Fair warning, this article might step on some toes. For those of you who don’t know church hurt is what happens when you got to church and someone, a member or a leader, hurts you, mentally, physically, or sexually.
The pain from that interaction can cause severe mental trauma for years after the offender has long forgotten their actions.
We all know the stories.
Priest rapes 8 year old boy.
Members spread vicious rumors about the pastors’ kids.
Choir director is pregnant with the pastors’ child.
The list goes on.
But why is it that church hurt feels worse than most traumatic events that we could experience? Well it’s the same reason that a girl who is raped by a stranger feels different than a girl who is raped by her father. Both girls experience severe trauma but the girl who was raped by her father is cut deeper because he is supposed to protect her. The purpose of the church is similar to that of a father to his children. The church is supposed to protect its’ members and provide a safe place for them to express themselves, heal, grow in their faith, and be held accountable for their actions. However because the church is full of flawed people, things get messy, and people get hurt. Sometimes people suffer so much mental anguish that they refuse to go back to church in general. This is not the answer. That is the equivalent of going out to eat, getting food poisoning, and then saying “I will never go out to eat at ANY restaurant ever again!” That is foolish.
So what should we do when we get hurt at church? As followers of Christ our goal is to reconcile with the people who hurt us. A unified body is healthy body. Jesus himself gives us a step by step guide on how to achieve unity after we have been hurt in Matthew 18:15-20. (Steps are paraphrased).
1. Have a private face to face conversation with the person that hurt you.
You have to be man or woman enough to let people know when they hurt you. Holding that pain in will cause more damage than talking with the person. Yes it will be a difficult conversation but reconciliation is the goal. Depending on what happened they might not even know that they hurt you. If you don’t tell them they will never know.
2. If they do not listen to you get two to three witnesses and talk to them again about the problem.
This part is tricky. You can’t just pull any two to three people and gang up on the person that hurt you. You have to get individuals who are spiritually mature enough to pray for reconciliation and care about the spiritual well being of both you and the person who hurt you.
3. If they still don’t listen tell your pastor and ask them to talk with them.
If your pastor was the person who hurt you then find another spiritual leader that you trust and talk with them. The ball is now in their court to talk with the person who hurt you.
4. If they do not listen to your pastor (or trusted spiritual leader) cut ties.
At this point the person who hurt you is well aware of the situation. They have had at least three people other than you talk with them and try to aid in the reconciliation process, if they are still unrepentant and continue to try to hurt you. It’s time to let the relationship go.
5. Pray for your healing.
This one is pretty self explanatory. The reason you need to pray is because you don’t want your heart to be hardened toward other based on what happened in the past. It’s not fair to you or the people you will meet later. Here are some good verses to get you started: Psalms 34:17-20, Matthew 11:28, and Isaiah 54:17.
6. Pray with others for your healing.
This is part of the reason why you can’t leave church all together. You need a community of believers to help you through situations like this. We are wired for relationship and if you have to leave your church because of what happened find another church, build relationships there and ask them to pray with you about what happened.
At the end of the day you have to forgive and true forgiveness takes many forms. You might have to walk away from the person (or church) completely, love them from a distance, or rebuild the trust and continue your relationship. Every situation is different but no matter what you have to be led by the Holy Spirit. I’m not going to go into detail about my experience with church hurt, but I will tell you that it took a long time for me to really begin to trust “church people” again. It took a lot of prayer for me to open up to people at my new church. I didn’t trust them because of what happened in my past. I smiled in their face but in my head I kept thinking “she is going to be just like minister so and so”. Thanks be to God that I was wrong. My new church is not perfect, no church is, but I know I can trust them.
However, if I had not gone through the pain of having people spread lies about me behind my back, I wouldn’t have grown in my faith enough to trust people again.
Maybe your story is different. Maybe you really REALLY don’t want to go back to church or God in general. I encourage you to remember that we are the body of Christ. If you quit we will be missing your unique impact on the body and on the world. We need you! If you are led to leave the church you currently attend because of the pain, that’s ok. Every church is not for everybody. Start the search for a church that will challenge you in your faith and love you through your pain, but by any means necessary DON’T GIVE UP!