Why Church Hurts

January 31, 2011

Have you noticed all the Christians apologizing for the church?

I have.  It’s kind of the thing to do.  We assume everyone out there has been hurt, wronged, isolated, burned or ostracized by the church.  It’s almost the battle cry of my generation.  “We’ve been emotionally wounded by the church!”  Just yesterday, I read yet another Christian apologizing for all the other awful Christians out there.  Ever since Donald Miller made it popular, some Christians just can’t resist telling everyone what jerks we’ve all been.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s some things to apologize for.  (And I’m not talking about cases of serious abuse.)

But when you stack up all the apologies, it makes you think that maybe the church is just an agent for pure evil.  It’s almost like we’re inviting people to say, “Christians suck and I demand an apology!”  I’m not here to apologize or take back apologies.  If anyone should be pissed off at the church, it’s me.  I’m here to ask why does it happen?  Why does the relationship people are supposed to have with the church break down?

A Low-Maintanence Friend

Think about the least important relationship in your life.  The person you have the lowest maintanence friendship with.  The person you talk to once every few months, or even years.  Most people probably have at least one of those friends.  I’ve had several.  One even told me he valued how low-maintanence we were.  It was weird.  It was also probably the last time we talked.

If that person were not in your life, would it make that much of a difference?  Probably not.  You already have the lowest possible investment in that person.  If they decided to not talk to not call you in six months, it wouldn’t hurt you that badly.  It’s probably impossible to be hurt by that person.

There’s some people who have that relationship with their church.  It’s very low-maintanence.  There’s no emotional investment, no risk.  They sit on the fringes.  If you don’t want to ever be hurt by the church, this is where you want to be.

A High-Maintanence Friend

Now think of the most emotionally risky relationship in your life – the one where you’ve invested the most.  Probably the most emotionally risky thing anyone can do is have children.  Right behind that is getting married.  With either of those, you’re putting your heart and soul into that relationship.  And your heart and soul can be crushed by your spouse or your kids.  They can hurt you, disappoint you, burn you.  Or you can just lose them, one way or another.  Any way you look at it, you’re going to get hurt, sooner or later.

That’s where people need to be with the church.  It needs to be an emotionally risky relationship.  Any relationship that’s worth keeping has some level of emotional risk to it.  That’s the only way you get anything out of it.  Has anyone ever benefited from an emotionally distant marriage, or an absent friend?  Same with church.  You get out of it what you put into it.

Irreconcilable Differences

I have come to believe that the people who are hurt the most by the church are the ones who care most about the church.  How can you be hurt by something you don’t care about?  Why would you be wounded by the thoughts or opinions of someone who you don’t value?

That’s just it.  The more you become emotionally invested in the church, the more of yourself you put into it, the more vulnerable you are to disappointment and hurt.  It’s the people who pour their hearts and souls into the church who can most have their hearts and souls completely stomped on by other Christians.  Why did I get hurt by my church?  Because I cared about it.  If I were sitting on the fringes, I wouldn’t have cared what happened to it.  I would’ve moved on.

The church relationship breaks down for the same reason any high-maintanence friendship or marriage breaks down.  The love or friendship turns out to be conditional.  Married people love each other, until they have unreconcilable differences.  Isn’t that a trite reason for divorce?  It just means those two people had love for the other that was conditional.  The relationship breaks down because one person didn’t meet the other person’s conditions for being loved.

Church breaks down because Christians decide their love for others is conditional.  Or their love for their church is conditional.  So maybe you’re the person who didn’t meet Christians’ conditions for love.  Maybe your church didn’t meet your conditions for love.  It disappointed you, and you walked away.  Either way, the result is the same.

In fact, I might say that given enough time, a person who is truly emotionally invested in the church won’t be able to not be disappointed or hurt by the people inside.  Just like any other relationship.  It’s inevitable.

Have you ever been hurt by Christians, or a church you were a part of?  Tell us about it.  Or, have you ever been the one to hurt the church, or other Christians?  What do you think about the popularity of apologizing?  Is there always room for an apology, or is it becoming a cliche?

64 responses to Why Church Hurts

  1. For me, sometimes I find myself trying to distance myself from other Christians because of a twisted sense of pride. “Oh, I’m not like them. I’m sorry for their actions. Don’t lump me with people like that.” I might say that I’m defending the name of Christ (and I might actually be doing it), but I can’t always say that my motivation in doing so is entirely pure.

    I think apologizing can be a good tool to reaching out with people. Don Miller did the confession booth. Jon Acuff uses humor and honesty to get people to “put down the rock in their hands.” I think it’s good to recognize that we as Christians have screwed up and that the way we represent Christ sometimes has nothing to do with who Christ actually is.

    But at the same time, we need to keep ourselves in check, hold every thought captive, and make sure we’re doing it because we think muchly of God and not to give glory to ourselves.

  2. It’s a gimmick. I wasn’t the one who did whatever it was that Miller is apologizing for and how sincere can an apology be if one didn’t do the wrong? The things I’ve done that were wrong, and there have been many, I have had to seek out the forgiveness of the individuals I’ve hurt. No where in scripture, to my knowledge, does the church apologize, nor does Christ expect it to. But he does require you to go to the one you hurt (Matt 5:23-24).
    Dan Smith recently posted..Egypt and Persecuted Christians

  3. Great post, Matt. As a Pastor I often tell those that are “hurt” that I have been beat up, hung out to dry, criticized, kicked, had my pay cut, and disappointed by the church more than ANYONE of these others who have claimed abuse…BUT I STILL LOVE HER AND BELIEVE THAT IT IS GOD’S PRESENCE ON THE PLANET!! Unconditional love? You bet! I am tired of the naysayers who are waiting for the church to serve them and meet their expectations while they invest nothing in it. Great Post!
    Brian recently posted..My Personal Anti Back Row Campaign

    • Amen. I didn’t really get into it, but everywhere I go, I always notice the proverbial “members” who never show up, except on the important days, like the hypothetical day to vote on the pastor’s salary.

    • Green Eggs and Ham February 10, 2011 at 1:20 am

      Taking that much a relationship just doesn’t seem healthy.

    • Rebecca Waldenberg March 27, 2013 at 3:48 pm

      If one is spiritually healthy enough to hang out in an abusive church, or be abused by church people within the church, then Great. Sometimes God removes us to tend to our woundings, lead us beside still waters, give us good pasture and undo layers and layers of damage, which may or may not be initiated by the church, but may be perpetuated by the church.

      As wounded people enter the church’s doors, they can become prey for those who will continue to wound. God is personal and always loving. The Good Shepherd, knows his sheep and searches for them and loves each of them with a holy love, meant to bring about wholeness.

      Remember religious addictions can replace other addictions and people can remain stuck. Thankfully God is the author and finisher of our faith. Being shamed into sticking around and taking it on the chin, isn’t always helpful. Unfortunately many people who enter the doors, leave more wounded then when they began. Where does one turn to, if the God they placed their hope in looks like the people who have abused them in His very Own House.

      When I hear the world call out our hypocrisy on many levels I realize repentance should begin the house of the Lord, and maybe asking for forgiveness is not such a bad thing, as many of the world, have only us to compare Christ’s message to.

  4. Hey, Matt. I’ve definitely been on the receiving end of such hurt. My wife and I, along with our two-year-old son, recently responded to God’s calling to pastor a church in Missouri, which meant moving over 1,000 miles away from family and friends. After about three months, it started to become apparent that we would never be allowed to lead in a way that Biblical (let alone productive). At one point, I had the chairman of our church board look me straight in the eye and say, “Who do you think you are? Your job is to visit hospitals and preach. Leave the decision-making to us.” It hurt. To think that we sacrificed so much and that we trusted the promises of the pastoral selection committee (mostly of the “we want someone to lead us to take the next step…” variety). We just didn’t see it coming. A lot changed that day. We’re still in ministry, but certainly not at that church. We’ve spent some time licking our wounds and trying to make sense of it all, but sometimes there is just so little sense to be made. I still believe in the Church, and I still believe that God will use Her to usher in His Kingdom, but it just goes to show how much room we have for growth and how much we need His grace.

    Keep up the great work. I read all the time. Know that I find encouragement in what you’re doing.
    Josh recently posted..New Stuff

    • That’s awful. I’ve heard of pastors getting into that situation. Sounds like your church may have had a “patriarch” – an unofficial senior member who “owned” the church. You were there to pray over the potluck dinners. Pitiful for those churches.

      • Yeah, that’s pretty much exactly what happened. It’s a shame, but when confronted with similar situations, I see why pastors become discouraged and leave the ministry. Since this time, though, I have really had a heart for these churches and the pastors that serve in them. It just seems to me that the church and her pastors were meant to be so much more than this. Thanks for the reply.
        Josh recently posted..New Stuff

    • It seems that much of the hurt comes from one of two extremes: The pastor out of control/controlling (which was our situation recently) or the pastor not allowed to create the control the church needs.
      Kathryn recently posted..Ill be honest –

  5. Great perspective, Matt. Yes, I’ve been hurt by other Christians, and yes, it’s because there’s really no such thing as unconditional love except for the love God has for us.
    katdish recently posted..Schedules and such

  6. A few years ago, I wrote a montly column in a local newspaper. One of them was an apology. From that column I received several hundred e-mails, 99% of which were positive. Several of the respondents become e-mail friends and I had wonderful discussions with people about faith. It was an interesting experience.
    seekingpastor recently posted..Death of a Woman

  7. Wow, I have written about the total stupidity of some churches on my blog many times. You said it all right here: “I have come to believe that the people who are hurt the most by the church are the ones who care most about the church.”

    I could write a hundred stories. The most painful one was when the pastor recommended divorce when my ex-wife and I were there for a counseling session. You can’t even imagine what that was like. Of course it didn’t happen right then, but it sowed a seed that she finally acted on 6 or 7 years later as she spiraled down in her addiction. They preached family from the pulpit, reconciliation, being there for one another and the power of God to restore – and then that – that was the best they had?! I am still shocked.

    I have never really been much of a leader in church, so the opportunity to offend was rarely there. I am sure the church has been hurt by some of the things I have done over the years. Of course they just whisk you away like you’re a leaper. I have been asked to leave a couple of churches because I challenged the leadership (privately, and quietly) over doctrine and what I considered to be bad teaching.

    I haven’t heard anyone apologizing for being stupid in church. I think it is a good idea for the congregation where things happen – not broadcast on the Internet and TV.

    In the end, the folks that get hurt the worst are the ones that only see the church in the news and never seek Jesus because of it. Public fights over doctrine, land, mosques, and non-religious political isseus just make it a circus.

    I was studying the early churches approach to evangelism for a class I am teaching – It’s a message about Jesus, who he was, and what he did; that’s all. Then it was backed up with power, healing, signs and wonders. The woman that got healed yesterday at church of painful varicose veins is probably the best messenger we have this week.

    Great blog, Matt.
    David recently posted..Curtis Forbes- Man of God

  8. It’s interesting to me how people outside the church claim so much to have been “hurt” by the church. It’s not that I doubt their feelings, it’s just that you’ve not known hurt until you’ve been on a church staff (or a member of a church staff family). There are no more hurtful or mean people than those within the church (I’m sure myself included at times). You know that no better than when you’re in ministry. And it always seems to catch you by surprise because you expect better from “Christians.”

    I think, more than hurt, people are disappointed by the church. They come to church expecting to find perfect people and instead find sinners. When “church” doesn’t stack up to be a Utopian society meeting all their needs with minimal commitment on their part, they leave over the slightest “hurt.”

    I guess, similar to your marriage analogy (which is a good one), I see church as a family. You don’t choose who is in your family, and sometimes they treat you like crap. But they’re still your family and there’s no escaping that, so you might as well make the best of it. Accept them for who they are and where they are and stop focusing on their bad points because surely you have a couple of them too.

    As far as apologizing…eh…I guess I see it more as explaining than apologizing. My husband has ADD. Sometimes his words or behavior are shocking or hurtful to people when he a) had zero intention to shock or hurt and b) has no idea that he was acting inappropriately. I can explain to people what he meant in a less shocking/hurtful way and smooth over the situation (a skill for which he is usually grateful). Similarly, I can explain to folks outside the church that church goers are sinners, etc. and that the only expectation one should have of them is that they’re going to screw up just like everyone else.

    I think the bottom line is looking on our fellow church goers in love instead of judgment. When we “show we are Christians by our love for each other,” then others’ perspectives will slowly change as well. As usual, it starts with us and our attitudes.
    Princess Leia recently posted..Shoeboxes!

    • “I think, more than hurt, people are disappointed by the church. They come to church expecting to find perfect people and instead find sinners. When “church” doesn’t stack up to be a Utopian society meeting all their needs with minimal commitment on their part, they leave over the slightest “hurt.””

      I agree with you. I don’t know who started the lie that Christians are supposed to be perfect, and Christianity is about achieving perfection- but in my experience that’s what a lot of non-Christians believe, and it’s impossible to meet their expectations. They leave because the church is full of sinful people, who don’t look a whole lot different than the rest of the world. Until we get the message out that it’s about having Jesus as a savior, not being perfect or doing the right thing- I think people will continue to be blinded by their misconceptions and talk about their pain inflicted by the church.

  9. Good thoughts here. I am currently doing “church detox”… two years and a few months after that deep hurt. I love the church; I weep for the church. Most days I do not feel like apologizing for the way we hurt each other, I just want to smack us all.

    I never thought about my own hurt being because I loved so much. It is true. My own vulnerability, loyalty and trust made the wound deeper, more painful and the process of losing and leaving felt like a divorce. I often say I feel discarded. Forgotten and forsaken by those I loved unconditionally because their love was full of conditions: Tow the line. Keep your mouth shut. Focus straight ahead. Don’t ask any questions. Plato’s cave allegory comes to mind.

    Your post gives me much to think about. Thank you.
    (ps found you through a Glynn Young RT on twitter)

    • Glad you stopped by. I guess I was in “detox” for a long time, though I was somewhat trapped in ministry, so I never left. The last few years have been very therapeutic.

    • Jessica I’m glad you stopped by here too. Matt is a good guy and often makes me think. There are some great people who read his blog and post here too. I’ve lived through tons of painful stuff at church too. For me there is a sense of grief and loss. It’s always good to find others who understand.
      Linda B. recently posted..What I Think About Late at Night…

  10. Matt, thank you for writing this. I can’t say I agree 100% with everything in it, but thank you. I needed to hear this.

  11. In college/university settings, I wonder how much the “term” “Christian” has lost it’s original meaning.

    Whether true or not, it seems many of the profs (at least the one I’ve had) underscore Christianity’s power abuses, exclusivity, hardheadedness, and when the homosexual issue comes up — hatred. In my opinion, those are four characteristics that are anti-Christian. So the question is, “When do we do away with a term because it no longer communicates what it originally meant?”

    If the term “Christian” was associated with humility, inclusiveness, love and openness, I’d wear it the label happily.

    So, do we redeem the term or create a new one?

    • Initially, wasn’t the term derogatory? “Little Christ” was to make fun of those who believed, not to show off their good qualities.

      I tend to prefer the term “believer” personally since “Christian” is just as much a cultural reference as it is a religious/spiritual one, but at the same time, “our God is a God of second chances” (the Gospel according to VeggieTales). I don’t think that any term or symbol (or person) is beyond redemption. I think it boils down to us (whoever “we” are and classified by whatever term suits you) acting the way we’re supposed to. Loving each other (primarily) so that we create a community that is too inviting to ignore, and representing our Savior in the best possible way.
      Princess Leia recently posted..Shoeboxes!

      • Instead of asking, “When do we do away with a term because it no longer communicates what it originally meant?”, I should have asked, “Do we do away with a term (Christian) when it no longer communicates to others what it is meant to communicate to them?”

  12. I was hurt by people in the church when I was a young teenager. My father reminded me at that time that people are always people, even Christians. And church is a “hospital for sinners.” That gave me perspective and helped me to forgive.
    To this day, however, I wish those in the church would realize that same perspective. :)

  13. Our family has been going through these same thoughts over the past year. Long story short, we left our church of 7 years over a theological issue we found serious enough to split from. The problem is that I have focused more on a lot of little hurts from this church instead of the more serious issue that there are people in this church who either don’t believe or know that they are sinners because the leaders of the church won’t tell them.

    Since then, we’ve been having a hard time finding a church where we fit in, because we want to get invested in the same way as the old church, but they don’t have a need for us to serve in the same capacity as before. It hurts my wife more, because she used to be on the worship team, and the worship pastor at this church doesn’t seem to be interested. It feels like you’re being rejected by the church, and who wants to go through that again?

    At the same time, I wonder if it is an unfair expectation to have for the church to meet all your emotional/spiritual needs and if it is selfish on our part to expect that the new church will just make way for us when we’ve been going there less than a year.

    Either way, it’s been tough to connect at this church, so we have been trying to keep it low-maintenance, even though we want it to be higher-maintenance.
    Russ recently posted..Things you’ll never see on my car

    • I hear you. It’s probably only going to open you up to more disappointment to put such high expectations on the church, just like with any relationship. Ideally for me, a church ought to let people serve in what capacity they are able, but new members do need to stick around for a while. Our church made the opposite mistake of yours – we let people fresh off the street get involved. It was a disaster.

      • You make a good point, Matt… I really only have one church experience to draw from, and that was our last one. I think the fact that they were so eager to get us involved was rooted in the other problems that we were having there. It sounds very similar to the disaster that you mentioned… people who didn’t profess a faith in Christ were serving in youth ministry and other things. And we aren’t really members at the new church yet, so it makes sense that they wouldn’t offer the big opportunities without getting to know us yet.
        Russ recently posted..Things you learn in an ice storm

  14. Good food for thought. Not sure I agree with everything either, but that’s a good thing. Thank you.

  15. Wow. What an awesome post!

    This completely resounded with me. About 8 months ago, my husband and I were kicked off the team of a para-church ministry, after I quit my job working as the assistant to the head of that ministry. We had been there for 7 years, and in that time, in my position as personal assistant, I witnessed the carnage the leaders in that ministry left behind. My husband often had questions for the head of the ministry, and when I was no longer willing to work as his assistant, we weren’t really worth the trouble of keeping around I guess. At this point though, so many people have been kicked out of that ministry or left in hurt in anger, that we could form a small country. ; ) That’s the short story, anyway. I could write a book about this (but I won’t).

    Anyway, I realize that no one, no Christian, no church, no ministry is perfect. As they say, if you find a perfect church, don’t join! It won’t be perfect anymore! It’s too bad we are such dysfunctional family though. The whole “we’ll be known by our love” thing just seems…unlikely to be true at times.

    In the end, I would love to receive a phone call from the leaders in that ministry, asking for my forgiveness for all that went down in those 7 years. But I know that probably will never happen. So, I can’t wait for an apology. But I do need to forgive. Because in the end, the only one who gets hurt from not forgiving them is me. And besides, I am very aware that I have been in need of forgiveness myself, on a daily basis. To not forgive them is, in essence, believing I am more worthy of forgiveness in someway. And that’s just not true. All have fallen short….

  16. I think there are at least two kinds of “church hurt” that I have encountered, one of which bothers me more than the other. You talked about one in your post, the kind that is more personal, or affects those of us inside the church who care deeply and are disappointed. There is another kind that I sometimes feel the need to apologize for, because it is more generalized. In the example I see a lot, it is the pain inflicted because they were born female.

    I have belonged to churches that marginalize women (all in the past), but have known people in churches that go much further to dismiss more than half of humanity on the basis of gender. I have heard men preach about how women shouldn’t hold jobs because it puts them in a position of submission to men other than their husbands or fathers, and that all women should be in a permanent position of submission to one or the other of these, no matter what. I have seen physical and sexual abuse dismissed as family matters, adultery treated as something the wife had to just get past (if she weren’t outright blamed for it) and watched as men disregard the needs and pain of their wives and daughters because of their conviction of their own superiority.

    I am not apologizing for the actual, biblical teaching of the church or apologizing for Christ, it is the fact that in some places, among some groups, sin had become doctrine. Jesus doesn’t hurt people, but people using their Jesus clubs to keep other people in line do a huge amount of damage. Since these folks always believe they have the Truth, to the victims it is the church hurting people and for that, I don’t hesitate to apologize. These people are impeding the lost from finding redemption, and it is the lost who will suffer most from that.

  17. I have definitely been hurt by churches and even The Church. Of course, I am fully committed to it and expect to be hurt. For starters, we are told that God “disciplines those He loves” (Proverbs 3:12), so we know pain is a part of growth. But of course there are those who have hurt me (whether intentionally or not). It caused me to change my approach.

    I love conditionally. My conditions: If you exist, I love you.

    Do I always live up to that condition? No. I have my moments when I am in control. But, by God, I am not willing to stay there!
    Daniel M. Klem recently posted..Confronting doubt with Truth

  18. There’s an old AA maxim: “Expectations are pre-conceived resentments”

    God is usually theoretical and fantastical for us when we’re alone. In church God gets specific and people with all their dignity and tragedy are in the mix. It’s a recipe for hurt, but then again in the age of decay loss is unavoidable. Probably like with a marriage, the real strength of the relationship is tested by pain. “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

    Great post! pvk
    Paul VanderKlay recently posted..Personality Disorders in the Church

  19. I’ve been hurt badly by churches and Christians in the past. It’s taught me that churches are made up of nothing more than human beings and you can expect that some of them will be bitter, vindictive, etc. and some of them will be called “Pastor.” It’s just the way things have always been. No human is perfect.

    As for the apologizing…I’d say church bashing has become a sport among segments of the Christian community. It gets people a lot of validation and support…especially from the non-Christian world. Just start calling the church a bunch of hypocrites or other term and watch the world flock to prop you up for it.

    It’s as if we’ve reached the point people expect an apology if they’re offended by a church if it reads a passage from the Scripture which doesn’t support what that person wants to do. There’s a fine line between apologizing for a genuine mistake and apologizing just to keep someone happy.
    Jason recently posted..Day 30- Random driving thoughts &amp God’s unusual next step

  20. Great post – thank you!

    As someone who has served actively in ministry since the age of 12, then went and married herself a pastor, I wholeheartedly agree that the people who are hurt most are the people closest to it.

    I have been burned multiple times by multiple churches but I can tell you I am still in love with the Church, the Bride of Christ. I am currently nursing a very tender wound from a church and yet I still find my heart grieving for orphans and homeless and those whose struggle is beyond their means.

    My husband and I were talking recently about how Jesus is attractive, church is not. Which really, kind of makes me sad, that an average person’s first impression of church is not Jesus and his love, mercy and grace.

    I know I should be doing a better job of representing the Church and asking God to help me create a good first impression of Him.

    Thanks for your post!
    Jen C recently posted..Get Real

  21. I became a prodigal daughter when my campus Bible study leader questioned whether I was a Christian when I rejected her advice to dump a guy. In retrospect, I should have dumped him because he was leading me away from Christ, but that wasn’t the reason she gave me. She gave me reasons like “He’s not Christian, he’s a Catholic.” and basically attacking him. There were other issues, like some very vocal Christians in my family that acted more like pagans and the fact that a Catholic told me that I was going to hell because the Catholic church was first, which meant that it was the only one with good doctrine.

    Since returning and putting my faith back on Jesus, I have experienced my kid’s godfather cheat on his wife and divorce her after entering the ministry, a pastor hurt people around him with his control freakiness and inability to take a break when he really needed to do so and other painful things. But my prodigal days taught me not to focus on other people because they will certainly disapoint you, just as I know that I have disappointed other people. Keeping your focus on Jesus is the only way to withstand these trials and heartbreak from brothers and sisters in Christ.
    Tandeming Troll recently posted..Catch phrases

  22. Five and a half years after I started going to a church, our pastor felt called to a different church in a different state.

    The other times when a pastor left as a result of sin, the congregation came together in unity and found a new pastor. Unfortunately, even with the very amicable exit, the new pastor search was not to be as peaceful.

    Three board members were given the responsibility to find and interview potential pastors. These men spent countless hours praying, reading the Word, and seeking God’s will for the church. They interviewed many men who just weren’t the right fit. And then they had the audacity to meet with a pastor who was not accredited by that particular denomination. As a result, these 3 men of God (one served on the board for decades) and their families were eventually not only removed from leadership, but were basically ousted from the congregation in a very cruel and hateful way.

    I was not personally hurt by what happened at that church, but I witnessed attitudes and behaviors that were unbecoming of anyone, let alone Christians. I had a choice to make: Do I let God truly reign or do I stay in a church that puts God in a box?

    Many of us left that church, and today are in the flock of the man the board members were never supposed to talk to. I have grown so much in the past several months – more so than I did in the 5 1/2 years at my previous church. The sad thing, is that there is still so much bitterness toward those who left and toward our new church.

    My encouragement for everyone is to put all of your trust in the Lord. Do not dwell on what people do to you, but allow Christ to truly reign in your life. Forgive them, and follow Him.

    Psalm 73:25-26 – Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

    (Sorry this is so long for my first comment.)
    Sarahbeth recently posted..What I Want

  23. My father, who is a pastor, went through almost the same situation that Josh went through. He moved from NC to MI to pastor a small church in a rural farming community. He loved the church and the people in it, but as time went on they wanted to constrict his messages and preaching style more and more. He eventually was forced to leave by the elders and deacons of the church. And is now not allowed to preach in the denomination he was ordained in due to the fact he stood up for what he believed God was calling him to preach. It is sad and hurt the community, our family and my Dad. But he is still working for God everyday and his faith is stronger than ever!
    Meredith Moore recently posted..Who Would Jesus Hang With

  24. I agree that a lot of hurt is more possible with emotional investment, but perhaps the largest amount of hurt in churches occurs to people who are emotionally invested for the right reasons, dished out by the people who are emotionally invested for the wrong reasons.

    It seems to me a lot of church hurt is shelled out by those seeking power, position, prestige and the hammer blow falls hardest on those trying to be true to the intent of the gospel.

      • Just sat through a minister’s fraternal meeting and so many in the room had been recently eviscerated by congregations – unsigned and poisonous letters, people waving constitutions and the like. The last person who wrote to others with scathing attacks on my ministry (without talking to me first) recently exposed as having an affair. It’s not really the “church” doing the damage as much as those who say they are saved but don’t live like it.
        Andrew recently posted..Turned Selous Scout mission

  25. This is something i’d not thought of before, that the pain comes from caring.

    We were actually kicked out of a church last spring because we had attended other churches. Well, we were told that we were welcome to come sit and listen to the message, but we would not be allowed to take communion.

    The reason that we took that option (visiting other churches) was that the pastor had become quite caustic in his preaching and was veering off the deep end. He preached that no other church in the area was “doing it right” (and we have 25 churches in this small resort town). We didn’t believe it. We were invested in the church, we were on the council, we didn’t want to leave but had a hard time seeing how we could stay. They made it easy for us to break from them – refusing to allow communion is pretty major.

    We are healing, but yes, i still hurt. Mostly because i think of the folks left, the folks listening to that pastor preach bondage week after week, and they seem to believe what he is telling them. We tried to get the elders involved in the heresy he began preaching, but they feel he is too educated to make errors. I KNOW that it is their choice to sit there and listen to (or tune out) his caustic words, but i still hurt for them because i don’t think most of them see the problem or that they have a choice.

    I had never formally joined a church before. We did it so that we could serve the church. I’m not sure we’ll make that commitment again, although in some of the churches we’ve visited it is necessary in order to serve the church.

    Several years ago (while in massage school) i took a class on energy. The instructor had each of us share our religious background (because some from certain faiths could be offended by the class content). There were 10 of us in the class, plus an instructor. Each of them had a very painful story of how they had been damaged by the church – and i think all but myself had left organized religion. I ached for them. I still do. I did apologize, i think, but it was more of a statement of how i do not believe that God desired for them to experience such pain.
    Kathryn recently posted..Ill be honest –

  26. Fantastic post. Timely post. You’re right on in this church.

    Surely, I have given the church more reasons to give up on me, yet it never has. And, without a doubt, things have happened where I could have easily (or wanted to) give up on the church – but I love it too much. I am part of it, and it is part of me – together we make up the blushing bride of Christ… we need each other, whether we are willing to recognize it or not.
    Heather Joy recently posted..Unlikely things

  27. I think churches sometimes break down for the same reason families break down… someone does something that harms the other people involved. I’ve been involved in many churches over the years… part of the time on staff and part of the time as an active part of the body. I’ve seen several of them end in horrible devastation or seen them limping along like the living dead because of pastoral meltdowns, or marital infidelity, or sexual abuse and scandal. I’ve seen them ripped apart by power struggles and individuals desires to control everything wounding the people who got caught in the crossfire. I’ve seen men an women who have been faithful to pastor and minister ripped apart by people in the congregation who had their own agendas. I’ve seen people wounded by well meaning, inexperienced people. I’ve seen people in leadership get away with things that were unhealthy for them and the congregation much the same way an abusive or alcoholic father or mother can devastate a family without being stopped for years.

    Most of the people I know who still feel the sting of being hurt in the church aren’t angry, bitter people. They are people who grieve the loss of a family they loved and cared for. I spend a good amount of time with others who have been wounded helping them recover from the experience. And yes I do apologize to them. The bigger picture is that we are all a part of His body. Even though the parents of the man who did the recent shootings in Arizona didn’t kill anyone… I’m sure they felt the pain and the agony of knowing that their son wounded and killed so many people. I know that God’s heart is tender to those who have been wounded …sometimes in His name. The church machine can do horrible things to people. But we as the body can offer hope and healing and restoration. I don’t want to stop at apologizing. I want to be part of the solution.
    Linda B. recently posted..What I Think About Late at Night…

  28. Hello Matty,

    I don’t think Christians should apologize anymore than anyone else. Most people have standards they try to live by and most people can’t live up to their own standards much less someone else’s. All people behave badly and should apologize and endeavor to make things right.
    My father, brother and husband are all pastors. I’ve had more than my share of church. I could easily walk away, but you can’t affect change from the outside and we’re supposed to meet together regularly as a body. Relationships are difficult and life is messy! If you believe in a God who loves, heals and restores, then suck it up or go somewhere else and quit your whining.

    Have a Happy Day!

    Lazy Silly Girl

  29. Say what you would like about Miller, but his critique and passion was one of the few things that made me reconsider the Christian church. I find their honest review and critique, and acknowledgment of imperfection seems more in the spirit of Jesus (who was into forgiving sinners, not being superior to them, not being ultimately right). Saying “I’m Sorry” is a form of radical love.

    I disagree with your statement that all of the self-criticism will make Christianity seems like a bastion of evil. Individual eyes can discern evil, and how often is it in those who are sorry? I think acknowledging that it is a community of human beings who make mistakes and are trying to fix them (which I get the impression from Miller and the other apologist) probably do more to reach out to those who do /not/ believe in Jesus than re-iterations of “Jesus is the light and the truth”.

  30. Green Eggs and Ham February 10, 2011 at 1:30 am

    I’m a PK. I have not been in church in 25 years. Churches are dangerous places. Deconversion was a long process, but leaving was essential to stop the hurting, and no, no one physically or sexually abused me.

    Seriously, to all of you, why do you stay if it hurts you so much?

  31. Four months ago, I was hurt enough to walk away from my church of 30 years. It was the hardest thing I had ever done. The new pastor was not pastoring. I was going through a hard time and he never offered to pray with me. Another member lost his job and went to the pastor for wisdom and was told “That’s too bad; the economy is tough.” No prayer, no guidance. He didn’t prepare sermons but rambled through them, often beginning by looking at the bulletin and saying “What did I underline today?” from the lessons we had just read. I don’t completely blame him. Second career pastor and we were his first call and nothing was put in place to guide him. I was a very active member; taught Sunday school, led youth group, sang on choir but felt as if I was not growing spiritually. I vented my frustrations in what should have been a safe forum, in order to keep my frustrations outside of the church. Someone elected to drag it in there for me and to attempt to lynch me and my family. The pastor is VERY close to six people in there and they were the six who preferred to attack me than to consider that there could be room for any other opinions.
    Had it not happened, however, I would still be there feeling spiritually bankrupt. But we left and found a church home we love; a place that is alive and active in the community and in helping the lives of those less fortunate. It was an answer to prayer but sadly God had to hit me with a brick to realize it.
    Kimberly recently posted..Kindness and Understanding that Have Your Back

  32. I have an very long story about abuse from a church but the real reason I’m not able to get into as I would like is…our former pastor’s wife monitors facebook & twitter. Still holding out hope to be used in a healthy church. :(

  33. Lad, Your writing is so vague and ambiguous that one cannot tell if you are pro or con church/Christian; terms which you leave poorly defined. You don’t have to be a lightening rod but please straighten up and stand for something! In other words put fire in your sermon or put your sermon in the fire.
    Agape, An Old Man

  34. I have seen several instances that would render your argument useless. Children harmed by church, for one.

  35. Hi Matt! I’m so glad I found this blog. The church I’ve attended over the past decade or so has recently become more of a social clique overtaken by exclusivity and gossip. As for social media, one “digital imprint” of this is how church members have suddenly started “defriending” other church members on Facebook but keeping only the Inner Circle players on their friends lists. Years back this church did have a warm and accepting family like atmosphere and I DID feel as if church members gave each other support and unconditional love. Now however, the feelings of slander and division are getting worse. I’m not sure what to do and in the meantime have stopped attending church all together.

  36. I found your post out of desperation in searching for ways to cope with my hurt and find others who may have experienced my similar pains. I am a missionary and have been hurt deeply by my home church. Rather, I should say the pastor is where the hurt stems from. I have not gotten the support and encouragement I have needed since day one when I approached him about going on the field. While at the same time, others in my church stepped on the foreign mission field and they were recognized from the pulpit and are constantly praised and paraded around to the point of sickening idolization. I cringe now when their names are mentioned and I should not feel this way toward my brothers and sisters. I don’t want that kind of “propped up” recognition. But what I do want is for the church to support me. I want them to at least know who I am and what I am doing so that they can pray for me. It is a large church and it is hard to know who is a member and who is a guest. I am constantly “blocked” by this pastor and I don’t know why. I have just returned from the field for a short furlough and I have not even been welcomed home. Today in church I walked up to my pastor and he just looked at me with a look of contempt. I started to smile and say “Good morning!” He didn’t give me the chance. He gave me the hateful look then turned his back to me. (!!) What is this about???? It hurts deeply. I licked these wounds on the field and now I have salt being poured in them. I cannot go back out like this. I have prayed and asked God to help me forgive every single day. This is going nowhere and I am very discouraged.

  37. The hardest part for me is my desire to return to a Christian community. I realize that the church is made up of people just like me who have failed others, but after abuse in ministry and when returning home back to the young people I grew up around, my new passion for Christ, serving, the world, and mostly for prayer and intimacy with God was greeted by a rock wall of people who only cared to gossip, be “Holier than thou”, and would rather sit around discussing the intensity and difficulty of having a crush than pray or dig into scripture. And when prayer or sharing life did come around, the difficulties in your life better not be more intense than than their crush. I attempted to receive counsel as well to heal from the abuse and was put on hold for over a year. Many friends have left this church because of a lack of depth.

    In the last year of not attending I have found forgiveness for them and desperately want to return and speak to them. Tell them about Jesus and have the Spirit light a fire. However, I am at a loss for how to do this. Especially since my life is considered “radical” in both directions. (both in my beliefs for Jesus and my lifestyle). And if not returning to them, I have a great fear of attending any church and being rejected again.

  38. Preaching on forgiveness and unconditional love does nothing to reconcile a victim of church – in fact it’s what makes bad or toxic church such an assault on faith – the wounded member is now asked to forgive and ignore the hurt – a kind of underhanded judgment – to add insult to injury – to now play the victim against Jesus Himself – it makes the teachings of Jesus more inaccessible, impossible to practice – to the point of abandoning the faith as well as the church.

  39. i really dont know much about church..Jesus saved me from me..i was involved with
    in outreach/coffee houses, it made sense..church never did. i found healthier and moral
    relationships with my old drug dealers in comparison to the “church” …ive returned
    to a renewed relationship with Christ..a bout with alcoholism brought this about.
    in AA i learned repentance, transparency..when i attempted to bring “my problem”
    to church ( confess thy sins so u MAY be healed) i was , for lack of a better
    discriptive..chewed up and spit out) i will stick with Jesus and i shall read more of
    this church you speak of. great posts. timely for me.

  40. I was told about a situation in the church involving of the youth (17 yr old) that served with the intercessors. He was dealing with a situation, a serious one that should have been told to him mother or our leader so he could get help. Instead, his mentor, a 45 year old woman told me about it, called him schizophrenic, said he really needs to talk to a counselor but she hasn’t told him mom, and told me how she allowed him to bring his boyfriend to her house and they were making out in her drive way. Keep in mind everyone here are Christians and have certain beliefs, so I thought. I told her she needs to tell him mom or someone to get him help or counseling. She said she wouldn’t tell! So now I am faced with a crucial situation. I prayed for about 1 mo and 1/2 and finally called the Lead Intercessor and expressed my concern. I told her that I was told that he may need help and I was concerned about him not getting the help he needs from his so-called mentor. Well, that was twisted. The Head Intercessor told him mom that I called her judging her son and calling him gay, which is not what I did. Not only did she tell his mom who served with us this outright lie, she also told several intercessors, and finally the pastor of the church. Some of the people who were told decided to spread the rumor/lie around so people who spoke to me no longer spoke any more. Some people were giving me nasty looks. The Minister of Music looked at me as he was leading worship, stopped singing, looked at the boy in the church, and looked at me with this face of disgust. I put two and two together and knew the lie got to him. Then the pastor decided to make “me” the target of his messages about taught on how not to judge people for 1.5 mos straight until I got tired of it and finally left. The last time I was at that bible study with the pastor he walked over towards my chair, looked at me dead in my eyes, and said go get your marbles and play somewhere else. I felt like I had died, literally. I could not wait till the benediction so I could leave. I had been dealing with suicide off and on since I was 15, now 32 and was struggling with it then. I wanted to take my life and wondered why would God allow him to talk down to me in front of everyone and make me look like I was a nobody. He was talking about not judging people but isn’t that what he did to me. It is interesting how you have to be careful not to be hypocritical yourself. Plus, I was treated this way based on a lie, a rumor, and no one asked me. The bible gives instruction on how to deal with issues and concerns and no one ever asked me or called me into their office to get the truth. The church so easily believes anything! That’s what hurt me the most is that what was said wasn’t true. I was speaking up as an adult looking out for someone’s child, b/c if it was my child that is what I would want someone to do for me, not know they are spiritually sick in an area and hide it from their parents. A parent who trusts you to mentor their child, yet I was made out to be the bad person. I had lost hope literally. I have forgiven each person involved, forgiven my self, and am trying to hold on to hope and have faith that God can still use me one day, despite how wreched I was treated by Godly, christian church people. How can I join another church. I have gotten free from suicide, but I don’t even go to church now for a sort of fear of being abused. I know this is not of God but I don’t know what to do. Any guidance.

  41. Hello,

    Every Christian should understand that they have been given equal rights (within the morality of Jesus Christ).

    Online Bible Study examines the New Covenant regarding our human rights instituted at its creation.

    Where does the right to personal liberty for men and women come from…(The Bible teaches all liberty comes from Jesus Christ).

    Suggestlink: http://whatisthenewcovenant.1hwy.com/index.html

    Online Bible Study takes a close look at God-given human-rights —Concluding that when Jesus Christ established the New Covenant He instituted a personal relationship with each believer and ended authoritarian religion.

    Thank you

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