There is much discussion these days surrounding the topic of spiritual abuse and church hurt. Rightly so. It is an issue that requires great care in order that the evils allowed to stay hidden within the Church are brought to the forefront. These issues must be dealt with through the light and truth of the Gospel. Accountability is essential if the Church is to remain holy and healthy. This is true on the macro level of denominations and networks as well as on the street level with local church leadership. We as Christians should not flee from accountability, but embrace it as one of the ways we protect ourselves and our churches. Let it be known, I am pro-accountability. With that understood, it is equally vital to address the importance of not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. This aspect of the conversation can often be largely neglected and as a result, many have chosen to leave the Church in response to the hurt they have experienced. This is a problem. We must understand that even if we identify a problem correctly, the issue will not be fixed if we deal with the problem in an unbiblical way. In other words, even if the diagnosis is right, the illness will not be healed if the prescription is wrong. It is vital that we respond correctly (and by that I amean biblically) to all situations. This is especially true when dealing with the topic of church hurt.
At the risk of sounding dramatic, I believe it is beneficial to know that I do not speak on this topic without personal experience. I am one that can say first hand they have been burned, and burned bad, by the Church. I’ve been hurt, abused, manipulated, and lied to. I’ve had my local church family ripped away from me due to the sin of others. I’ve been falsely accused by those I thought were my friends. My fitness for ministry has been called into question for unbiblical reasons. I’ve had countless nights of anxiety and depression. I have had many moments and many earthly reasons to hate the Church. There have been many times where hatred was the easy response and I relinquished control of my emotions. I can recall a period of time where the only reason I darkened the doors of a local church was because I knew I was biblically commanded to do so. There was no desire. I hated being there. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I didn’t want to invest. I didn’t want to be there at all. Those were the darkest times in my life. I could go on in great detail because most of these things you don’t forget easily, but I will refrain for brevity’s sake. Please know, I understand what it means to be hurt by the Church and to be left alone to pick up the pieces.
Those that know me, read my stuff or listen to The Reformatory, they know I love the local church and try to center my life around it. I try to encourage others to do the same. Understanding where I have come from, I can wholeheartedly say this is only possible because of God’s unending grace in my life. He met me in my darkness and did not despise me. He knew my heart and was patient with me. He understood the pain I was wrecked with and provided for me in ways I did not think were possible. Yet it is most vital to understand that the Lord did not do this work in a vacuum. Nor was this work accomplished overnight. The healing I desperately needed was not accomplished apart from His people. The same place where I experienced the pain was the very place the Lord used to bring my healing, the local church. He was gracious enough to hold intact the conviction to gather with the local church and through that conviction He worked in my heart. I can honestly say I do not believe the healing I needed would have been accomplished in any other way. Choosing to abandon the local church or isolate myself from it would have resulted in a catastrophic result. God’s grace kept me in the place where I was the most uncomfortable and He worked wonders through that discomfort.
One of the most prevalent questions one has when going through dark times is “why?” I know this was the case for me. I remember asking through anger “why would you take the love I had for your people Lord? Why place me here? What good does it accomplish my being hurt in this way?” I will confess that in the moment, no answer came. I did not know what that pain accomplished nor why the Lord saw fit to place me in its path. Perhaps this is the case with you. Maybe you are in the middle of this storm right now. Maybe the rain is beating against your heart and the wind is making it hard to see. Maybe all you can do on a Sunday morning is simply keep yourself from crying. Maybe you can’t even do that. Please know, I’ve been there. It’s a unique hurt isn’t it? Perhaps you’ve been through this as I have and you are still struggling to understand the “why” in it all. Maybe the storm is over, but now you are faced with a heart and mind that are left decimated in the aftermath. Please know, I’ve been there.
Understand dear friend, the “why” very well may remain a mystery for a good while. You may have to be patient before you begin to understand God’s purpose in the pain. That will not be easy. If you are like me, waiting is not your strong suit. You want to know the reason because it makes healing easier. Or so you think. One of the hardest parts for me is being patient through this time. Maybe this is where you are at right now. You look back at the heartache and wonder, “what was that all about?” It’s a hard place to make camp in. Yet be encouraged. There will come a day when you see that person walk through the doors of the church with “that face.” That face you know all too well because it’s the face you have seen in the mirror for so long. It’s the face of someone simply trying to hold it together. The face of someone who is trying to make sense of things and deep down, understands the hope they need is found somewhere in that pew. You will then, perhaps a little, begin to understand the reason for the storm. You may be used by Jesus to help bring comfort to another that is going through the same things you did. Because you get it. Because God loved you enough to place you in those hard times so that His grace would shine through you. Then you will begin to see the purpose in that pain and you will be able to care for your family in the way you were cared for. Jesus will complete the work. Trust Him.
Dear reader, I know the pain is real. I understand how dark it feels. I know there doesn’t seem to be an end. I know things are confusing and painful. I know what it feels like to worship alongside people you think may hurt you. I know what it feels like to sing songs when the words on the screen or in the hymnal feel empty. I understand what it means wake up on Sunday morning with a pit in the stomach. Please, listen to the plea of one that understands. Do not abandon the the local church. Do not forsake gathering with God’s people. Walk through the door. Sing through the tears. Pray through the heartache. Know that you are not alone. There are people there that are going through the same thing you are. There are people there that understand. Above all, know this: Jesus is there in that pew with you. He understands what it’s like to be abandoned by those closest to Him. He knows the pain of betrayal. He knows the sting of abandonment. He understands better than anyone what you are going through. Even the simple act of showing up is a sweet act of worship. He will show His strength through your frailty. He will show His sufficiency through your weakness. He will walk with you through the pain and will prove Himself to be the Faithful Shepherd. He promises to never leave you, never forsake you and to be with you till the end of the age. The hope you are looking for is found in Jesus. He will complete the work He began in your heart. He will restore your joy. He will restore your peace. He will restore the love you had for His Church. He did with me and He used His people to do it. Jesus will complete the work. Trust Him.
So this Lord’s Day, I would bid you to gather. Gather even though it’s hard. Gather even though the desire isn’t there. Gather even though the trust is broken and the pain is raging. Gather and plead your case to the Almighty and know that He cares for you because you are His child. Bring your joys and sorrows to the throne room of grace, lay them at your Father’s feet and know that He is Lord of them both. Gather and know that you will never be alone.
My hurting friend, I beg you to not abandon the local church. Press into the pain. That is where you will find Jesus, fellowshipping with His people. Trust Him.