Over the last year and a half, many Christians got angry at their churches for gathering or not gathering, going online or not going online, wearing masks or not wearing masks, or obeying or disobeying government mandates, or speaking up on political issues and candidates or not speaking up on them or speaking up on them in the wrong ways. It’s simply endless. There are many people who stopped going to church during COVID who will not resume in the future.
I know there are other and deeper reasons for feeling hurt by your church. Trust me, Nanci and I realize what it is like to be hurt by church people and church leaders. And I’m sure, though we’ve never set out to do so, we have hurt our own church people and our church leaders. Which leads me to believe that most of them never set out to hurt us, right?
I can tell you this—we have never felt hurt less and less often by our church and church leaders than we have in the last number of years. Why? Because while we have lowered the bar of the expectations we have for the church and its leaders always living up to what it might, we have raised the bar for our own attitudes toward the church and its leaders being what they should. We seek to practice what Jesus said, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31).
So the question is, are you treating your fellow church members as you wish they would treat you? If you wish they would be kind to you and interested and engaged in your own life and concerned about your challenges and reaching out to you in love and offering help to them, are you doing that to them? And if you were a church leader, how would you want people to view you and treat you? Would you want them to believe the best of you, that you are genuinely trying to honor the Lord and love the church, and do the right thing to help the most people, and to pray for them and go to them humbly when you believe there’s a problem they should deal with? If so, then is that what you are doing toward them?
Sadly, hurt from church is eating up many people and distracting them from moving on in their spiritual lives and keeping them from church altogether. In this spot-on video, Allen Parr answers the question, “How do you respond when you’ve given your life, your time, and a whole bunch of your money to a church only to be disappointed and hurt?”
I love his answer, and I suggest you listen to it, and then return and finish this blog:
Jesus calls the church His bride. He died for her and says that ultimately the gates of hell won’t prevail against her. So if you give up on the church, you give up on God’s plan. If you walk away from church, you walk away from Christ’s redemptive work. If you say you love Jesus, but you’ll no longer be around the church, you’re saying to Jesus, “I love you, but I can’t stand your bride. I’ll hang out with you, but I refuse to be with her.” If you said that to me, I’d say, “If you don’t want to be with my wife, you and I won’t be hanging out together—she’s too important to me for you to shun her like that.” That’s how much I love Nanci, but I’ve never come down from Heaven in order to die for her, like Jesus did for His bride.
As I said, we are not naïve about church problems! But we are also not strangers to the beauty and goodness and local and global fruit of church life—though we would be had we chosen to walk away from church the various times we were tempted to. (Of course, God can call people to leave a church and go to or even start another one, and that happened to us many years ago! My concern is with giving up on all churches, which is increasingly common. See Why You Should Think Twice Before Switching Churches Right Now.)
Despite what many think, not giving up on church is a huge part of our moving forward in our walk with Christ. My encouragement is this: show to church people the same tolerance you advocate that church people show to the world. In fact, Scripture goes a step further. We are to do good to all men (and to show them tolerance is to do them good), but especially to the household of faith (Galatians 6:10). You are family. Treat Christ’s people as family.
We are to “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). All Bible passages about forgiveness involve lowering our expectations of our brothers and sisters in Christ and not insisting they live up to our standards, or demanding perfection we don’t measure up to ourselves. God’s grace should calm us and cheer us. (See The Art of Forgiveness.)
I’ll finish by recapping Allen’s six excellent points on how to deal with church hurt:
1. Don’t allow a bad experience to cause you to drift.
2. Extend grace to your leaders.
3. Don’t judge all churches by one church.
4. Bring it to the church’s attention.
5. Resist the urge to speak negatively about the church.
6. Forgive those who have hurt you.
Allen says, “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been frustrated, bitter and angry with church or church leaders but I still go, give, support, and serve because I know that the church is what Jesus is using to reach the world, and I desperately want to be a part of anything that Jesus is building.”
Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries.