“Do not stop loving God because someone who claimed to represent God, misrepresented Him.” // @thelightblonde
I re-posted this quote on my Instagram a few months back and was shocked at how much attention it got.
The more I talk about this subject and the more people I meet, the more I find that the story of being hurt, abused, manipulated, or disappointed by a spiritual leader or people in the church is anything but rare.
I may not know your exact story, but I know how common this narrative has become in our flawed Bible-belt-mega-church culture.
Now don’t get it twisted, this isn’t a post to knock, nitpick, discredit, or disrespect the global church.
And it’s not a post to air my dirty laundry about the people who may have hurt me.
BUT you guys, we aren’t talking about this enough as believers, and it’s a real issue. It’s a real problem when believers are hurt by other believers and it goes untreated and unacknowledged. It hurts our witness to the rest of the world. It’s a distraction of the enemy.
This post is about moving past church hurt and healing from it so that we can move on in health towards the calling of Christ on each of our lives.
Whew. I can already tell this is going to be lengthy. Hope you’re sitting in a comfy chair holding a refreshing beverage while you’re reading this, friends.
Please understand me when I say that God used the church to build the person I am today. I believe in the church. I believe in the value that it brings to our world and how it enriches our lives as believers and shows the love of Jesus to a broken world – when it is done well. But sadly, we are missing something, and there are many people these days who have received more wounds from the church than they have healing, growth, and community.
Quite honestly, I thought I was above “church hurt”.
I know that may sound presumptuous, but I never anticipated relating to this topic so closely. I have loved the church my entire life, grown up in the church, found true community in the church, discovered my calling in the church, and have had the opportunity to be mentored by some of the most amazing, selfless, caring, and impactful church leaders. I have experienced far more good than bad.
Yet, I have learned that all of us are at risk of hurt and disappointment when we put our hope and faith in mere humans, and rely solely on them to represent God for us.
Because people are just people, and because the enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy. And he is certainly aware of the power of unity and growing together, which is why churches are undeniably some of his largest targets.
Listen, we know that there are a lot of spiritual leaders in this world that have messed up, hurt people, and misrepresented God.
Maybe you changed your entire career path because of something a leader you looked up to said that you were lacking in. Maybe it caused you to doubt and run from your calling. Maybe instead of pursuing your God-given dreams of becoming a worship leader or a preacher, or anything – you let the shame of one unhealthy leader’s criticism and insecurity silence the voice that God put inside of you.
Maybe you left church altogether because of an experience with an unhealthy leader.
Maybe you regret that, and even more sad – maybe you don’t regret it at all.
Maybe you have completely written off the idea that there could possibly be a loving God because of the scarring hate and belittling you felt from a hurtful, insecure leader.
Maybe things were said about you, things you can’t get out of your head, things the enemy loves to remind you of when you’re trying to fall asleep at night or when you are trying your best to move on in a new church community and are flooded with the residual effects of those painful words you never healed from.
Maybe you’ve seen one too many Christians worship their hearts out publicly, only to hear them gossip and complain and curse in the parking lot, and therefore struggle to trust that anyone could possibly be of genuine and trustworthy character.
I see you. I get it.
Yes, people will fail us, and I am so sorry for however you may have been hurt by these failures. But here is the good news: while your hurt is legitimate, and your pain MATTERS, you do not have to let your hurt define you.
Whatever your situation may be – you do not have to give it one more ounce of power over you.
I am not writing this to say I am there yet. I am writing this still in the midst of learning how to forgive and move on, choosing vulnerability because I know how lonely it can feel going through this and realizing nobody is comfortable enough to talk about it openly.
Friend, your hurt is not problematic or divisive. It is not “too much” for God to handle, and it’s not “too much” to talk about.
Hiding it will not equate to healing, but neither will wallowing in it. Let it matter, let it hurt, and then let it GO and let God redeem every single bit of it to be used for His glory.
Even as I write this post I struggle with knowing that it will be met with eye-rolls and judgements. Maybe even a screenshot taken and texted and laughed at between people who used to be considered “safe” by me. It feels petty to even leave that sentence in this post, but that is me just being real and raw.
There will always be those people who don’t know the full details of your situation who like to take sides against you and judge if your pain was legitimate. The ones who talk about how you should have handled it differently, rather then putting themselves in your shoes and showing empathy and compassion and actually loving you through it like the God they claim to serve.
I have realized through my own experience, that is the most heartbreaking part of church hurt. Not the actual event or misunderstanding that caused you to leave the church, but the people around you that you once thought of as a rock solid community, family, and “the ones you do life with” deciding that your hurt isn’t a big deal and leaving you to deal with it alone.
I am just going to say right now that if you are in relationship with people and that relationship is only held together because you attend the same church – I am sorry to say that you have not found true community, but a false and wildly shallow imitation of it.
We are ALL the body of Christ. Unity in the body of believers can still exist when we worship in different buildings on Sundays.
I’d also like to note that if that doesn’t sound right to you, you may be in a CULT, and I would like to offer you some unsolicited spiritual advice to GET OUT of there faster than a bat outta you know where. Like, asap. 😉
… but I digress.
I have learned that people like to shrug off and belittle your pain so they don’t have to live with the fact that they hurt you. And that they hurt themselves in the process.
I am in the process of having to daily surrender all control over what those people think of me.
Today, that looks like pressing “publish” on a post I have re-read, edited, mulled over, and prayed over for months.
I wrote more about caring too much what others think a few months back in my post, Overcoming People Pleasing.
The truth? You only answer to Jesus, friends. There is so much freedom in that. But here’s the thing when it comes to Church Hurt…
It’s not so much about what was done to you as it is how much power YOU have given it over you.
The people who hurt you – they are just people.
Hurting people, broken people, just like you and me. Yes, maybe they should have been held to a higher standard in their position of leadership, or even as Christians, but they are still just people who are subject to brokenness just like any of us.
When we put others up on a pedestal and look to them for more direction and identity and worth and approval than we look to God’s word for… sooner or later, we are going to be disappointed when our ideals come tumbling down.
Only God is God.
And let me tell you what I have found…
OOOOH Y’ALL LET ME TELL YOUUUU…!
God KNOWS when someone has misrepresented Him. You don’t have to send him a notice or write a passy agressy tweet about it, OR shrink back and pretend nothing happened. He KNOWS when one of His children has been misled. And I promise you, their correction is coming…
BUT. SO. IS. YOUR. HEALING.
The beautiful thing I am learning about the kindness of God is not that He will go around blowing up the lives of those that wronged me, no – that’s not how this works. (and thank GOD because I know I have done my fair share of messing up, too.)
BUT here is the good news about the God we serve …. God will send people into your life to deliberately counteract the wrong that was done to you.
He is not the one who caused the brokenness, that’s us fallen humans – but He will still take on the job of healing and redeeming every single bit of it.
He will send people into your life that will heal the wounds that the enemy has tried to convince you are your ultimate failure and derailing. Our amazing God will use those very wounds as an opportunity to show you His faithfulness.
He has been doing this in my life, and it has been mind blowing.
He will heal you, and He will redeem you.
If you remain open to what He is doing, and not closed off by your past hurt.
As a good friend said to my husband and I a few months back, “Our God will use the CHURCH to heal wounds caused BY the church.”
He was right.
Now listen. Here is where the power part comes in. What are you going to give power to?
Are you going to choose to believe the lies that were said to you? The words that held you back from what God was calling you to?
Are you going to give power to the hurt and continue to claim victim status and lick your wounds instead of claiming the victorious life that God meant for you to live?
Or are you going to LOOK for the healing?
See, if we aren’t careful to look for it, it may miss our attention.
As someone who makes themselves very at home and comfortable in their feelings, I have learned the hard way that staying in my feelings will hinder my healing.
You have got to get out of your feelings to find true healing.
Listen, my #enneagram4 self cringes at the thought of that, but I have also learned the necessity of it. Feelings matter, but feelings are not facts. Staying in those hurt feelings of the past will just keep giving more power to the lies.
The enemy wants us to keep looking inward. To keep focusing on what is flawed in us, what could have been, and to throw us into a disabling spin cycle of shame, regret, and disappointment.
This is because he knows that the moment we deny our fleshly feelings and bruised egos, and surrender to what God is doing, we will begin to see the truth. Instead, the enemy does everything he can to keep you in the dark where he can hold the power.
But we all know what happens when darkness is brought to light and we finally see the truth…
THE TRUTH WILL SET US FREE.
Here are some ways to move on from this type of hurt, for the purpose of healing, and also for the purpose of being FREE of this situation. If you want it to stop having power over you, you’re gonna need to do some intentional work to ensure that you are truly moving on towards freedom, not merely hiding or avoiding the hurt.
I’m reading and applying every word myself as I write this, because it is quite a P R O C E S S, friends, and I certainly haven’t walked through it perfectly.
Let’s give ourselves some grace for the process.
Here are some ways to move on from Church Hurt.
1. Guard Your Heart & Refuse to be Bitter.
Proverbs 4:23 says “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”
When you have been betrayed by people who you are supposed to be able to trust, it is so easy to allow that hurt to grow into anger. In our human nature we long for someone to blame and that can be a dangerous game to play as we try to pursue our healing.
Maybe you don’t think you are angry, maybe right now you are just hurting, but at some point as you grieve the disappointment and hurt of this season you may realize that it starts to come out in the form of anger, bitterness, and resentment.
Do not allow anger to take root. The weeds of anger and resentment can poison the purest of hearts if left to grow freely and untamed.
Be honest about where you are at. Talk to a trusted, impartial friend and spiritual mentor. If possible, not someone associated with the same church. Find a counselor or someone qualified to walk you through this process of feeling the feelings, and letting them go.
Ephesians 4:31,32 says “Lay aside bitter words, temper tantrums, revenge, profanity, and insults… Has God graciously forgiven you? Then graciously forgive one another in the depths of Christ’s love.”
This leads us into our next point…
2. Forgive Freely.
Forgiveness is not only expected of us as believers, but required.
“But they haven’t apologized.” Yeah, they haven’t, and maybe they never will, but that is none of your concern.
You are not responsible for their actions. However, you ARE responsible for the state of your own heart.
And healthy hearts give away forgiveness like Oprah gives away free stuff.
Better analogy: Like Jesus forgives US even though He knows we will mess up again.
Forgiveness is defined on the internet as a “conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.”
See? Even Google gets that right.
Give forgiveness freely and regularly. No if’s and’s or but’s.
Forgiveness of course does not mean that you must put yourself in the place to trust them again. Forgiving someone takes the power they had over you away… it doesn’t mean you need to give it back.
A sure fire way to work through the hurt and anger that you feel towards someone is to make the conscious choice to choose forgiveness. Maybe you have to choose it every single day… maybe for years, maybe more than once a day. I know I have to be super intentional about it or else I will find myself yet again letting my angry thoughts run free, reliving the hurt of the past again and again.
Forgive. Stop the cycle and take back the narrative.
Try this: whenever you have an angry thought towards the person who hurt you – PRAY for them instead. I type that much more easily than I do that myself. It is HARD to put into action, but it’s worth it.
It’s very hard to hold a grudge against someone you spend so much time praying for. You may even discover a renewed sense of compassion for them.
Another added benefit? Prayer will never ever harden your heart. Prayer will only soften it and deepen your dependence on God and your empathy and ability to see the needs of others. That’s a win-win.
3. Turn to the Word.
Listen, Jesus experienced suffering and betrayal during His time on earth, too. He has felt your pain, and He wants us to come to Him with honesty in our brokenness.
I think often times we don’t bring our “church hurt” to Jesus because deep down we truly believe He won’t care or get it.
“The people that hurt me are pastors, Jesus would take their side.”
“Doesn’t God care more about them?”
“I’m not as important as they are.”
Friend, you are just as much of a child of God as any member of your church’s pastoral team is. YOU are the church, the bride of Christ, just as they are. And don’t y’all remember who put Jesus on the cross? Who betrayed and mocked and hated Him?
The Pharisees. The religious leaders of the day.
So you see, in a sense, Jesus went through “Church Hurt” too. You can lean on Him. He knows how you feel.
In the first part of Matthew 23, Jesus speaks a FIRE word to his followers addressing and warning against the Pharisees. I know this is a LONG blog post, but I loved this passage so much that I wanted to share it with you.
Superficial Spirituality versus Genuine Humility (I mean, insert fire emoji HERE, already.)
23 Then Jesus addressed both the crowds and his disciples and said, 2 “The religious scholars and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ throne as the authorized interpreters of the Law. 3 So listen and follow what they teach, but don’t do what they do, for they tell you one thing and do another. 4 They tie on your backs an oppressive burden of religious obligations and insist that you carry it, but will never lift a finger to help ease your load. 5 Everything they do is done for show and to be noticed by others. They want to be seen as holy, so they wear oversized prayer boxes on their arms and foreheads with Scriptures inside, and wear extra-long tassels on their outer garments. 6 They crave the seats of highest honor at banquets and in their meeting places. 7 And how they love to be admired by men with their titles of respect, aspiring to be recognized in public and have others call them ‘Reverend.’
8 “But you are to be different from that. You are not to be called ‘master,’ for you have only one Master, and you are all brothers and sisters. 9 And you are not to be addressed as ‘father,’ for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be addressed as ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Anointed One. 11 The greatest among you will be the one who always serves others from the heart. 12 Remember this: If you have a lofty opinion of yourself and seek to be honored, you will be humbled. But if you have a modest opinion of yourself and choose to humble yourself, you will be honored.”
This passage shows me clearly that Jesus understands that people often misrepresent the Father. He knows all about it.
4. Don’t Let the Devil Win.
Above all else, do not let your past negative experiences with church shape your opinion of the God that they claim to serve.
Instead of running away, I challenge you to pursue Him all the more. Fiercely.
Because He is GOD. He has no sin, no flaw, and is not made of flesh and bone. Do not compare Him to His creations who fell into sin and who are imperfect and human.
Stop giving the God of the universe human characteristics. He will never fail you, He will never let you down, and He will never ever misunderstand.
As far as the church goes – if reconciliation is possible, fight for that. Don’t be the one responsible for burning the bridge. Have the awkward conversations, give others the benefit of the doubt, risk being let down. In the long run, even if it all goes to crap – you will not regret giving reconciliation a chance.
I don’t know your story, but some hurts can be worked through. Some things are simply misunderstandings, but others are more serious.
If your reasons run much deeper than an isolated incident that can be solved over coffee, I would really start to pray about what God is telling you to do.
Seek counsel. Pray, and ask God for direction and discernment. He will show you the way.
If you are like me and had to make the difficult decision to step away from the situation, then find another church body to grow alongside and experience community with.
Do not let one bad experience spoil your entire view of the church.
THAT is exactly what the enemy wants to happen. I promise you, there are a lot of real, life-giving communities out there, and there are a lot of leaders who truly carry a burden for loving others and preaching the gospel, who lead with a gentle humility and a disarming sense of humor, but also with a theological backbone of steel.
But listen, this is a part of point #4 and not point #1, because finding a new church community – even an amazing one – isn’t what brings the most healing. Jesus is what brings the healing.
And Jesus can (and will) use those in the church to heal our hurts, but if we are merely hopping from church to church to church as a broken person looking to other broken people for our healing, we will just keep putting band-aids on our wounds and keep getting frustrated when they inevitably fall off.
Seek Jesus, he is the only one who can heal in such a way that it completely renews and transforms our hearts. He doesn’t use band-aids, He uses transplants.
Don’t give up. Seek Him first, then seek true community. Don’t give in to the temptation to isolate yourself. Even if it is messy, we are truly better together.
5. Give it Time & Find the GOOD.
As months have gone on and I have had a few breakthroughs in my healing I have realized a few things… truth is, I am freaking thankful for this season.
Don’t get me wrong, even as some time has passed it has been a roller coaster of emotions. Ups and downs and a lot of tears. Some friendships sadly lost, some gained. A lot of authenticity and truth uncovered.
Some days are HARD. Again, me and conflict are not great together. I have had enough of that for quite a while.
BUT I would not trade what God has taught me in this season for the world.
I would not trade what He has done in my marriage in this season for the world.
I would not trade where I am at now for a more comfortable path – the lessons learned are too valuable to go back now.
Comfort is a cheap imitator of freedom. Freedom is so much better.
This season has opened my eyes to the hurt that many have around the concept of church. It opened my eyes to what constitutes a leader who is worth following. It opened my eyes to the need for healthy boundaries in my marriage. It opened my eyes to the fact that only God is sovereign, and that my personal relationship with Him is the most important thing that there is. It showed me the importance of fighting for freedom in every single area of my life. Freedom from approval, freedom from answering to anyone other than God himself, freedom from anything that looks like bondage and tries to hold me back from the life He has called me to live.
“Let me be clear, the Anointed One has set us free—not partially, but completely and wonderfully free! We must always cherish this truth and stubbornly refuse to go back into the bondage of our past.” – Galatians 5:1
There is much more work to be done. But man, He is working in the waiting. I am praying that you see the evidence of His work in your waiting too.