Wounded by the Church

I was exposed to leadership insensitivities, hypocrisy, church politics and abuse of authority. At one point, the pressure was so suffocating I nearly had a nervous breakdown. I would drive around in tears while listening to worship music.

For the next two decades, I traveled extensively, conducting seminars and speaking in churches. Often I would not return to those churches or ministries that were in some way misrepresenting God’s Kingdom. On other occasions, I tried to bring balance to the errors I saw. Yet, I found it nearly impossible to remove a spiritual infection or deception in a weekend, or even a week. There are always deep-seated reasons for chronic illness, whether natural or spiritual, due to embedded patterns that need more than a conference to correct.

 When I planted a church and began to pastor in 1997, I found myself reclusive when it came to other churches, even elated when I didn’t have to visit them anymore. This, of course, was not healthy. Over time, I have seen the dysfunction isolation can bring. Therefore, I am committed to being completely healed—no longer in hiding.

Church wounds occur in two dimensions. The first dimension comes from agendas within the Church that are inflicted outside of it. Catastrophic abuses have been perpetrated in the name of Jesus Christ. Mention the Crusades, the Inquisition and the Ku Klux Klan to any pastor and see them cringe. Clearly, crazy didn’t start in the 21st century.

The second dimension of church wounds is interpersonal. These are breaches in relationship, whether person-to-person or person-to-God, initiated by a Christian. Some offenders seem to have a relationship with Jesus, but have intentionally wounded people. However, often the Christians who damaged others have done so inadvertently.

And pain did not remain in the pews.

In their book unChristian, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons point to research done by the Barna Group that shows 16- to 29-year-olds who are outside of the Church (outsiders) have lost much of their respect for the Christian faith. Two out of every five young outsiders (38 percent) claim to have a “bad impression of present-day Christianity.”

I don’t know what surprised me more when reviewing the Barna survey: learning 87 percent of outsiders consider Christians judgmental, or that 52 percent of churchgoers feel the same way. Similarly, 85 percent of outsiders believe Christians are hypocritical, while 47 percent of those within the Church feel the same way. Clearly, my experience of church wounds isn’t an isolated incident. And obviously, there is a problem—perception has become reality.

My intention is not to question the sincerity of ministers of Jesus, nor to undermine their gifts and callings. But, if we genuinely seek understanding, healing and restoration for all parties involved, we cannot sweep our indiscretions under the rug. We cannot wink at areas of church life and leadership that grieve the heart of God and need to change. Wounds are meant to be healed!

But why are church wounds so devastating?

Broken trust: When trust is broken, due to dishonesty or impropriety, this wounding assaults the core of our being. Because church leaders and believers claim to represent a God of love, church wounds are often the most damaging and lasting of these breaches of trust.

Deeper vulnerability: Those who represent God are often given access to the deepest part of a person’s being: the spirit. When a breach or misrepresentation occurs at this level, people feel uncovered and unprotected. This type of wounding affects not just our perception of the individuals involved, but can skew our relationship with God Himself, since we are His human representatives (2 Corinthians 5:20).

Expecting perfection: When someone is promised a genuine representation of God’s heart by a follower of Jesus, and significantly less is delivered, that person feels robbed. A violation has taken place.

I have seen four primary “stages” in people who have suffered church wounds: hostile, hurt, hindered or healed. Those who are hostile have tragically hardened their hearts to the healing process. Hurt individuals, on the other hand, have a sober choice: seek healing or wallow in the pain of past offenses. Our past hurts can hinder or help our healing, depending on how we deal with the insult. Healing must be the goal. A proper response to pain can bring passion and purpose to help others with comparable wounds.

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Someone willing to be healed will recognize Jesus came to give us life (John 10:10), so we must settle for no less than God intended. But they also must realize some church wounds are the result of our own insecurities, and therefore make us more susceptible to being hurt (Jeremiah 17:9, Ephesians 4:32). Yet, we are persuaded there is redemptive value in every situation any of us will ever experience in life, if we can but rise above it and respond well (Romans 8:28).

Finally, our purpose in offering loving counsel to those who have wounded others should never be to play the “blame game.” We must earnestly desire every leader to be equipped to minister to God’s people, and every wounded soul to be healed and move forward in their spiritual life (Ephesians 4:11-17, 1 Chronicles 16:22, Romans 13:7).

The God of love tries us best in relationships that are tested. And the mettle of our character is proven by our willingness to allow God’s love to cover our hurt and pain. I know God will heal my church wounds. And I know God will heal His church of Her wounds and make Her the agent of healing to a broken world.

This article originally appeared in Neue magazine.



70cricket commented…

Speaking as someone who has suffered abuse from the church, I really enjoyed your article. I have been struggling for 14 years to get thru the hostile and hurt phases and have now progressed to the hindered phase. My main confusion lies in where to go to begin the healing. I can't go back to the churches that inflicted the abuse because nothing has changed and to return there would just be doomed from the beginning. But to go anywhere else goes against my spiritual upbringing. I have been "marked" or "labeled" as incapable of salvation, and that to me is just an example of human fallacy trying to limit the power of the blood of Jesus. I would love to get some qualified counseling from a source that doesn't scoff at church as many of the mainstream "medical" counselors do. My story is way to long to even recap here, but I do want to thank you for a wonderful article!



Becky commented…

John Setser has authored a book on being wounded by the church called, "Broken hearts, Shattered Trust". A few years back, I was wounded by the church my family had been attending. The person I was wounded by has since moved on, but I have yet to go back to that church.

70Cricket, seek out John Setser at www.shatteredtrust.com. He does counseling and may be able to help you!! It definitely takes time to work through everything, and your view on things can get skewed by the events that happened to you...


Renee commented…

Hello! I was pleasantly surprised to see the title of this article as I was looking through my email. Especially having just discussed the topic at my church a day prior. During the discussion, our Pastor made some good points. She told us that it is not "church hurt" that we suffer from, because Christ is the head of the Church and what bad thing has Christ ever done to any of us? But that we suffer from "people hurt." The Church is imperfect because it is made up of imperfect people. From the Apostle, Pastor, Bishop, Minister, and member in the pew, we are all just humans. We all have similar desires, wants, thoughts, and a capacity to make mistakes, whether they be seemingly small or unbearably huge. If you've ever been to church, consider that, just as you walk in the door with your issues of anger, bitterness, distrust, lying, or what have you, so does the next person. We all have our issues and if we walk closely with Christ in obedience, He will no doubt remove these things from out of our hearts. But we must be willing. So when we go to church, the reason why we may suffer at the hand of another believer is because they too have come to church for the same reason we (hopefully) have. And that is to get better, healed, and mature to a place where they ought to be. Because they are not at the place they ought to be. At least not yet. Granted, the Bible speaks to us over and over about walking in love with our neighbors but unfortunately in a world where many people are crass, impatient, unloving, and bitter... hurt people... hurt people. So we should be patient and pray for one another and forgive so that we will not be hindered from our Father's forgiveness. And thinking on leaders, I am reminded of this passage, Romans 13:1-7, where it says(upon other things), "...there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God..." and Esphes. 6:10-20, where Paul reminds us to pray always and make supplication in the Spirit for ALL saints, remembering that there is an enemy that we cannot see who seeks to kill, steal, and destroy, not only us but especially our relationships. This enemy can only be combated in the Spirit. Therefore, sometimes it is not the person themselves that is unruly and ill-mannered but the spirit operating within them. Forgiving and letting go is not easy at all but I think we should take small steps towards it. Many times people who purposely hurt, do it out of their own hurt, and if we were to see their heart's pain and situation, we'd probably forgive them a lot easier. Our Pastor once shared a story with us that an Elder(I think or Minister) she was under was extremely nasty towards her always. She was just church member at the time. She said that eventually she was fed up and wanted to cuss the woman out and tell her off but the Lord warned her not to. (Touch not my annointing, do my prophets no harm) Because she was a woman of God she had to respect her even though the woman constantly hurt and offended her. The Lord told her to pray. She said that she prayed and prayed for the woman and later, it was revealed that her husband had been cheating on her and they were going to have to go through a divorce. We have to allow God to heal us and make us better so that when we go through rough situations we will not hurt those around us in the same way we experienced hurt. This was a great article and I enjoyed reading it. These were just some things that it reminded me of and I thought I should share! Thank you for allowing me to do so!

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