“Give yourself to the Church. You that are members of the Church have not found it perfect and I hope that you feel almost glad that you have not. If I had never joined a Church till I had found one that was perfect, I would never have joined one at all! And the moment I did join it, if I had found one, I should have spoiled it, for it would not have been a perfect Church after I had become a member of it. Still, imperfect as it is, it is the dearest place on earth to us…”
This is one of my favorite quotes from Charles Spurgeon. In this quote the Prince of Preachers expresses two clear truths: First, the church of Jesus Christ is made up of sinners. Second, the church is the dearest place on earth. I’m sure most church members would agree with the second truth.
The local church can be a beautiful expression of God’s love and grace. You can build lasting relationships grounded in the gospel. You can partner with others to show God’s glory to your community. You can grow together as a family. We all desire this type of experience. This is the ideal of the New Testament Church.
But then, the first truth becomes a reality: the church is made up of sinners. Your accountability partner sins against you. People in your church become frustrated and leave it. Your church “family” starts acting like your “enemies.” That’s when the gossip begins. The accusations are tossed around and the glorious idea of Christ’s church is left in shambles. Then the inevitable happens…the church splits or the church shuts its doors.
The fact of the matter is, this side of eternity we will never experience a “perfect church.” We know this theoretically – people are sinners. But to be honest, when you experience this type of pain, it hurts. It is a different kind of hurt. You expect church members to act like Christians but then to your amazement, they don’t. You hope that the pastor will bring spiritual clarity, but he doesn’t. You pray that you will respond with Christlikeness, but you don’t. Church hurt and disappointment is absolutely painful.
Recovering From Church Hurt
Church hurt can leave lasting negative impressions about the church upon those directly and indirectly involved. Church hurt can be defined in different ways. The basic definition is simple: a difficult and traumatic experience that takes place within a local church, which leads to emotional, psychological, and spiritual pain for individuals directly and indirectly involved. This type of experience can lead to one’s isolation, rejection, and outright refusal to attend another local church.
Church hurt can stem from spiritual abuse, gossip and other forms of unrepentant sin, unnecessary division, false doctrine, unfounded accusations against people, or pride. It can also stem from selfishness, shunning and unbiblical forms of discipline, stubborn sheep, bad shepherds and poor leadership, which are all an outflow of disobedience to Scripture. The sad reality is this list can go on.
The endless number of ways one can experience church hurt is a serious indictment against human sin and a lack of gospel understanding. One would expect that those within the church would “know better.” Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Selfishness, pride, and a host of other sins can destroy the people of God by clouding the light of the gospel.
Let me say, I am sorry if you have experienced this type of pain. I am sorry you’ve had to walk through this hurt. The scars are real. As a pastor who loves the local church it grieves me to know that many of Christ’s sheep and shepherds have had bad experiences with a local church. But the sad reality is that this type of pain is all too common. Of course, every church has issues but some churches are unwilling to apply the gospel to these issues. Rather these churches act out in sinful and destructive ways.
With this in mind, how can one begin to recover from church hurt?
- Keep your Eyes on Christ. Unfortunately, even those who have been forgiven by Christ can cause some of the most pain. This is why focusing upon the gospel is necessary. People within the church can paint a poor picture of the gospel but Jesus won’t. If you are going through church hurt recognize that God still loves you even when those around you may not.
- Repent of Sin. Fallen human nature wants to point the finger at others. As hard as it is, pray the Lord will examine your heart and show you if there is any wicked way. Identify the areas of personal sin that may have contributed to the pain. Be quick to repent.
- Yield to the Spirit. Know that you can only control your actions and not the actions of others. Seek to act in the power of the Spirit by cultivating the fruit of the Spirit. Individually you must make up your mind to walk in the Spirit, even if no one else will.
- Confront the Problem. What is the issue causing the pain? Is it gossip, pride, or another sin? Seek to confront the problem If it is an issue of sin and forgiveness, follow the process in Matthew 18:15-17. If your pastor is in error, follow 1 Timothy 5:19. If it is false doctrine, Galatians shows us the way. Most of the letters in the New Testament are written to churches experiencing problems. Scripture must be the guide in handling church issues.
- Seek a Resolution. You know what the problem is now how do you fix it? Once again let Scripture guide you to the resolution: ideally, we want to forgive, show grace, be merciful, and extend love. It should be our desire even if we experience church hurt to maintain the fellowship of the saints. But sometimes that doesn’t happen.
- Be Open and Honest. People don’t like to confess that they’ve been hurt. Some may think it is a sign of weakness. But for those who have been church hurt, there is an added element – this is the body of Christ. The sad thing is sometimes the Body doesn’t actually act like a healthy Body. Rather it is diseased and sick. So be open about your pain with others. Find a safe place to discuss your hurt.
Too Much Pain?
What if you have too much pain from the experience? Nothing seems to work. You don’t respect your pastor anymore. People are still talking behind your back. You can’t stand going to church. The problems are adding up and you just can’t seem to take it anymore.
Please understand: if you have tried to walk biblically through the situation and have attempted to resolve the painful problem but don’t see any positive resolution, it might be time for you to leave the church. I don’t advocate, “church hopping”, but I do encourage people to get out of a bad situation. This might be the best resolution for you. What do you do when you decide to leave a church due to the pain it’s caused you?
- Pray and make sure the Lord is leading you in this direction.
- If you are being lead to leave don’t intentionally stir up more issues. Just leave peacefully and quickly. Allow the Lord to handle the issues.
- Meet with your pastor to let him know you have come to this decision. If you’ve been hurt by your pastor write down your concerns and hand it to him. Please don’t do this in a harsh spirit but as a way of letting him know the issues.
- If it is another church member who has caused your pain, be honest with them. Explain the issue, ask them to consider it, and allow the Lord to convict of sin.
- Take some time to honestly reflect upon the hurt. If you need to please seek professional Christian counseling.
- As hard as it may time to wash your hands and walk away with a clear conscience.
It may take some time but find yourself a healthy church, a place where you can sit under the Word and recover from the pain.
From experience, bite marks from sheep hurt but so do the wounds caused by pastors. Scars begin to form and are lasting reminders of the imperfection of Christ’s earthly church. This is church hurt and nothing can describe the pain of church hurt.
It is in these moments that one can realize that not all local churches are created equal. Some seem to inflict more pain than promise. Being a member of a local church can be a struggle because you are joined to other sinners. Hurts and hardships are going to come and go. But remember, even in the pain although it may not seem like it at the time, the local church is still the “dearest place on earth.”