In East Tennessee, as well as many other parts of the country, it’s near impossible to throw a stick without hitting a church. They’re everywhere, and they’re found in almost every size, style, denomination, demographic, and other varieties available. In some ways, this is a good thing. After all, people are different and thus need to be reached differently.
However, this also contributes to the trend of “church shopping”, where people sample all the ecumenical flavors out there in hopes of finding the perfect church.
The idea of a perfect church is a nice dream, but unfortunately, it’s just that: a dream.
There is no such thing as a perfect church.
Don’t get me wrong. Churches, for the most part, are wonderful institutions capable of doing worlds of good for those within and outside of their walls. But it must be remembered that churches, like the people that they are made of, are flawed and imperfect. At some point, a church will fail and hurt you in some way, directly or indirectly. There are several ways such could happen.
A church may choose to cater far more to its younger or older generation and make the other feel left behind.
One or more tenets of a church’s theology may cause more division and harm than unity and edification.
A church may cater to the more affluent members of its body and foster an economic disconnect.
A church’s inner workings may become so business-like that the church itself comes off as cold, mechanical, and unfeeling.
A church may be more accommodating to those who fit a certain moral and political mold and be cold to those who do not.
Churches aren’t perfect. Though they serve as means of connecting to a holy God, they are human institutions and are fallible just like all humans. Many have felt the pain of being wounded by the flaws and failings of churches, especially millennials in today’s world. So what do you do when you do get hurt by a church? Here are some things to remember and consider:
Don’t act rashly.
Before you go on the warpath, blast your church on social media, or start shopping for a new one right away, take some time to heal, cool off, and process what has occurred. Rash decisions are never wise ones, and this applies here, too. Remember, that church is imperfect just like you. They may not have intended to hurt you, or even know they’ve done so. This does not negate the problem, but don’t cause another one in reaction to a fresh wound. Take time to heal and pray. Seek God’s will in how to react to what has happened.
Consider you may be part of the solution.
There’s an old saying: “Hurt people hurt people.”. While this is true in life, it doesn’t always have to be the case. The pain you’ve endured can be repurposed to serve as a means to hinder a vicious cycle rather than exacerbating it. This may be as simple as being able to care for another going through what you have and show them they’re not alone. Also, serving in the church, if you aren’t already, can be helpful in the healing. For one thing, being part of the church’s serving body can provide a better vantage point not only to the present problems (and other problems that may be behind them), but also to possible solutions. Serving may also link you to other personnel in the church who can be (if not already) enlightened to the problems and their effects, and may also lend credence to your voice in pointing out problems and possible solutions.
If you leave, don’t go solo.
There is the chance that you may have to leave the physical church you’re in. If you must do so, do it prayerfully. More importantly, don’t depart completely from being part of a body of believers. Just because churches aren’t perfect doesn’t mean we should abandon them altogether. It’s not good to be alone and withdrawn from a faith community, especially when you’re still healing (which may take quite a while). There is a place where you can belong. There are a litany of options, including house churches, Bible studies, small groups, and other gatherings of believers. Smaller and more intimate may be better for you at this time (even if they don’t have a mini rock concert and an espresso bar). The Christian walk was never meant to be a solo endeavor, so don’t try to make it one.
If you leave, leave on good terms.
Again push may come to shove and you may have to leave the church where you were hurt. However, if you do, don’t leave in a way that will cause more hurt. There are still friendships and relationships you have made there, and those should be safeguarded from any more hurt if possible. Don’t leave in a blaze of anger. Even though you should be honest in addressing the problems that are pushing you away, don’t point them out in a way that will cause chaos and discontent. As your exit is showing, there are already problems that exist, so don’t make more. As Christians, we are called to do everything in love. So make your exit in a loving manner. Tie up whatever loose ends must be addressed, and leave on good terms with the members of the body, especially the ones who played a part in hurting you. Your loving exit may be what shows them what must be changed. Plus, these problems cannot be addressed if you act in a way that only creates more. Therefore, if you must leave, leave in love.
When you’re hurt in a church, it can turn your world upside-down. It can cause you to question yourself, your relationships, your path in life, and cause you to question God. While these things can and will hurt, they can also make us grow and realize what’s important in life.
The oft quoted Romans 8:28 states “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” That goes for the pain you may be enduring as well. It can be repurposed as a catalyst to bring you closer to God and others, to further educate you in the art of love and mercy, to help you be a solution to the present problems, or to guide you to where you may need to be next. There will be pain everywhere in life, even in the church. But there is also healing and hope to be found, in which you can take part.
Realistic and helpful suggestions. I like this line: “…churches, like the people that they are made of, are flawed and imperfect.” I believe it’s very important to let leadership in a church know if you’ve been hurt whether you stay or go. I’ve taken short breaks from my church over the years and visited other churches, but I always come back to my home church with a deeper appreciation for why I’m there.
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