Hurt by the Church: How to Find Hope for the Hurting
Jesus described His followers as salt and light amidst a world that is broken. (Matthew 5:13) The Apostle Paul reminded those in the early church that they were all members of one body, although they came from a variety of backgrounds. (Ephesians 3:6) Centuries later, our calling to reach the lost and love one another as Christ loves us remains the same. But what happens when the place where we found hope? How do we respond when people with whom we worship alongside wound us in ways that cut us to our core?
If you’ve been involved in a local church for any length of time, you’ve likely experienced hurt from others. It can happen to any of us – pastors, volunteers, and church members alike. Pain and trauma within the church can come in a variety of forms – whether it be directly from one person to another, the result of church conflict or policies, or even from disputes over preferences and methods.
Although we remain aware that every church is full of broken people, it doesn’t make the sting any less painful when others deeply hurt us.
Depending on one’s personality, our flesh may tempt us to run away, seek revenge, or simply rage against those who hurt us or even the church itself. But Paul reminds believers, “since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25). This verse encourages us to maintain fellowship with God whenever we’ve been knocked down or discouraged in our walk.
We can trust that the Spirit of the living God will not fail us and will see us through. So, we press on, knowing that He will enable us to persevere. To that end, here are a few ways to find hope when we’ve been hurt…
1.Remember the root of all pain = sin.
Before sin entered the world, Adam and Eve enjoyed unhindered fellowship with their Creator and one another. But the moment they were deceived and chose to disobey God, Scripture reminds us that sin entered the world and ultimately all mankind as a result…
“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way, death came to all people, because all sinned.” (Romans 5:12)
This may appear to be a statement of the obvious, which it is. Pain exists in this world because sin (and sinful people) exists in this world. Yet, it’s worth reminding ourselves of this truth, even in the church. As Christ-followers, we still wrestle with sin because our flesh constantly wars with our spirit.
This in no way excuses wickedness, abuse, or sin of any kind. Nor does it grant us permission to hurt others. It simply gives us vital context for why we as believers struggle with sin. Additionally, it points to the main reason we can be hurt by those in our family of faith – we are all broken. Even the Apostle Paul himself declared, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Romans 5:12) Until God returns or He calls us home, we continue to long for a world free of wounded relationships and broken lives.
Helpful cue: Ask God to help you forgive as He has forgiven you. My youth pastor once said, “Forgiveness is not the removal of the hurt, but rather the cancellation of the debt.” The burden is no longer yours to carry.
2. Reach out – don’t suffer alone.
Two of the weapons the Enemy loves to use against us are shame and loneliness. It’s natural to experience these feelings when we’ve been hurt by individuals and situations within our church. What’s key in overcoming them, however, is our response.
Pain can isolate us from others. If that pain is ignored, we may begin to drift away from others who can speak life and truth into our lives. So, it’s vital to maintain community with those who can provide encouragement and counsel when we need it most.
If no one has noticed you’re hurting, prayerfully consider sharing what’s on your heart and mind with someone you know and trust. This is one reason why the Apostle Paul described the church as a body:
“So that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:25-27).
Although the individual(s) or issues that caused us pain occurred within the church, that doesn’t mean we should cut ourselves off from the rest of our church family, who can also prove to be an agent of healing.
Depending on the situation, perhaps physical time and space are needed for a short season. But even still, one’s connection with other spirit-filled believers remains vital to maintaining the community and support we all need to find healing.
Do not listen to the lies that say, “No one cares or understands. My story doesn’t matter. There’s no one I can turn to.” These thoughts will keep you on an island with no view of a life raft.
Instead, seek out trustworthy individuals who can pray for and walk alongside you through the healing process. If necessary, pursue a conversation with leaders or church staff to consider what your next steps might be.
Note: Remember that local authorities should be contacted for any situation that involves illegal and/or abusive behavior.
Helpful cue: Identify one fellow believer (of the same gender) that you can trust. Ask if they’d be willing to grab coffee/lunch to share what’s in your heart. If you can’t identify that person just yet but still desire to work through the pain/trauma you’ve experienced, seek out a reputable Christian counselor with whom you can meet. The key is finding someone you can trust.
3. Recall Truth from Scripture – God will not abandon you.
Recalling Truth will keep us from listening to the lies that might tempt us to believe God has abandoned us or doesn’t care. For example, when David was overwhelmed by countless attacks from his enemies, he cried out to God as his only hope:
“Scorn has broken my heart and has left me helpless; I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none… But as for me, afflicted and in pain – may your salvation, God, protect me.” (Psalm 69:20)
Jesus reminds us that “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
The Devil isn’t content to merely rob us of our joy in Christ. He wants to kill every relationship and destroy every connection that strengthens our walk with Christ and the role we play in His Kingdom, which is why it’s vital for us to listen for the voice of our Good Shepherd in these moments.
Continuing in John 10, Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:14-15). Having painted a picture of those who would seek to wound and steal from His flock, Jesus reminds believers that God knows us, sees us and will continue to care for us.
Though we may question why we experience hurt, we must never doubt our Savior’s ability to heal. “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:6-7).
Amidst our pain, Jesus wants us to remember how much He loves us and cares for us. Just as He declared to His disciples upon their commissioning, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 18:20). We can trust that He has not left our side and that we can walk with confidence while He cares for us.
Helpful cue: See how many examples you can find in Scripture of those who overcame attacks from others and how God provided for them. Keep verses that encourage you displayed somewhere you will see them often.
FINAL THOUGHT – Read Psalm 23. As you walk through each verse, what blessing or provision from the Good Shepherd do you need most right now? Ask the Lord for help to trust and believe that He will provide for your needs in this season. You’re not alone!
Nick Mobley has served in student ministry for 20 years and currently serves as Family Pastor at Northside Baptist in middle TN. His passion is helping families show and share their faith from house to house. He and his wife Courtney have 3 children, Samuel, Sophia, & Asa. They love ice cream, the outdoors, and think that Dauphin Island, Alabama, is one of the coolest places to spend a vacation. You can reach Nick at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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