Church, (and even Church leadership!!) is full of broken and sinful people, just like you and me. We are all on a journey of faith, sanctification and messily working out our salvation. People screw up, and I’m sure we can all vouch for that in our own lives. That being said, for reasons both spiritual and practical, the Church often manages to hurt those whom it should be caring for. A domineering leader who oversteps the mark, an unfair criticism, or a plain case of spiritual abuse. I’ve experienced all three first hand. It hurts.
See, the Church is a place where we let our guard down and get honest with those around us. Therefore it is risky, and we open ourselves up to the possibility of getting damaged and hurt. But when this does happen, we must be so careful not to abandon God. We must not view our past hurts as an excuse to take a venture into spiritual rebellion. This never turns out well. Plus, we are not justified in our sin just because we have been sinned against.
You Are Responsible For Your Response
See, there is a big difference between Christians and Christ himself. Christ is perfect, Christians are not. Now, I’m not belittling the intense hurt and pain that Church-people can inflict on others. It must be accounted for now, and, ultimately, before God. But know this: being hauled before the judgement seat of the King is a much scarier prospect than any means of justice we can muster here on earth. This applies to both you and those who have inflicted pain on you. The difference moving forward? You can only account for your actions, and can only control how you respond to the situation. Leave the perpetrator to God. Strive for mercy and grace in your own life. More often than not, you’ve got to do what you can, let it go, and move on. You’re hurt, I get it. But the central question is: “what are you going to do now?”
Cynicism Is Boring
Sure, leaving the Church behind, pressing resentment close to your chest, and hating on those who find trust, hope and joy in a community of believers is one option. But it will never satisfy, fulfil or, most importantly, heal you from the past. Trust me. One thing I have learned: cynicism is boring. It’ll eat you up and suppress any spiritual growth you are hoping to obtain. It will kill your leadership potential, and, to be honest, make you a bit of a dull person to hang out with. So, we must relentlessly pursue healing for our past hurts in the Church. Get counselling, get prayer, and entrust the details of your situation to those who you are certain can handle the information sensitively.
Then, get back into a Church! It won’t be easy, and it might take you some time. It took me the best part of 2 years! It was tough. Stepping into a Church filled me with dread, apprehension and a fierce suspicion of leadership. I frequently endured stunted conversations, arms crossed, not wanting to give anything away. Cos’ I knew what happened last I opened up, right? It won’t be quick and painless, but please, persevere with the Church. Work through your stuff with carefully selected people. One thing is for sure: you will have learned a lot through your experiences. And God will use them for his Kingdom advance. He will use you to minister to others who find themselves in relational difficulty, and who have been hurt by those in their community of believers.
Don’t Live In The Past
Your past does not have to define you. My pastor was preaching on this yesterday and used the analogy of a writer and an editor, which was poignant for me: “You cannot write the story, but you get to choose the headline,” he said. What he meant by that was that you cannot control the trouble which may befall you. But you don’t have to let it define your future. The headline over your life indicates the direction in which you’re headed. Think of it being written across your forehead. Do you want this public statement to be full of victim-sentimentality, bitter nostalgia, and retrospective anger? Or do you want it to be full of hope, and a right view of yourself before God? I don’t know about you, but I’ll always take the latter.
Don’t give up on God. He was not the author of the hurt and pain that this person from the Church perpetrated against you. God is good, and he is merciful and kind. Do we need more God in the Church? Absolutely. We should strive for godly leadership, well-defined boundaries, higher levels of accountability and a perpetual increase of grace. But we must start with ourselves. Let’s not get angry, rebellious and hard-hearted against God or others. The Church needs those who have been hurt by it so that it can become all that God intends for it to be.
“Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” 2 Peter 1:2
Will Maule is a writer from Northern Ireland.