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If I had a nickel for every person who felt betrayed or hurt by their church family…
Far be it from me to make light of the very difficult reality of the sin and brokenness that can catch us by surprise when it comes from our own church. …And yet, up until about seven months ago, I don’t think I took the pain of losing your church family seriously enough.
Seven months ago I learned that church can really hurt.
Many years ago a seasoned missionary told us, “One day your church or a brother or sister in Christ will betray you and it will hurt more than you could ever now imagine.” We nodded and accepted this tidbit of cynicism and thought, “That only happens to the troublemakers.”
We were active helpers and servants. We were essential and productive. And I see now that I took that older man’s advice and held my church endeavors as a shield. You wouldn’t hurt little ol’ me, would you? Not while I’m over here, serving!
We were loyal. We were never going to leave our church. It was home. It was our family. It was our safety net.
And then one day, inexplicably, we were released. The safety net didn’t keep us safe.
But that only happens to troublemakers. …Right?
And so God has been at work on my heart, bringing me deep into my idols to bring me out the other side again as I learn to rely on him, and accept no substitutes.
Here are some truths I know I can count on:
What’s Still True When Church Hurts?
1. God’s People Will Hurt Us
The earth’s troubled reality and the Bible’s inerrant wisdom have taught us that our world is broken and in need of a Savior. Why are we surprised, then, when someone hurts us?
The quick answer is that we’re surprised because it goes against the world we were created for: the unbroken world with perfect community that we will have for the rest of eternity. So when our Christian community hurts us it stops us in our tracks.
Years ago I worked for a large Christian organization. I learned during my two years of working for that ministry that it was incredibly difficult to work in a Christian workplace. Was it somehow worse than the atmosphere at Target? Applebees? The go-kart park? No, it was the same. And I guess somehow I thought that Christian employers would be different.
The lesson that I learned in that workplace many years ago was that even God’s people will make decisions that hurt. Sometimes it will be a mistake, and sometimes it will be a result of their sin. It’s not worse than a worldly workplace, but it hurts because it catches us off-guard.
But I believe that a Christian workplace can grow in this area and we should make every effort to aspire to Christ-like leadership. Through the humility of repentance and a pursuit of the qualities of servant leadership that Jesus exemplified, a Christian workplace can grow to be both effective in its ministry and a blessing to its staff.*
2. God Is Still Good.
In 2020 we lost our normalcy – the coronavirus took away school and coffee dates and handed us face masks and partisan division in return. Meanwhile I walked through cancer treatments with my mom, who isn’t getting better. And then we lost our church family.
Someone asked me what the hardest thing about our church situation was, and I explained that the most difficult part was feeling homeless. And then that friend asked, “Are you struggling with God?”
I greatly appreciate my friend who had the guts to ask me that question, point-blank. And my honest answer is no, I’m not struggling with God. He is my greatest hope and comfort in this fickle world.
In fact, the depth of my response in the pain of loss that came with leaving my church has led me to the conclusion that I was trusting in my church to be my safety net rather than in God! I didn’t realize I had turned my hopes from him and rested them on my church, but I see that now, and can honestly say that I’m glad – I’m actually relieved – to place those hopes back where they belong.
God is good. All the time.
3. Church Is Still Good.
The feelings of homelessness didn’t last very long. We have been lovingly welcomed into a new church community.
But even still, it wasn’t always easy to go to church. At first the new church felt so new. It wasn’t the old, comfortable community that felt like ours after so many years.
Of course, the adjustment will just take some time. But this has all been such a good reminder than the church body is made up of many different churches. Many styles, Many teachers. Many congregations who love God. Big. Small. Old and young.
It’s a beautiful thing to peek through another church door and see we’re not alone. Countless congregations around the world meet on Sunday mornings and worship the same God with different songs, different dress code norms, different languages, and the same beautiful gospel message.
God is wrapping his loving arms around me and asking me to trust him. To trust him, not the church. To trust him when he says in his Word that Christian fellowship is good for me. Wait, not just good…best. Necessary.
“And let us consider together how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
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Bring It Home: How Do We Heal?
Have you ever been hurt by your church? Do you think it was more difficult because it was your church?
Have you taken that hurt to God? I believe that anger unresolved by grace is what grows into bitterness. And bitterness is letting Satan have the last word.
Instead of holding on to anger and letting it decay into bitterness, tell God openly how you feel. Express your anger to him. Tell him that you don’t want to forgive. Tell him that you need his help.
Because God is good when church hurts.
God is good when his people hurt us.
God is good all the time.
Note: My years of ministry with Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru) were the perfect example of how a Christian workplace could be a blessing to its staff and extremely effective in its ministry.
“Is There A Best Personality…for Church Leadership?”
“Burn Out: What To Do When You’ve Reached Your Breaking Point”
“Faithfulness over Fruitfulness: Are You Serving GOd…Or Results?”