I’ve been asked to write about this topic before, and I always dismiss it. I don’t really know what to say about it, and I’m past it for the most part. But this week, someone I follow on Facebook posted a video about her church hurt and it got a lot of very mixed reviews because of some inflammatory things she said.
It got me thinking. One of my best friends says hurt people, hurt people. That was true here I think, although I don’t believe she intended to hurt anyone at all. The comments section was littered with carnage though. The hurt was plain, regardless of her intention.
If we are to be the body of Christ, the church should be filled with hurt people, should it not? That new Matthew West song (talk about an earworm) claims “church should be more like a hospital,” healing the spiritually unwell. I like this idea. But, it stands to reason that if hurt people, hurt people, why am I surprised when the church hurts me?
Expectation, that’s why. Oh expectation. You’re a real piece of work, you know that? Bring expectation to just about anything and you’re in for a rough ride. Bring it to prayer though, and that’s called faith. Remember the story about the town that was experiencing a drought, so they agreed to meet and pray for rain? All their voices together would surely reach the kingdom of heaven. But only one small boy brought an umbrella. Expectation.
When it gets hairy is when an unmet expectation comes to play. Relationships. Work. Plans. Church. This is cringy and messy, right? I told you what I need, and still you don’t do it. Logical conclusion: You don’t love me. Unmet expectation. I worked harder than anyone else, and still I didn’t get the promotion. Logical conclusion: I’m not good enough. Unmet expectation. I was so excited for my trip to Disney and then COVID. Logical conclusion: My life will never be the same. Unmet expectation. Church is supposed to be a safe place where I won’t be judged by anyone. Logical conclusion: I’m not welcome at any church, God doesn’t love me. Unmet expectation.
While the first part of all these statements is true, the lies are born from the unmet expectation. The hurt. That’s where we get into dangerous territory, where the enemy lives.
Church Is Run By Sinners
Church ultimately is run by humans. Flawed creatures. Sinners. So why am I surprised when they sin? I’m not perfect. Far from it in fact. I’m terrible. I’m mouthy, resentful, and sarcastic. But when I go to church, I expect people to just know that about me, and be kind. It’s church for heaven’s sake. Why is this hard? Because I’m not the only sinner on campus that’s why.
Let’s look at the parking lot for a hot second, shall we? We are all jazzed from the amazing teaching we just listened to. Like Robert Madu just spoke, and we are PUMPED. (Seriously though, if you haven’t heard this guy, go! He is amazing. Look him up on Instagram. Do it, I’ll wait.) But something happens when we get to our cars, right? Like the enemy is sitting in the passenger seat waiting for us, since he isn’t invited inside and all, and he whispers things in our ears. We need to get out of here ASAP because the in-laws are waiting to have brunch. She just cut you off, how dare that Karen do that. And aggression takes over not ten minutes after you swore your life was changed by the powerful Word you’d just heard. We’re human. That’s the long and short of it.
Perhaps a better illustration is needed. For those of you who haven’t read my testimony, I’ll try to summarize. I have been hurt by the church kindof a lot. I seem to attract these holier than thou people who feel compelled to “save” my heathen soul. It’s funny now, but it wasn’t then. Not at all. I was told in front of about 40 other teens that I would sit in Jesus’ electric chair and he would laugh while I burned. A few years later, I was told I’m not Godly enough (I don’t really know what that means, not that I know what Jesus’ electric chair is either). And most recently I was told the school I sent my daughter to wasn’t Christian enough and that I was making a mistake. Cue the well who do you think you are talk.
Never in my life had I been part of a church community. People talked about loving church, but I couldn’t imagine it. I seem to attract the worst people in the church. It’s uncanny. It’s probably because I’m terrible but whatever. LOL.
Until. I met a woman at my daughter’s baby music class. She was different than me. She was very nice, and I wanted to be her friend. But she kept inviting me to a Bible study with her. I didn’t have a church home then, nor had I been to a Bible study before. So when she pushed, I was like whoa, slow your roll lady. Our kids play together, and I like you a lot, but I don’t need saving. I’m good. The memories of being told I was going to hell in front of a strange youth group came back, and I was OUT. Hard pass crazy Christian lady. After literally eighteen months of badgering, I relented. You have to admire her persistence. And the first year of the study was good. In fact, I got my inspiration for one of my trilogies from it. The second year wasn’t as good. The ladies talked about how one of their daughters told a friend she was going to hell because she didn’t believe, and they straight up laughed. I was soooo uncomfortable. Later the leader called me and asked me what was up because I’d stopped coming, and I was honest with her. I told her that was me. I was the one they were all laughing at. And I failed to see how someone going to hell was funny. It just didn’t sit right. She was crushed, and asked me to come back. I didn’t that year. I probably should’ve, but I didn’t. The next year was when I was told the school I was sending Grace to wasn’t Christian enough, and I knew that particular study had served its purpose, and it was past time to move on. I still had my friend. And that’s what mattered.
It was the first time the church hurt me, and I didn’t run from it at large. I moved simply moved on. (Cue fanfare for my growth! WOO!)
Fast forward, and I started my own study with some very dear friends. Women who offer a safe space to ask outlandish questions, of which I have many. They’ll tell you. And they don’t act tired of answering them, and for that I’m grateful. Is there still hurt? Of course there is. It’s a group of women that meets weekly. What do you expect? Women are the worst! But also, women are the best. And real, godly women forgive quickly.
There’s Always Room to Grow
Does that mean I’m a real godly woman? BAHAHA. No. I can hold a grudge with the best of them. Especially if you hurt one of the women in my group. I told you I was good with a knife on Call of Duty right? Don’t make me feel stabby.
All that means is there’s room for growth. A lot of room for growth. Someone who hurt you at church is telling you something. Which I know is ridiculous to try and remember in the moment, but stay with me. Maybe they’re saying that church (or Bible study) isn’t for you, and they just pointed that out. Thank them and move on. Take it to the next level by praying for them while you’re at it. I haven’t beaten the level I’m on yet, so I can’t comment on that particular next level, but I will cheer you on when you get there for sure!
You know what, maybe they’re hurt. Maybe you remind them of a sibling that made poor choices, and they don’t want to be hurt again, so they push you away. Maybe it’s something else entirely. It doesn’t really matter. The only thing that does matter is your reaction to it.
It took me decades to move past my church hurt, and find a place where I feel welcome and almost excited to go. So you won’t get judgement from me if you’re in that place where you’ve written off church completely. Been there. It’s cool.
Bottom line is to move out of that space eventually. God tells us to be in community with each other (Psalm 133:1 among others). You can’t do that if you hate the church. Sorry. I tried it. And you are welcome to as well. Let me know how it goes for you! That wasn’t supposed to be snarky. I really do want to know.
Consider starting small. A four-person bible study. Or even an online study where you don’t have to see anyone at all. I know Bob Goff is doing one in April on his new book Dream Big. There are tons out there. That’ll help you get back in the word, and hear what others are going through. It’s a baby step toward community.
Once you’re comfortable, stretch yourself. Find a church. And don’t get discouraged if you don’t enjoy the first one. Don’t be like, well I tried, but they were speaking in tongues and doing other stuff that made me super uncomfortable so I’m out. Nope. Keep looking. Find a place you can be excited about. It’s out there, I promise. Man we must have gone to thirty churches before I found one I liked. And liked might be generous for the first few months. Tolerated is better. My husband could be comfortable just about anywhere because his expectations of the church are different. He was raised in that “church” culture. He doesn’t hang so much on it like I did/do. And if that’s you, kudos! All I’m trying to say is there are a lot of churches. If you keep looking, you’ll find some friendly faces, I promise.
And when you do find a place, manage your expectations. Church is full of hurt people, as it should be. Keep that in mind as you venture forth. And, should you get comfortable, so comfortable in fact that you hurt someone, remember who you were, and fix it. Please. Don’t make the person you hurt be the more mature Christian. Cuz that ain’t cool.
Both sides of the hurt cycle can, and should, stop with you. And if you think you don’t have the strength to do it, you’re right! LOL. Jesus does though. Tag Him in, and watch what He can do. You won’t regret it. Get excited about the amazing people He’s about to bring into your life. Because I gotta say, my people are pretty great, and were worth the journey to find them. And you need to find your own. I’m not sharing mine.
*If you’ve been hurt, let me apologize. I’ve been there, and I’m deeply sorry you’re there too. You don’t deserve it. Your feelings are valid. Let’s talk about it. Reach out to me. I want to help without agenda.*