In a small poll conducted by ABCNews, approximately 1100 people were surveyed on what religion they identify with. An amazing 83% stated they were Christians. While the poll was very broad in terms and individuals were not asked to define what being a Christian means to them, it's safe to say that Americans are seeking a relationship with God somehow, some way.
Jesus makes it incredibly simple to have a relationship with Him. We ask and He gives. It's the people we often interact with on our way to cultivating our relationship with Him that often get in the way, and those people are usually found through church.
From the outside, Church seems like the quintessential place to find protection, peace and comfort, and I truly believe that millions and millions of people find all these things there. But I also know that so, so many are wounded there too.
Because try as they might, churches are not always the best reflection of Christ's love, forgiveness and grace. They are made up of sinners like the rest of the world, and as such, they have the power to wound and hurt believers just as powerfully as the ability to build them up and lead them to Christ. The Church itself is a magnet for hurting people to begin with: we go because we need more than what the world has to offer.
Church-inflicted wounds come in all shapes and sizes: loss of faith in pastoral integrity, poor or non-Biblical teaching, sexual abuse, financial mismanagement and many others. Regardless of the wound, those made by the Church cut deep because no one anticipates being hurt by God's people, and they leave a lasting impression. Whether you were wounded by being on staff, as a volunteer or as a member, many wounded people leave their local church, never to return again.
As a wounded church-goer and former staff member myself, I have dealt with my share of anger, distrust, depression and apathy towards the Church. I'm not here today because I've fully recovered. I'm not here because I've left the church, nor because I've got all the steps to getting over the hurt. But it's my hope that my experience can help someone else who's been wounded by the Church and ultimately bring healing. Here are 5 ways you can start healing:
1. Speak Truth. Depending on the wounds, it's important to speak up about the issues causing your pain in the church. You do not need to send an email blast that proclaims whatever wrongdoing may have occurred, or stand up in front of the congregation with a microphone. But you should meet with your pastor, elder or other leader in the church who can be objective and who you can trust (if that's even possible, depending on the state of your Church body). You may not feel like you have the “right” to say anything, or that what you say won't change anything. It may be true that things won't change right away, but you will find healing in speaking truth. You shouldn't speak truth for the purpose of hurting another, but only to stop the behavior that's causing pain and discord within your church.
2. Pray. Sometimes the last thing you feel like doing is praying, because prayer isn't a tangible thing and you want action now. Praying in painful situations is about keeping your relationship with God open and honest. It's about making him the healer, not someone else. Psalm 107:28-30 says:
“Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven.”
Even though this verse talks about prayer lifting them out of a literal storm, when you are suffering from pain in the church, it feels just like being caught up in those same conditions. As difficult as it is, pray for your leaders and those who have hurt you, and even more so for healing.
3. Forgive. For me, forgiveness
was is the hardest part of overcoming my church wounds. Almost daily, I still have to give forgiveness as old memories resurface and my pain feels anew.
I'm going to let you in on a little secret: you will never heal from church wounds if you do not forgive.
They will fester some part of you until you give them to God. It's ok to do it minute by minute, day by day, or years later when suddenly you realize you haven't fully forgiven that old pastor. God takes up our burdens, so we don't have to assume the unbearable pain on Earth. Let Him take them.
4. Find A New Church Body. You can say all the prayers and forgive everyone who does and doesn't deserve it, but sometimes the only way to completely heal from a Church wound is to find a new one. For me, I could not fully detach myself from the constant depression I was feeling because I had to keep looking at misdeeds that were continually being committed. While many people are turned off from church all together, I flocked to a new church, thirsty for teachings and worship that didn't involve deception. Sitting in the chairs of a new church revived me, and made me see that not all churches functioned with so much pain. Yes, all churches have their problems, but many, many deal with them effectively and are healthy places of spiritual growth.
5.Take A Step Back. I don't mean step back from church all together. But I do mean that it may be healthy for your spiritual and emotional well-being to remove yourself from being super involved in your church. Take a break from volunteering as a greeter, student ministries worker or worship leader. You need time to heal and recover, and you need your cup to just be filled instead if being poured out. Your soul is probably thirsty for simple times of worship, Bible teaching and prayer. Just like on an airplane, you need to take care of yourself before you can ever take care of the person sitting next to you.
I want to leave you with my favorite Bible verse in times of pain, Psalm 147:3:
“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”
I love this verse because so many are about physical healing, but this speaks to the heart. No matter the wounds you receive from being on this Earth, we have a Healer who wants nothing more than to heal them.