Church hurt is real.
And (unfortunately) you don’t have to look very long or far to find examples of church hurt… From manipulation to abuses of power, from sexual misconduct to financial improprieties, there seems to be no shortage of things the church has done to hurt people.
For many people, the Church has become a place associated with pain, rejection, injustice, and abuse rather than a place of hope, healing, and community.
Understandably, these wounds often lead people to feel distanced and detached from God and the church community. Even worse, many people (and former Christians) have felt that there is no way to reconcile the church hurt they’ve experienced.
More than likely, you know someone who was hurt by the Church and feels this way. Or, potentially, it is you that has experienced church hurt and been left to pick up the pieces.
So what are you supposed to do when this thing that Jesus loved and gave His life for – the Church – is at the center of deeply hurtful experiences?
How do you navigate this kind of hurt? Do you pretend like it’s not a big deal? Do you walk away and write it off? Do you re-engage? And if so, is there hope that things could be different?
Fortunately, we believe there is a process you can follow to navigate church hurt that can actually lead to healing and healthy re-engagement with the Church. But before we share that process, there are two things you need to know…
First – If you’ve been hurt by the church, we’re sorry. We may not know what’s happened or the details surrounding your situation, but we’re sorry it resulted in you being hurt.
Second – We want you to know that you are not alone in your pain. Jesus was also hurt by the church and He knows your pain. In fact, hundreds of years before Jesus ever arrived to Earth, the prophet Isaiah prophesied this about Him:
“[Jesus] was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. Unjustly condemned, he was led away. No one cared that he died without descendants, that his life was cut short in midstream. But he was struck down for the rebellion of my people. He had done no wrong and had never deceived anyone. But he was buried like a criminal…” – Isaiah 53:7-9 (NLT)
Not only does Jesus know what it’s like to experience hurt from the Church, but He knew in advance that He would be hurt by the Church! This is good news for you because it means you don’t have to hide your hurt or pretend it doesn’t exist. The One we worship knows exactly what you feel, and He invites you to bring your pain to Him.
So with those two things in mind, here are…
4 Steps to Navigating Church Hurt
Step 1: Separate Church Hurt From God’s Character
One of the pitfalls of being hurt by the Church is that it becomes so easy to confuse what the Church did with who God is.
People will often feel: Well, the Church rejected me, so God must reject me, too. They didn’t see the good in me, so God doesn’t see the good in me. The church committed an injustice, so God must not be just. The church took advantage of me, and God didn’t defend me. The Church got away with their abuse, so God must also be OK with it.
But this is completely false!
God is just. God is merciful. God is gracious. God cares deeply about the marginalized. And God is close to the broken-hearted. In fact, it was Jesus who extended this invitation to those who were weary…
[Jesus speaking] “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest… For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30 (NLT)
If you want to navigate church hurt properly, then you’re going to need to learn to separate church hurt from God’s heart and don’t confuse church leaders’ sins with God’s true nature.
Step 2: Reclaim and Maintain Your Spiritual Practices
While church hurt might lead to a period or a season where you either are or feel detached from the church body, that does not mean you have to detach yourself from God.
If you’re going to navigate your hurt and come out stronger, healthier, and whole on the other side then it’s going to be crucial that you stay connected to God through spiritual practices like prayer, Scripture reading, and communion.
The Old Testament hero, David, is a great example of this. While on the run for his life, and isolated on his own because God’s people had turned against him, David penned these words in Psalm 63…
“O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water. I cling to you; your strong right hand holds me securely.” – Psalm 63:1, 8 (NLT)
David (rightly) understood that it would be a mistake to give up or let go of the spiritual practices that kept him connected to God. Similarly, it would be a mistake for you to do the same because God and the Church are not synonymous.
Step 3: Seek Support Within Community
While it might be tempting to do so, you must resist the temptation to isolate yourself in the midst of your hurt. One of the worst things you can do is to isolate or distance yourself from community and relationships that are intended to support and strengthen you.
And this isn’t just hyperbole, this is science-based and science-backed…
The CDC (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) shows loneliness and isolation often lead to increased levels of anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.
This is why the Scriptures say…
“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer.” – Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (NLT)
You need community to help you heal, and even just one or two supportive people can make a big difference!
Step 4: Re-engage From a Place of Health
The final step is often the most difficult or challenging step for people to take when they’ve been hurt by the Church. That’s because this final step requires courage and health.
Now, to be clear: Health ≠ Healed
Health is the place and the process that leads to healing. When you operate from a place of health, and you make decisions from a place of health, you are setting yourself to experience the healing that you want and need.
So here is a simple Path to Health that you can follow:
- Identify the Hurt(s): State your hurts out loud and don’t keep your hurts in the dark.
- Offer It (or Them) to God: God cares about what you’ve been through, and He cares enough to take them from you.
- Forgive the Offense/Offender: Real healing requires forgiveness, but this isn’t to be confused with returning back to the way things were.
- Reconnect to a Church: Getting plugged back into a church community, even if it’s a different one, is a vital part of your healing process.
This process leads to healing and allows you to re-engage from a healthy place, ready to move forward.
Recovering from church hurt takes time, but following these steps can help you heal in a spiritually and emotionally healthy way. God’s presence and supportive community are essential to the journey.
***This blog post was adapted from a sermon on Navigating Church Hurt preached by Pastor Ricky Ortiz at Meta Church. Click the “Watch Sermon” button below to view the sermon in its entirety.***