Friend, don’t Christians have a way of hurting other Christians?
I share a lot on the value of Godly friendships and what scripture says about it. I encourage you on a consistent basis to not only seek friends but to strive to be a good friend. Friendships are a huge part of my life and something I not only make time for but invest in. I’ve seen time and time again the blessings friendships can bring and the gift they are.
Because of that, I’ve also seen the risk. The risk of being hurt and the difficulty they can bring. It’s why so many keep their distance and only have surface-level relationships. It’s why many choose to spend time in their homes with closed doors instead of welcoming people in. It’s why many walk into a church hopeful but instead walk out crushed.
I’ve seen Christians speak and treat others in ways that are the total and opposite of anything Jesus taught. I’ve seen others look around the room and wonder how on earth the people they’re surrounded by could call themselves Christians.
Proverbs 11:9 says, “Evil words destroy one’s friends; wise discernment rescues the godly.”
As young adults, James and I experienced some pretty difficult friendships. People whom we loved would lie, gossip, take advantage of, and steal from us. They called us friends and would say one thing to our face but then behind our backs say the total opposite.
We had friends who would mention a need in their lives and we would pray and work hard to meet that need for them simply because we loved them. Once we started to see the pattern and realize we were being used, we stopped giving. When this occurred and our friends caught on, they moved on to new people to take advantage of.
We had friends who would get angry anytime something good happened in our lives and would constantly hold it against us by saying passive-aggressive comments. Shortly after my brother passed, I overheard that friend say they’re glad something “finally” bad happened to me because they were tired of watching my perfect life. If only that friend really knew what I had walked through.
During this time, James and I were also experiencing spiritual abuse from church leadership. People would flippantly say words that were destructive and without care on how it would make the person on the receiving end feel. We were blamed for things we had nothing to do with, spoke to in ways that undermined us and our positions, and treated in ways that made us feel like we never wanted to minister in a church again.
We had people call our character into question, put us in a place where we had to publicly defend and explain ourselves, and use us for their own personal gain but then drop us in the messiest of ways once they got what they wanted.
All of these friends were people we met through church and connected with because of shared faith. They took our kindness and generosity and exploited it while pointing the finger back on us to cover up their own actions.
After James and I experienced spiritual abuse from the leaders above us, we walked away defeated and adamant we would never work in a church in a pastoral role again. We turned down a lot of offers over the course of a few years because while we never walked away from God and we kept ourselves planted in a local church, we were certain that our calling in ministry would have to exist outside the church walls.
We were hurting.
We felt betrayed by our friends and our church and we needed to heal. God led us into a different ministry and a new season where we were able to heal any hurt in our spirit and heal the anger in our hearts towards the people who hurt us.
When I hear people share how they’ve walked away from the church hurting and broken and never wanting to go back, there’s a part of me that relates and understands. I have compassion for them because I know what it’s like to look at the people you consider family and feel betrayed and thrown to the wayside.
I want to hold their hand and let them know the pain they’re currently feeling isn’t a reflection of Jesus, it’s a reflection on the brokenness within the people who hurt them.
Mark 2:17 says, “When Jesus heard it, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”
Unhealthy people tend to hang out with other unhealthy people. They do this from a place of comfort so they won’t be confronted on their actions and expected to change. Instead, they‘re applauded for their hurtful words and judgemental hearts. There’s no accountability amongst the congregation and the leadership. This not only causes but also, enables the vicious cycle of hurting others. These communities are the ones who never accept their role in the offense.
People who are unhealthy but want to live healthy lives will find others who hold them accountable, have teachable hearts, and place importance on relationships. Grace is quickly extended and modeled from the leadership and they lead their congregation in humility through a servant’s heart. These communities aren’t perfect but their love and kindness comes from who Jesus is in their lives. They are quick to make amends because they noticed the offense on their brother or sister in Christ. They understand the value of people over their own selfish needs.
It’s important to know the difference. It’s important to know we’re all unhealthy and through Jesus we become healthy. It’s important to know your pain is valid but friend, I don’t want you to stay there.
While there are churches who hurt, there’s plenty of churches who love fiercely, deeply and truly reflect Jesus.
My heart behind sharing my experiences with you is to remind you how the church is a family, a broken one indeed, but nonetheless a family. And this family has members who are hurting and who hurt others along the way.
As followers of Jesus and members of the church, we aren’t always going to get it right. We won’t be perfect. While I’ve shared with you the hurt my husband and I have both been through, understand that I too have hurt others. I’ve had to learn and grow and figure out who I am in Christ and that road has been long and not traveled perfectly.
Friend, we must remain humble and teachable. Having a humble and teachable heart will place us in the position to not only recognize our error but to also mend it. We can then be a part of a loving body of Christ to grow in, serve, and help be a part of spreading the Good News.
When the communities that surround our church family look at us, they should see a family who loves, fights for one another, and fills in the gaps. A family who when they mess up and hurt, they correct it. They should want to get to know the Jesus we follow and submit to. They should look at us and want to be a part of our family.
Prior to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, He gave His disciples a new commandment:
John 13:34-35 says, “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
I know many loving, kind, caring, and giving followers of Jesus. People who I learn from and want to grow to be more like. People I admire and believe they don’t have a mean bone in their body. People who love Jesus and strive daily to be more like Him. They’re quick to see their mistakes and through love correct them. These people are great examples of what living a life according to the teachings of Jesus is like.
There are churches full of those people. Full of people who passionately love Christ and want what’s best for you. People who will bend over backward for you simply because they love you and don’t expect anything in return.
There are leaders who humbly want to serve and teach you God’s Word. Leaders who pray for you, care about your family and want to see you grow in being a child of God. Leaders who won’t use you, take advantage of you, or see you as just a number.
If you’ve been hurt or are currently hurting; I want to encourage you to keep going to church and continue to follow Christ. Keep your eyes in the Word and walk in healing from your pain. Continue being kind, humble, teachable and loving. Be slow to anger and even slower to speak words of criticism.
Don’t believe the lie that all churches are full of people who want to hurt you. Or that there are no “good” churches out there. Don’t believe the lie that all pastors only care about the money or what the people can do for them.
And please, always extend grace.
To my friends who have been hurt:
I hope this post encourages you to continue to seek Christ and to still plant yourself in a local church. While there are times you will be called out of a community to heal, there will be times where you can stay. And when you can stay, please do.
Be prayerful about when it’s time to leave to heal or how to stay and heal. You will never find a church where you won’t get hurt but there’s a difference between a healthy and unhealthy community.
While it may be hard to see where those healthy people and church communities are when you’re standing in the middle of your pain, ask Christ to lead you there. Allow the healing your heart needs by staying planted in a local church. Love them. Forgive them. Ask Christ for you to see them the way He does and then go serve those people.
Philippians 2:1-4 says, “Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.”
Patricia G. says
Heather, I can really relate to having been hurt in churches, and I am sorry you have been hurt too. At one church, because of a misunderstanding, instead of the leadership helping me to understand things better and seeking to reconcile with me, they basically told me, in so many words, to get out of their church. So, eventually I did. Because of that incident, I had a hard time trusting church leadership for many years. Because of God’s grace in my life, I have found my current church, and the leadership has been nothing but supportive and loving of me. They truly are a Godsend to my life, and my current pastor even helped me heal a broken work relationship in my life!
Trevor Calhoun says
Heather, I felt no intent to condemn in your post. In that desire I think you have succeeded. It seems the Lord has healed you from your hurt. It would very difficult to write like this without having been healed. it goes without saying that I too have been hurt deeply in the church. I am a pastor of a church plant that did not make it. Its been 7 months since we last met but the pain is still there. I have been encourage “to continue to seek Christ and to still plant yourself in a local church.” Thank you.
Thank you so much for reading and sharing a small part of your story. My heart breaks for you and the difficulty with your church plant and it ending over 7 months ago. I can’t even pretend to know that level of church hurt. I know I don’t know anything that happened but I do want to encourage you to keep ministering. No matter what the capacity in which you are doing it, still do it. God is good even when the people and circumstances aren’t.
Timely article for my husband and myself. We are really struggling/hurting at the moment. The ‘grace’ which every church preaches about showing but so struggle to actually put it into practice outside of the ‘holy insulated circle of believers’ has just become painfully apparent to us and our daughter. Theology seems to take precedence over actually showing the love of Jesus and pointing the way to God.
First, I’m so sorry you’re dealing with the hurt. I totally understand the sentiments of your words and have been frustrated at the same things. I want to encourage you to know that there really are communities of Christians who strive to be like Jesus and extend grace. I’ll be praying for you and your husband as you navigate through those hurt emotions.
Thank you for sharing on this timely topic. It hit home for me, too. We left our church, and had been “church hopping” without finding a home. We were invited to a new church which I was immediately drawn to, but just didn’t want to commit to joining. 5 years later, we finally joined (not a full member since we refused to be rebaptized through immersion 🙂 ) and the first time we went to a life group event, we were met with a grumbler! I kind of had to laught. Yes, as you say, the church is one big family and none of us are perfect. I feel Jesus led us to this church as I love the strong biblical teaching. We are “dipping our toes” back into social events to see what they bring. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you for sharing your story and I’ll be praying for you while you venture into new waters.