When You’re Hurt by the Church

by Gail Emerson August 6, 2018

My husband and I grew up in a church which, at the time, felt like a Christian utopia. We thought we had the right doctrine and the right practice of Christian life. We had deep friendships and accountability. Our fortress was safe from strife.

Eventually, our church endured a messy split. Through it, we lost many friendships, despite our efforts to hold onto them. Several years later, there was a scandal. Our remaining remnant of friends scattered.

Church pain is one of the worst sorrows. The body of Christ should be a refuge for the wounded. But, as a pastor friend once told me: “Christians can devour their own.”

So, how should we respond when we’ve been hurt by the church?

Remember you’re not alone.

For me, comfort poured through the pages of the Psalms. It’s raw honesty — anger, depression, sadness, and disappointment met me in my darkest days. I realized I wasn’t alone in my anguish. David himself was betrayed by his closest friend.

“If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; If a foe were rising against me, I could hide; But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my closest friend, with whom I enjoyed sweet fellowship, at the house of God, as we walked among the worshipers.” - Psalm 55:12-14

Suffering is universal and even David experienced the grief of church turmoil. Our world’s brokenness doesn’t suddenly stop at our places of worship. It’s the air we breathe, touching every part of our lives.

Remember you’re a sojourner.

In a season of recalibration, we moved to a different city. We immediately embraced the task of finding friends at our new church. We regularly hosted dinners and a small group in our home.

Yet, I was continually dismayed. Friendships were not growing at the pace I hoped. I was lonely and I often felt out of place. I longed for the Christian utopia I had known and to feel at home.

Passages in Hebrews remind us: We are always sojourners on this side of heaven:

“People who say such things show they’re looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have opportunity to return. Instead they were longing for a better country — a heavenly one.” - Hebrews 11:14-16 

The only utopia that exists is the city God has prepared for us. Being a sojourner means we will likely not feel at home—even in the one place it seems we should. This unfulfilled longing isn’t meant to bring despair. It should press us to look upward to Christ—the One who will make all things new.

Remember Christ redeems his bride.

Not only has God prepared a city for us, but he also prepares us, his bride. The flaws we see here on earth will be washed away. We will be a bride without spot or blemish. There will be unbroken, unhindered fellowship with our God and with our siblings in Christ.

We will join together from every tribe, every nation and sing a new song.

“And they cried in a loud voice:

Salvation belongs to our God

Who sits on the throne and to the Lamb.” - Revelation 7:10

Though I’m no longer in triage, healing is an ongoing process. Some injuries may never quite turn to a scar, and that’s okay. They are reminders of the larger, imperfect body I’m connected to—the body for whom Christ bled, died and will one day, make whole.