When Church Has Hurt You

For many, wounds they have received from church are some of the most painful.  Given the “newness” of NewChurch LIVE we attract a fair number of folks who talk of how the church in which they were raised hurt them.

Within that conversation, it is not hard to pick up actually a deep longing for re-discovery.  Will NewChurch LIVE be it?  Will something else fit?

Critical to start this conversation with simple humility and penance.  The church through its membership and clergy has hurt people. That hurt came forth in many ways – judgment, abuse, cruelty – the ugly side of religion co-opted as a screen for individual depravity.  Several years ago I read David Miller’s book “Blue Like Jazz” in which he traveled to a college whose hedonistic reputation shaped it’s core.  His goal there was not to call the “lost” but to simply apologize for all the wrongs of the church.  He set up a confession booth in the center of campus not to hear confessions but to ask forgiveness for all the ways in which the Christian church hurt people.  In that vein I am deeply sorry for the ways in which the New Church, Catholic Church, Protestant Church – Christendom in its broadest forms – has hurt people.

Maybe from that place of humility and penance, the journey moves.

I enjoyed these pastor’s words as he addressed those whom the church hurt, a hurt he himself had to overcome.  It is powerful description of a way forward for those hurt by the church.

Understanding the following things is how I found my way back. For the person who has been hurt by the church, they are things they will most need to know.

1) You are not foolish to believe in community. Those who have been hurt by the church almost immediately begin to question everything that happens within it. Because of their experience, they may feel duped and may disregard all the good, determining that none of it can be real. They may shy away from any type of community, sometimes for an extended period of time. They need to be reassured that though believers are flawed, we can be a great gift to each other in times of need, want, and hurt, and it was God’s plan for it to be so. 

2) God is not responsible for man’s decision. The most tragic thing that happens when church people behave poorly is that it can alter the way someone sees God. In researching my book, hole, the Barna Omnipoll discovered that over 30 million people say that religion has caused them to question God. It is important, then, to encourage people to separate the perfection of God from the shortcomings of people, not holding God responsible for the decisions man make without Him.

3) Dropping out or changing churches won’t heal your heart. The tendency when hurt by the church is to self-protect by dropping out of church or finding another place of worship. While there is a time and place for finding a new church (a decision based on core beliefs, steadied prayer, family consideration and theological compatibility) it is important to help people realize that church hurts will only be healed by the Healer, and it is work that will need to be done independently, in the heart.

4) Stay open, believe the best, but lessen your expectations. Church hurts are some of the toughest to move past. But it is our responsibility to help guide people to keep their heart open and pure. How we, as leaders, set the example with how we handle our own disappointments in the church will be the biggest key to this. Things like believing the best in people, offering grace, holding expectations loosely and having a commitment to working through tough issues and disagreements will be the glue that will hold the community together.

5) Know that through the holes from church hurts you can find Jesus. Church hurts can cause deep, limiting and defining holes in our life. But through those holes exists space to see more, know more, and experience greater love for Jesus. Holes help us view the One who will never hurt us or let us down, and with that focus, gathering as flawed humans to worship our one great God becomes possible because it remains about Him.

Jesus lived and died for His message of redemption. Seeing those who have been hurt by the church, loving them, and helping restore them back to spiritual health not only furthers this message, but invests in those who already believe but simply need to find their way back.
This congregation can be a place of healing then if we , well, simply commit to creating a place of healing.  Not a group holding a “holier-than-thou-other-churches” position but a congregation that candidly acknowledges the pain in life and humbly works with God and others to bring healing in its season.

 

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