I have a confession: I tried to write this article five times.
Every time my fingers finished flying across the keyboard, I stared at the screen and realized the thoughts weren’t yet meant for others. Processing deep pain with God rather than immediately turning it into a lesson learned has been good practice for me lately.
I felt similar freedom sitting outside with an old friend from seminary yesterday. On a beautiful spring afternoon in Kansas City, we ventured into the courtyard of our alma mater to catch up after almost two years apart. Looking at him with my own tired eyes, I recognized the war-torn look in his. The peppy (somewhat prideful) people we were upon meeting had since been humbled by severe mercy. What a grace.
This is the beauty of the body of Christ: we do not have to pretend we are put-together people. Believers endure the trials of this life together, which means we also have a front-row seat to spiritual growth gifted through them.
But I have another confession: some of the greatest heartaches of my life have been caused by those in the Church. What happens when the ones united to you in Christ—who share the same Holy Spirit as you—are the ones who inflict the deepest wounds?
In the middle of pursuing my Master of Divinity, I almost gave up on the local church.
Though I believed so strongly in Midwestern Seminary’s vision “for the Church” that I moved across the country to study here, a combination of crises during my second year of seminary caused me to question my calling. Forgiveness has since been extended on all sides, but in that season I gained a personal understanding of what it meant to have “church hurt.” In the weeks before the global pandemic erupted, my world had already been turned upside down.
It is by the grace of God and the help of friends that I stayed where God called me. When I could hardly get out of bed at all, let alone to the doors of a church, I had sisters who gently offered to bring me to theirs. This is how I found myself in the care of the church I am covenanted to now: Cross Fellowship Church.
My pastors and fellow members are, by their admission, not perfect. Honestly, a lot of us are weird (in an endearing way). But before I even belonged to the congregation, they were the ones who texted and called me while I lay in an isolated hospital bed with COVID-19 in March of 2020. When I was eleven hours away from my family, they recognized me as part of the broader family of God and therefore loved me as such. Meeting real physical and spiritual needs, they helped me begin the process of healing in the months that followed. Pages could be written about the unmerited grace poured out on my life through my church since then. But I know not every believer has this experience.
If you have been hurt by someone in the Church, or by the institution itself, I am sorry.
Only the Lord knows the nuances of your situation and the hearts of those involved. Several resources speak to steps to take towards reconciliation and recovery. But what I want us to acknowledge together is why pain from the Church hurts so much:
I am convinced the reason those in the Church have the power to hurt us most is because they are the people we love most.
They are the ones we trust to shepherd us. The ones we allow to hold us while we cry. The ones we share time, service, and affection with like family because we are family: sharing in the blood of Christ that granted us life. God our Father is safe. He is kind. He is good. Shouldn’t his people be, too?
As sinners saved by grace, we have righteous standing before God in heaven while also undergoing sanctification on earth. We are beholding and becoming more like Jesus daily, but we are not God. This means that even with the best intentions, we fail. Few people are aware of how true that is in my life as the friend I spoke with in the courtyard.
Yes, I have been hurt by the Church. But I have also hurt others in the Church.
This is how I know pain from the Church heals in the church: God has not only allowed me to experience the grace of this design in my own life but to witness it in the lives of those whom I have wounded.
In the local church, we get to consistently practice the patterns of repentance commanded for all believers. We get to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which [we] have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love;” and have the privilege of showing the world what it means to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3). Walk. Wound. Repent. Repeat.
God granted a small glimpse of his glory displayed in the longsuffering version of this process with my brother in Christ yesterday, but I experience it with my church family daily.
The call of the Christian is to die to ourselves, pick up our cross, and follow Jesus. We can’t trust our flesh to always like what is required for us to become more like him. It is not always easy to work for “unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” or “speak the truth in love,” but it is always right (Eph. 4:13, 15). And it is always worth it.
Whether you have endured a necessary wound inflicted in love or one carved by the knife of sin, please do not allow it to keep you from the one place your traumas can be tended. In the local church, let them be washed by the water of the Word. Allow them to be covered by the sweet salve of a friend’s earnest counsel. Remember that it is by the wounds Jesus bore for his Bride the Church that they are truly healed.
The process of healing from “church hurt” may be uncomfortable, but it is a plan prescribed by God himself.