A few years ago, I experienced some of the deepest hurt of my life. One day, out of the blue, with no notice or indication, I was called into the senior pastor’s office and told my “employment has been terminated effective immediately.” Instantly, I racked my brain trying to think what I could have done wrong, or what could have happened at youth group the night before. I thought about the growth that had taken place in the youth group since my coming, the structure added, the leaders recruited and trained—nothing I could think of warranted my being let go. I was in good standing with everyone and had not done anything morally or spiritually wrong. I was in utter disbelief, and to top it off, I was treated as a criminal who had done something terrible. I was told not to talk to anyone, just gather the stuff I could and the rest would be sent to me. For some reason, the leadership thought this was the correct way to treat someone being let go “so they didn’t stir anything up.” I was in shock and the pain felt as if it were physically being poured on me. I found out later they had let a few staff members go, and each of us was simply given the reason “it is just not working out anymore.” To this day I don’t know the exact reason, I speculate finances to be the cause, but I really don’t know. It was a very, very hard time. I don’t know if the pain from my experience will ever fully go away. It is the type of pain that can only be inflicted by evil, yet it came from a church. It came from a place that claimed to be operating in God’s name.
I don’t think I am the only one who has been hurt by a church. While this was a few years ago the pain of the situation still comes up often, as I am sure it does for you too. When the hurt is fresh and you are going through it the people around you keep saying, “Trust God, He has a bigger plan” and while you know it to be true, it quite honestly doesn’t help! So maybe you have been hurt by a church recently, or maybe it happened 10 years ago, but how do you deal with it?
1. Separate the actions of people from the actions of God
Oftentimes people say they have been hurt by the church, whether they work for a church or just attend one. My response to them is always this, “the church didn’t hurt you, people hurt you.” That is something I had to remind myself over and over again when the pain was fresh. People are messed up! I had a pastor once tell me, “this job would be great if it wasn’t for the people, but if it wasn’t for the people there would be no job.” And that is true for church attendees as well as church leadership. People are messed up, and people make up the church. If you find the perfect church, don’t join it. Because you will mess it up. We need to be able to step back and separate the actions of people from the actions of God. It is so easy to see God as part of the mix in everything that went down and the pain that was caused. But it was not God, it was people.
2. Remember forgiveness is a daily decision
There is freedom in forgiveness, and that freedom is not for the person who has wronged you, it is for you. When you make the choice to daily forgive, you release yourself from the burden of what they have done to you. I am not saying your pain will go away, and it won’t come up again and again because honestly, as I write this the pain I experienced is starting to come up. But when it does, it is a reminder to make the daily decision to forgive. Being wronged by someone at a church is extremely painful and the hurt can turn into anger and that anger can grow and fester inside of you if you do not make the choice to forgive. Why? Because Christ has forgiven you. How? He forgave you completely, and He forgives you continually. Make the choice daily to forgive, completely and continually, those people who have hurt you.
3. Don’t allow the behavior of some to keep you from what God has for you
Too many people will never experience all God has for them because they allowed the actions of others to stop them. I will be honest, there are still days I wonder if I am doing what I am supposed to. If maybe, just maybe, that church was right for letting me go because I am not good enough. Especially following the hurt, the question of my purpose and calling was almost constant. But the actions of one, or some, are not reason enough to quit, or stop pursuing what God has for you. So much pain comes from being hurt by the church and it is so easy to just quit or “protect” yourself by not continuing. But God has big plans for you! He never promised it would be easy, but He is always faithful. When you are in the middle of it, it is so difficult to see the big picture, but God is not done with you yet. Run to Him, begin to look ahead, not behind. Don’t allow the terrible actions of some to keep you from all the wonderful things God has for you.
Dealing with pain caused by a church can be extremely difficult and can be something you never fully get over. But it is SO important to remember the actions of people are not the actions of God. Freedom comes through our daily decision to forgive, because God has so much more for you in the future!