What Do I Do When I’ve Been Hurt By The Church?
by Pastor Hunter Wright
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” – King Solomon
This is dangerous ground to tread on. There is pretty much no way I can write this post without stepping on a mine that is an unhealed wound from a past experience of someone. That said, I still feel it is an important topic to address because we are all designed for community. And as someone architecting a church community that will hopefully do significantly more helping than hurting I deal with this week-in and week-out.
That sentence may give away my premise up front: There is no way to build a church community that does not ever hurt anyone. Why? Because there is no way for flawed and hurting humans to live in community without hurting one another, ether intentionally or otherwise. It may sound fatalistic but it’s true – hurt people hurt people. And if there is anyone that the church, especially my church, Ignition Church, is built for, it is hurt people. Jesus said, “it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” That being the case I want to look at what it means to be hurt by the church and what should be our response.
“Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Matt 16:22-23)
There is no way this interaction between Jesus and Peter did not create hurt. It likely hurt Jesus when Peter, who had just declared Jesus to be the Messiah a few verses earlier, rebuked him for telling the disciples about his coming crucifixion. And we can imagine how deeply it must have hurt Peter for the one he called the Messiah to call him Satan. Ouch. This is a painful exchange. Yet, who is to blame? Peter wasn’t trying to be hurtful. No. In fact, he was trying to be helpful and loyal in his own way. And Jesus wasn’t insulting Peter either, He was simply being truthful about where those ideas came from.
So what does it mean to be hurt by the church? It simply means you care for the church – that is the people, that you have given your heart to them. Inevitably, when you give your heart to something or someone, it will get hurt. Even when you give it to Jesus. Things will not go as you expected or you will hear something that you don’t like and hurt will follow. Like Peter. No matter how good and loving the leadership is, hurt will happen when you open your heart. My own church has hurt me. In fact, I have hurt me. So whose to blame? Anyone?
Solomon understood that some hurt, like the exchange between Peter and Jesus, is good and even necessary for true community. It means you love the person. Now there are certainly instances when the hurt is intentional, unnecessary, or sinful and I am not denying that those cases are unhealthy and should be confronted and corrected. However, in all these cases, neither hope nor healing are found in blaming or running.
We’ve had several people leave our church because they were hurt. Not because we didn’t preach the truth; not because they never experienced grace and mercy and love; not because their lives weren’t changed; not even because they didn’t like it; but simply because someone hurt them. Even if it was done in love. That’s so sad to me. Not because it hurts me when people leave our church (even though it does), but because I don’t believe it’s wise or helpful for either party to respond by running.
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” (Matt 5:23-24)
Hurt happens in community. However, it does not mean you cannot stay in the community or even build and grow from the hurt. In fact, Jesus says, don’t run away from the hurt, rather run to it. The most powerful thing that can happen in a community, especially a Jesus community built on love and forgiveness like ours, is not for no one to ever be hurt, but for hurt people to experience the joy giving and receiving forgiveness and loving people through their imperfection.
One of the things we say in our community is, “We have nothing to lose and nothing to prove.” In other words, we have freedom to be real about our flaws and we choose to celebrate honesty not hypocrisy. We are a messy community pursuing a magnificent Savior. We are not building a perfect church community. (There is no such thing. And if you find one, don’t join it, because you’ll mess it up.) But we are building a great church community. And what makes a great community is not a lack of hurt, but wounds given in love and grace filled responses to hurt.
This is how we grow. This is how we change. This is how people come to believe our message of forgiveness – when we live it out.