If you’ve been involved in a church for any significant amount of time, then chances are this has happened to you. Regardless of the size of the church and the people in it, at some point you have probably been hurt by someone in the church. It could be something a church leader said. It could be a congregant passing judgment on you. Maybe you were even asked to leave a church for some reason or another and it put a bitter taste in your mouth.
Regardless of what it is, these things happen often. People experience hurts feeling or more at the hands of Christians. Christians and non-Christians alike have experienced this. This has led to criticisms of the church such as “Christians are hypocrites,” “Christians are nothing but self-righteous judgmental people,” and so on. Many people have left the church altogether because of this. Some just can’t seem to find a local church that’s not that way. Others even become adamant antagonists toward the church.
There is a different way, however.
I’ve been in that boat. I’ve been hurt by church people in the past. I’ve had strong church leaders that I looked up to do things that I knew were not in the will of God. It really hurt, and I held onto it for a long time. I even questioned whether or not it was worth it to be involved in church anymore. Let me tell you, it sucks to be there. And if you’ve been there, you know what I mean. Especially if you’re a follower of Christ who is trying to live a godly life, and you know that being in church is a part of that.
But like I said, there’s another way to deal with it, one that doesn’t involve turning your back on the church. It is possible to get over the hurt that someone in a church has caused you and still be a faithful member of a church congregation. Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind if or when you are hurt by a church and feel like giving up:
1. The church is run by people.
Duh, right? It’s a simple statement, but it carries so much significance behind it. The church is run by human beings, and we all know what human beings are. Flawed. Every person sins, whether they are the preacher of a church of thousands or serial killer.
The problem that we have, and it comes from multiple ends, is church leaders and Christians in the church are, in a way, put up onto a pedestal. Because some guy is a leader of a church that thousands of people attend, there are higher expectations put onto him. And that is rightly done. James even tells us in his letter that those who teach are judged with greater strictness. This is just the natural consequence of being a leader: you are judged with a higher standard.
The problem with this is that we’ve taken this to an extreme. Leaders are not just held to higher standards now. They’re held to perfection. Christians expect the Christian life to be a perfect life. And when they’re shown to not be perfect, they are crucified for it. A preacher has an affair or steals money from the church or whatever, and what happens? He loses his leadership position, yes, but what about after that? They go into hiding and aren’t seen in a church. The godly people that were his friends suddenly aren’t so close anymore. Where is the forgiveness and rehabilitation Jesus taught? Where is the godly love from his Christian brothers and sisters?
The other side of the problem, and potentially more hurtful, is the judgment that non-Christians often experience. My mind immediately goes to a conversation I had with a student of mine this past year. He asked my thoughts as a Christian on homosexuality. As the conversation went on, I found out that some Christian students at the school had been calling him some very derogatory names because he’s homosexual. This, paired with churches like Westboro Baptist Church, propagates a theology that says God hates sinners.
This is a problem.
Nothing could be further from the truth. God loves sinners. It’s the whole reason Jesus died on the cross. Additionally, it’s not our job as Christians to be judge and jury. Paul even mentions this in 1 Corinthians 5:12,13: “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you.’”
Did you catch who Christians are supposed to judge? Other Christians. But not from an arrogant pedestal.
Our jobs as Christians in the church is twofold: to love those outside the church, and to build up those inside. I think a lot of times we get that wrong. And it does a lot of damage to others in the name of Jesus. And if it’s happened to you, it doesn’t have to be the end.
2. Remember, not every congregation is the same.
This can be a tough one. It’s hard not to generalize an entire religion based on a smaller entity of it. We’ve done it with the Islamic faith. People hear Muslim and automatically think terrorist when, in fact, many Muslims are just as peaceful people as anyone else. If I’m not mistaken, I recall a few events in history when Christians went on killing sprees in the name of Jesus (i.e. The Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials). Does this mean all Christians want to burn people at the stake? Not at all.
Just because one church congregation has done damage to your life, it doesn’t mean another one will. Think of it this way:
If I was hurt by a church congregation and then used that to say that I would never attend another church, it would be the same as if I dated someone when I was 16 who cheated on me and I said I would never date anyone ever again. I know some people who have said that, but I haven’t seen it last. We know that people are different, and so we’re willing to take a chance with another person because we realize the next person will not be the same as the previous one. This next one could work out.
The church is the same way. One congregation may have done something to you, but another congregation may have just what you need. To those who are not Christians, I say not all churches are judgmental and condemning. Many of them are very much accepting and loving and work to help show Christ’s love. To those who are Christians, I say there are places to find forgiveness, even for the greatest of sins.
3. Faith should be based on Christ, not Christians
This may sound strange, but it’s probably more common than you realize. I know from experience. I had someone who was a tremendous influence on me as a teenager and had a significant impact on my life. Years later, events transpired and I subsequently lost a lot of respect for that person. What I didn’t realize was how much it shook my faith. I struggled for a long time with it. And I mean a long time.
The problem, I realized, was that I had built much of my faith base on that person rather than on the life and death of Jesus. It’s so easy to do, though. Especially with “celebrity” preachers. I think about Rob Bell and Mark Driscoll. Both preachers had huge followings, and still do, but then something happened that the church community didn’t agree with. The aftermath for each was that a lot of people essentially denounced them, people who were diehard followers of these guys. They just went the complete opposite direction.
The issue there is that people became followers of the preacher, not what he was preaching. When this happens, this preacher becomes an idol. You can love the sermons and books and wisdom that a preacher puts out there. Just make sure your still following Jesus, not that person. And just because they do or say something you don’t agree with, it doesn’t mean that other things they have said are false.
All said, the church is the church. Everything is not going to be perfect. It’s never going to be. But it’s all we have. Jesus left us the church when he went back to heaven for a reason, and we shouldn’t completely disregard that. It’s probably the closest thing on earth we have to heaven.
I mean, my wife and I have hurt each other’s feelings in the past. It probably won’t be limited to the past either. My closest friends and I have as well. But we didn’t give up because the end result was the most important thing, the relationships we had with each other. And the end result of the church is a relationship with God.
Besides, I seem to recall Jesus spoke about forgiveness. He spoke a lot about forgiveness. We expect to be forgiven when we mess up. We also need to be forgiving when churches mess up, too.