Unfortunately, a good number of people raised in church have left the church, and most often, not because of theological disagreements but rather because they’ve been deeply hurt. They’ve been told they’re too much or not enough, and have been shut down when they honestly express their emotions and struggles. Others have experienced the toxicity that almost always comes when the unhealthy and emotionally and spiritually immature are placed in leadership positions.
A few weeks ago, the lead minister at my church and another pastor discussed the pain many have experienced in the name of religion and then apologized for wounds they, intentionally or not, inflicted on others. And while I thought briefly of various hurts I’ve experienced throughout my faith journey, that wasn’t the primary message my heart received. Instead, God brought people to mind that had scars because of me. Those driven from rather than to Jesus, because of my behavior. Caused by fear, defensiveness, and pride.
I knew God wanted me to follow my pastor’s lead, and so I did. I began reaching out to those I knew I’d hurt. Women who, through my actions, words, or lack of, I’d made feel unvalued and unseen. And it didn’t matter whether or not I’d had provocation. If their sin or dysfunction had triggered the sin and dysfunction within me. Granted, there’s a time and place for honest discussion, when wounds remain.
But mine had healed. And besides, in these situations, I’d been the leader, the one who was supposed to model what it looked like to live and love like Jesus. To get my needs met by Him, to find my identity in Him. Ultimately, to receive strength and encouragement from Christ and a close circle of mature and Holy Spirit empowered peers.
I neglected both, people were hurt, and God wanted me to take responsibility for the pain I’d caused. To make it clear, though I may have represented Him in my role, my behavior had not.
He wanted me to live out His commands in Matthew 5:23-24, where Jesus said, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift” (NIV).
And so I did, and I can only hope my honest apologies helped heal those wounds my words and actions created, wounds that may even have driven them, for a time from the church. At the very least, I hope they were able to see Christ’s love and grace more clearly.
We all have a responsibility to create safe, healthy places where people can experience God. And we all have areas of dysfunction that threaten those same safe places we’re prayerfully trying to create. This means, you and I will hurt people along the way, and we’ll also get hurt. When others wound us, may we seek comfort and healing from Christ, refusing to retaliate and grow bitter. And when we’re the ones to cause pain, may we own up to every behavior that taints the image of Christ within us.
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If you’ve experienced church hurt, you might find the latest Faith Over Fear episode helpful.