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Many people have experienced church hurt in varying degrees. Don’t walk away! There is hope to overcome that hurt and build community with these 4 steps.

flowers in vase with text overlay - church hurt


How to Overcome When You Have Experienced Church Hurt

She knew her son was special and she loved him beyond measure but he was “different”. Every day in grocery stores, at community events, and in school, the stares and rude comments were almost too much for her to bare. She came to church because she really believed that at least here she would find understanding and people who looked beyond his physical appearance and social struggles to the image bearer of God her son is. She was wrong. And because they were supposed to know better, it hurt even more.

He thought everything was going pretty well in his church, people seemed excited and empowered, he was growing in his spiritual life, new members were being added. Until one fateful Sunday morning when someone other than the pastor stood up to say that their pastor was gone. He had a moral failing that left him ill-equipped for the work of the ministry and faithful brothers had required him to step down. The shock and hurt rang around the church. He didn’t know if he would ever trust someone in a position of church authority again.

She was newly saved and didn’t know all of the “rules” that apparently came with going to church. She just knew she loved Jesus and the Bible she discovered Him in. She wanted more of that and she thought a church seemed like the best place to turn. She had no idea that her clothing and her speech would immediately set her apart like a dandelion in a field of roses nor did she know that the roses would turn on her because of it. Her skirt was shorter than theirs. She didn’t know what many of the words they used meant. She felt out of touch with everyone there already and then she heard it… gossip. Hurtful, hateful words uttered about her among the people she thought were supposed to be the exact opposite. She wanted to run to Jesus and flee His church.

Together they told an awful story. The church had been cruel to them. They had come with their pain and difficulty, the real life story of tragedy redeemed by God’s grace in the gift of repentance and the church had responded with gossip and avoidance. They were crushed.

Each of those stories has either been me or been someone I dearly love. And I could tell stories like that for pages. And yet, I am here to plead with you friend, please do not give up on the church!

woman holding open Bible - church hurt

Why Should I Care about the Church

The church is the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:25-20). It is made up of sinful people just like you and me. It is imperfect and sometimes full of challenge. Living in its midst will sometimes be confusing and hurtful. But, I plead with you, do not give up on the church.
Christ came to redeem people for Himself. He redeems individual people but not to leave them as individuals. He redeems them to bring them into something bigger than themselves. We are no longer solitary souls, we are made to be together. A foot is no good trying to learn to walk alone. It must be attached to the head through the leg. You cannot live this Christian life alone.

Christ came to redeem people for Himself. He redeems individual people but not to leave them as individuals. He redeems them to bring them into something bigger than themselves. We are no longer solitary souls, we are made to be together. A foot is no good trying to learn to walk alone. It must be attached to the head through the leg. You cannot live this Christian life alone.

Not only are we a body, we are a bride. Christ has purchased us for Himself and He loves His church fiercely. If we are to really love the Groom, we cannot hate His bride. What Christ loves, we also must love.

And Christ does not love the church because He has never been hurt by it. Remember, only God is holy. So God the second person – Jesus Christ – is more hurt by sin than we can even imagine. To the point that Christ died on the cross not only for the sins we would commit before becoming part of His bride but also for the sins we commit thereafter (1 Peter 3:18).

He has been more hurt by the sin of His people than we ever could be. He can sympathize with our pain. He does not cast it aside or act as though it is unimportant. But it also doesn’t stop Him from loving His church.

And praise God for that! Because if it were any other way, you and I would be hopeless.

Christ has loved us in spite of failure.

So, there is hope. If you have been the one who has hurt someone else with your gossip or slander, there is hope! Christ redeems and Christ forgives and you can seek reconciliation with that brother or sister!

And if you have experienced church hurt, know you are not alone. Christ can sympathize and He can give you the grace you need to love in spite of the pain.

open Bible with leaves and glasses

My Story of Church Hurt

I was young and arrogant. I somehow thought this wouldn’t happen to me because if anyone was a “goody two shoes”, it was me! I was everyone’s friend (or so I thought) and I thrived off making people happy with me.

In some ways that very tendency, which is not at all holy BTW, put a target on my back. Many people saw that as a direct affront to their personhood and being compared to me sent shivers up their spine (I understand that a lot better now).

Because of this and just general sinfulness in my life and the lives of others, I have experienced a fair share of pain at the hands of the church.

I have lost all of my friends and become the point of slander that began to cross over into the rest of my life. I have been approached by people to discuss a “sin” in my life only to discover that many women had already been spending their weeks chatting about it. I have seen several pastors come and go because of infidelity, lack of integrity, and improper use of church money.

I have felt exposed in a group of people where their love was supposed to cover a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).

And I know I have been on the giving end too. I have gossiped when I should have brought a complaint directly to someone. I have allowed bitterness to swell in my own heart where I should have offered grace and forgiveness. I have allowed myself to be a doormat when I should have stood up for holiness. I have been quiet when I should have stood my ground. And I have stood my ground when I should have shut up.

This is the reality of life in community.

I am sinful and so are you.

None of us is good apart from Christ (Romans 3:10-12).

And even in Christ, we need His momentary assistance to escape the temptation that lures us back to our own sinfulness (1 Corinthians 10:13).

But the pain is real.

Christians claim to know God. They know the only true path to eternal peace and rest. The message of Christianity is the great leveler. It says to the “goody two shoes” and the murderer, even your righteous deeds are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).

Christians come with nothing to boast in. When we say we are Christians, what we are really saying is that we recognize how sinful we are and we know we have no hope in ourselves. We need Jesus.

Because of this, Christians should be the most loving, forgiving, gracious people on the planet.

We should see the beauty in every person because they are made in the image of God and we should fight for their rights because God cares about them!

We should rejoice at repentance, not lord sin over someone.

We should offer grace.

We should be kind and understanding and gentle.

We should approach new situations and new people with genuine love, not fear of the unknown.

We should strive to be the best at practically loving those around us.

We should be quick to listen and slow to speak.

But none of us are perfect in this.

When you are on the receiving end of a church that does not reflect the character of the God it serves, it genuinely hurts.

So What Can We Do in the Face of Church Hurt?

I will not lie, I was at a point about a decade ago, that I really wanted to dedicate my life to Christ but I also wanted to avoid His church.

But I am so thankful God would not let me do that.

Because the church is beautiful!

It is the means by which God has chosen to proclaim His message to the world and, believe it or not, you and I are not as wise as He is.

When we step away from the church or believe that the church only exists to give us what we want, we confuse the message of Christianity.

The Gospel redeems individuals and puts them in a people. “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people” (1 Peter 2:10).

Practically that is hard though! Attempting to once again live life in community when we have been so hurt by it, takes time, patience, and an intense trust in the wisdom of God that surpasses our earthly understanding.

Because this has been such a real battle for me in my own life, I am confident that these next steps are crucial to stepping back into community where the sting of hurt and sorrow still cling closely.

1. Pray

Ultimately God knows your situation. He is sovereign in all things and He cares for you. He has promised to use EVERYTHING for your good and His glory (Romans 8:28).

He is the One who orchestrated the church from the beginning of time and He is the One who is ensuring its safety and longevity until the end of time.

He is the One who commands us to be together (Hebrews 10:25) and He was perfectly comfortable making those commands, knowing the whole time, what you would eventually endure.

So, He is ultimately the One you must seek.

I remember so clearly praying that I would know how to serve Christ while not focusing on the church. The pain was so raw and real that I really thought this was the direction the Lord was showing me. I really thought I had gotten it wrong before. He must have meant some other way, outside the church, and I had been confused.

Instead, the Lord met me in His Word and He taught me the value of His people. And then He showed me their value in practical ways over and over again through daily living.

Related: The Church’s Generosity

Pray that God would heal your heart from church hurt. Pray that God would give you the grace you need to open your heart again to His people. And pray that your horrible circumstance would be used in His gracious hand to teach the church a little more about what it means to love one another.

Your story doesn’t have to remain in the dark and it doesn’t have to have to hold you captive anymore.

Pray that God would guide your steps to love Him and His people more through the pain.

“Casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

2. Become a Member of a Church

Don’t stop going to church because it hurts. And if you have stopped, get back into a church! Though I think many people change churches for silly reasons or for no reason at all, that doesn’t mean there aren’t legitimate reasons to leave a church – there are.

If you have to look for a new church, that’s ok (and this tool can probably help you!). But, don’t stop going to church. Don’t think that a YouTube sermon is equivalent. Don’t buy the lie that a TV preacher can scratch the same spiritual itch that only a real, physical church can.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you can fulfill the one another commands of Scripture with only your friends. Friends are a blessing, believe me, and I am SO incredibly thankful for mine! But, they cannot replace the church.

There are no elders over your friend group who are accountable for you (Hebrews 13:17).
That YouTube preacher doesn’t know your name.

The guy on TV will be thankful for your money but he won’t be at your hospital bedside.

Ultimately there is no replacement for the church.

That’s how God designed it.

So, become a member of a church. Find a good church (not a perfect church because that doesn’t exist) that teaches the truth of the Gospel and get involved. Attend all of the services whenever possible (even if that means switching around your schedule or canceling things). Join a small group Bible study. Go to extra events. Host people in your home. Really commit to loving these people even if many of them are difficult.

Tell the pastor about the church hurt you have experienced and let the church love you in return.

I cannot really even begin to tell you how healing that has been for me!


3. Study Scripture

Really spend time in the Word of God – meditating on the truth He has for you. The reality is that God has revealed Himself and His plan for His church in His Word.

If you are struggling to love the church, for any reason, spend time in the Word. Get to know the God of the Bible better through the pain and He will teach you to love the things He loves.

That is not to say that it will be easy, but I can promise, it will be worth it!

4. Persevere

I had only been actively trying to build community for a short time but man was I working hard at it! A friend mentioned wanting to study Scripture with me. A few days later when I reached out to her to ask her if she still wanted to, her response was a plain, “No.”

While I appreciated her honesty, it still brings tears to my eyes. What should have been an opportunity for our friendship to grow and for us to better one another, became an awkward moment that led to a surface level relationship.

I was discouraged and my fight or flight instinct immediately prompted me to flee community building. It was disheartening. But, by the grace of God, another friend and I were able to start that study and our friendship blossomed over the gospel.

Related: When Hospitality Hurts: How to Deal with Rejection

We will probably all be hurt when we try to build community in some way or another. But the joy of seeing God use this effort far surpasses the pain of those failed attempts.

And so we must persevere.

We must trust that God knows our need and He will not leave us alone. Even when the hope of a different reality seems far off, God is near, and He can do anything. We must trust Him and persevere.

women sitting together

There is Hope for Healing from Church Hurt

We have talked about this before but I love what Dr. Karyn Purvis says in her discussion of children who have faced trauma in their lives – what was is hurt in relationship is also healed in relationship. I think the same is true for everyone.

In my own life, when there has been a wound caused in the church, it has taken time for other relationships within the church to heal those wounds.

We must pursue others with the love of Christ, entrusting ourselves to Him while doing good (1 Peter 4:19). He alone can heal our brokenness and give us the relationships we long for.

Have you faced church hurt? How have you approached it? Do you still struggle in this area, like I did for so many years? Let me know in the comments below!