healing and repair.
Now, please hear me clearly: I am in no way suggesting that a conversation over coffee will solve all conflict. No, absolutely not, conflict resolution is typically a process. Does having coffee with someone who hurt you mean that you’re ready to return to your church this weekend—or ever? Not necessarily, sometimes, as much as it pains me to write this, it is best for us to move on.
Even within our canon of doctrine we have examples of the apostles of Jesus and early founders of the church going their own separate ways. Going our separate ways may be necessary, but before you do take those steps of separation make every effort to reconcile.If you're walking through a hurt right now, take a moment to press pause on the emotion surging through your veins, and determine if this is an issue that you can take directly to the offender. Click To Tweet
Find the Right Home for You
After everything fell apart in our ministry, I wanted to “take a break.” I wanted and felt that I needed some space from the church. It is true, I needed some space from the church in which we were hurt, however we did not, as it turns, need “space” from The Church.
When assessing our situation and the hurt we’ve experienced it is natural to want to draw back and isolate. And for a moment that isolation felt like a safe refuge. Nonetheless, as the body of Christ, we are called out of isolation and into community.
For a few months my husband and I attended a friend’s church. We spent weeks slipping in and slipping out, nearly unseen or noticed. We needed that for a season, just to come, worship and receive.
We didn’t know it then, but that quiet was a preparing us for what God had for us next. We needed to refill our empty wells. If you’ve walked through a season of hurt taking some time to heal by receiving and refilling can be incredibly beneficial.
At the end of the day I am convinced that the enemy does his best work when we are in isolation. Today, I encourage you to step forward with the power of the Holy Spirit and reengage with the body of Christ—the church.As the body of Christ, we are called out of isolation and into community. Click To Tweet
Rachel Baker is the author of Deconstructed, a bible study guide for anyone who feels overwhelmed or ill-equipped to study the word of God. She is a pastor’s wife and director of women’s ministries, who believes in leading through vulnerability and authenticity. She is a cheerleader, encourager, and sometimes drill-sergeant.
Rachel serves the local church alongside her husband, Kile, in Northern Nevada. They have two amazing kiddos and three dogs. Rachel is fueled by coffee, tacos and copious amounts of cheese. For more on her and her resources to build your marriage, see her website: www.rachelcheriebaker.com or connect with her on Instagram at @hellorachelbaker.