The theme of “Church Hurt” is one that has been discussed, written about and argued over since, I would imagine, the first church comprised of the disciples of Christ. We even find an occasion in Acts chapter six where the church had to reorganize because some of its members felt slighted. As long as there has been church there have been people who could honestly say, “I have been hurt by the church.”  This is a topic that needs to be addressed but one fraught with the danger of further hurting those who have been knocked down by communities they once loved. We may not be good at a lot of things, but we are pretty good at shooting our wounded!  In my current ministry role I have the opportunity to talk to many people who are hurting and more times than I can count they will site “church hurt” as the reason they are unable to move forward. While this list is not exhaustive and I am sure some will disagree with my perspective, here are some thoughts for those that have, or will someday be, hurt at church.

Before I give the list there is one note I need to make: When I say “Church”, I mean that in a New Testament Bible sense. I am not addressing any group of people that would function contrary to Scripture even if they do call themselves a church.

That said, here is list:

Perspective on the local church

  1. The local church is the heart of God and the thing for which Christ Died. (Acts 20:28) It was established by Jesus to be a place of (Matthew 28:19-20):
    1. Learning the truth
    2. Acceptance into a body of like-minded believers
    3. Equipping and commissioning for the work of telling others the truth
  2. If the church was established by Christ to be the organism through which He would work in the world, it is not only a good thing, but a very good thing!
  3. Believers are not only told to attend church, but that they should NOT forsake assembling together. (Hebrews 10:23-25)
  4. The local church is a body equipped (when functioning well) with everything it needs in order to do what God desires. (Ephesians 4)
  5. Not every church functions (even those with the correct theology and polity) with the spirit of Grace and Unity illustrated in scripture. (Acts 2:42-47, Ephesians 4, Philippians 2:1-4)
  6. For those that have been hurt, if all of the above are true, there MUST be an understanding that it is not “The Church”, but people in the church that have done the hurting. There are people everywhere, even in an institution created by God who will hurt others when given the chance.

But I have been hurt. Now what?

  1. Sincerely ask God to reveal anything in YOU that may be the source of the problem. Often when we say we have been hurt, what has actually been hurt is our pride. If that is the case, our own broken nature and not the church needs to be addressed.  (Psalm 139:23-24)
  2. Test everything through the scripture. (I Thessalonians 5:21, I John 4:1, Acts 17:11) Only by using scripture as the lens through which we judge those around us will we see clearly.
  3. Speak to the one(s) who have hurt you. Provide an opportunity for reconciliation before taking the next step. (Matthew 18:15-17) (Ephesians 4) Christ died to reconcile you to Himself (Colossians 1:20) and would be most pleased if Christians could, when possible, reconcile themselves to each other.
  4. Sometimes, reconciliation is not possible. People can be hurtful and may refuse to make a bad situation right. If you find that you must leave a local congregation after doing the things outlined above then leave quietly and respectfully. Do not undermine the work that God would like to do through the church even if you can no longer be a part. (Romans 16:17, Titus 3:10) * Another note here: just to be clear I am not talking about those times when something immoral, illegal or unethical has taken place. Deal with those situations as they should be dealt with by notifying the appropriate authority. Leaving without causing discord or disunity is not the same as covering up sin!
  5. Do not forget that how you handle this situation may set the example for how your children handle a similar situation in the future. Chances are good that if your children go to church on their own that they will eventually get hurt. How they handle that and the impact it has on their own faith life may be determined right now! (Proverbs 22:6, Ephesians 6:4)
  6. Find a new congregation to worship with and get involved. Church life is an essential part of the Christian life and if it is important Christ, He does call it His bride (Ephesians 5:21-32), it should be important to us. Don’t allow past hurt to keep you from the blessing of a biblically sound, loving church family.
  7. Perhaps most importantly, don’t allow hurt from people in the church to frame or define your faith and relationship with God! Trust God, putting your faith in Him and hurt will be something that happens to you instead of something that defines you.

Getting hurt at church is something that, as long as churches have people, will happen. Sometimes it will be minor and other times require finding a new church. Whichever it is, don’t ever forget that the church is God’s gift to us and the organism that He uses to grow and equip us to be all that He wants us to be. Have faith in God, connect with His church, and know that, even though most churches are full of wonderful people, there will be some that will hurt you. We will look forward to the day when the hurt is gone and in unity we can say:

For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man;17 That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,18 May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;19 And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21)

Jeremy Stalnecker is the Executive Director of the Mighty Oaks Foundation which is dedicated to helping America’s military warriors and their families who are suffering from the unseen wounds of combat. While growing up Jeremy’s only goal was to leave home and join the Marine Corps. This dream was finally realized with an active duty commission in 1999 which opened the door to serve as a Marine Infantry Officer during the opening days of the war in Iraq. One month after returning from Iraq, Jeremy entered full-time ministry and eventually accepted a senior pastor role. He later accepted a full-time position with the Mighty Oaks Foundation which brought together his ministry and military experience in a way that allows him to minister to hurting veterans, service members and their families. Along with his wife and their four children, Jeremy works to reach the hurting and provide healing found in Christ.

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