The church is filled with imperfect people serving a perfect God. So, as much as we would love for the members of our church to never gossip, lie, cheat, or judge those around them, it is unrealistic to think the people inside of the church walls don’t struggle with the same issues as those who never set foot in a church. Again, the church is filled with imperfect people…imperfect people who will sometimes hurt you.
I’ve had my fair share of experiences with church hurt, and there were a few times where I questioned if I would recover from the gossip, lies, or betrayal that were done at the hands of church people. Painful interactions like this can be extremely discouraging, even traumatic, and unfortunately is the reason why some people have chosen to leave the church.
Church hurt can be the result of an individual speaking to someone harshly or in a judgemental tone; it can be the result of church gossip that has gotten out of hand; or it can be the result of someone lying or abusing someone’s trust. The list could go on, but regardless of what caused the hurt, the reality is church hurt can leave a scar if it is left unaddressed. So if you have personally encountered some of the scenarios I mentioned above, it is important for you to properly process the emotions that resulted from that experience so you don’t end up carrying bitterness, anger, and unforgiveness in your heart.
Even though you would hope that the people in the church act differently than those outside of the church, the reality is, people in the church struggle with the same exact issues. The church is full of broken, fallen people, who are trying to get it right. Now in no way am I trying to make excuses for someone’s poor behavior in the church. Although no one is perfect, there should be something different about the people of God and how they treat each other. I also recognize that what I’m writing doesn’t necessarily speak to the trauma that can result from physical or sexual abuse. The pain of those experiences go much deeper than I plan to cover in this article (but I have spoken to how to support victims of sexual violence and domestic violence in previous articles).
When it comes to dealing with people in the church, I think it is important for you to manage your expectations, because at the end of the day everyone falls short. There is not one person on this earth who has not gossipped, said hurtful things, judged someone, or acted out of pride, anger, or bitterness. So if someone in the church has recently said or done one of those things to you, I challenge you to take a moment to sit with this difficult truth. For the bible says in John 8:7, “let anyone without sin cast the first stone.”
I’m sure you are saying when reading that, “yeah, I get what you are saying and all, but it still doesn’t make what that person did to me hurt any less.” Trust me...I get it. Regardless of how “spiritually mature” you are, you’re human, and when someone does you wrong, it will hurt. The last thing I want you to do is pretend to be all “churchy” as if nothing ever bothered you. It will also do you a disservice to allow yourself to be a doormat for people in the church who act out of line and treat people wrong. Jesus was the ultimate model for the world when it comes to this. Although Jesus taught his disciples that they are supposed to love others, Jesus was never a punk. He did not equate being nice to being Godly. When Jesus saw that a person was out of line, he wasn’t afraid to “check them.” In fact, He put the Pharisees in their place on several occasions. However, in responding to “church people,” Jesus was always tuned into how God was directing Him to handle the situation. It’s important, when “a negative Nancy” says something crazy to you in the church, that you don’t allow yourself to immediately respond to their foolishness with a fleshly “snap back.” Yes, your first inclination might be to curse them out, but other than making you feel better in that moment, your witness to others as a Christian has been tarnished. Instead, take a moment to breathe, say a quick silent prayer asking God to be your strength in that situation, and then challenge that person with a question like “What did you mean by that because it came across as judgmental to me?” or simply say “If you want to help me, I would appreciate your prayers about the situation, not your judgment.” In other words, say something to let them know, “I’m not the one to play with.”
In some cases, you might not have the opportunity to address the wrong that was done to you directly. It is so important in those instances to be prayerful and ask God to help you to forgive the person or people who hurt you, and not to allow bitterness to take root in your heart. The word of God reminds us in Ephesians 4:31-32 “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” Although I know it won’t be easy, God instructs His children to forgive for a reason. The longer you stay bitter, hurt, and angry, the longer the devil is able to use that against you to prevent you from being able to experience all of the joys of life.
I’ve seen too many of God’s children walk away from the church because of a nasty encounter they had with someone. When someone does that, they give that person too much power over them. You are going to run into people you don’t like at the job, at your social clubs, and even within your family. The church is no different. However, the church is supposed to equip you for the spiritual battles you are going to face throughout your journey of life. So I encourage you today, once you find the church that is right for you, dig in until God says it is time for you to leave. Don’t let someone’s ignorance or their negativity push you away from where God wants you to be, which is connected to the body of Christ. No one, even that person who gets on your last nerve at church, is ever worth that.
If you are struggling with church hurt, and are in need of additional support to help you move forward, consider meeting with one of our counselors. Learn more by visiting faithonthejourney.org/counseling