I love the church, but my gosh we’ve been through some painful things with churches in the past few years. And yet, it has felt so hard to speak out and say that we were hurt by a church. I hesitate to be one more person heaping scorn and criticism on an institution that I truly do love, but I still want to truthfully share our experiences.
My husband and I have been a part of two church plants that both hurt us in different ways. We were hurt deeply in both cases because we loved deeply and had high expectations for what these church families could (and should) be.
We have shared the details of our story with close friends and have already processed it. The details aren’t terribly important to share publicly because they’re particular to who we are and who these churches are. I am all for sharing stories while they’re still in the messy middle stages. We should feel free to be honest about our pain before there is a clear happy ending. But my church hurt has felt like a raw, open wound for a long time and I just didn’t feel safe enough to put it on display.
For the past few years, church has felt like a place of rejection rather than belonging. A place of striving instead of resting. And a place that prioritizes comfort and power over love and service to the marginalized and oppressed.
My heart breaks for anyone who has endured abuse at the hands of a church. Whether that was physical, sexual, or spiritual abuse, those all leave wounds. Our situation was not one of abuse, but we were still hurt deeply by people that we trusted and that left wounds. And those wounds needed healing.
Our wounds were inflicted by particular local churches and so our healing also needed to come through a particular local church.
We spent about 6 months searching for a new church at the beginning of last year. We visited 12+ different churches all over the city and had an elaborate rating system for evaluating our visits; all in an effort to find a healthy church body that would be a safe, stable place to worship. *(I’m not encouraging church-hopping just because things get uncomfortable. It’s important to commit to a body of believers and stick with them through hard things. But church should be difficult and stretching, NOT painful or toxic.)*
After lots of prayer, we finally decided on a church and committed to attending there for the rest of this season of seminary. A couple of months later, Jacob was in love with the church and singing its praises to everyone we knew. Quite honestly, it took me a lot longer to trust this new church.
And that says more about my own process of healing than it says about this church.
If you’ve been hurt by a church, it is okay to take the time necessary to heal that wound. And the time for healing will be different for every person and every unique situation. But the best place for that healing to happen is in another church. Relational trauma is healed in the context of a healthy relationship and I think that applies to churches as well. Church trauma is healed in the context of a healthy church.
If you’ve been hurt by a church, acknowledge that pain. And while your process of healing may take time, please do not give up on all churches just because of a bad experience with one church.
Keep looking and keep hoping for a small body of believers to worship and fellowship with. Just because one church wasn’t the right place for you, does not mean that you don’t belong in the Church. The Church is a wonderfully diverse group of people and there is a congregation out there who will push you to look more like Jesus instead of making you question your own sanity.
Maybe you need to take a break from church. Maybe it will take years before you feel safe enough to venture into a worship service again. But God has established the church and we truly do need other Christians to live this life of following Jesus, together.
The Church is the body and bride of Christ. We are meant to be a family and we are supposed to be a living, breathing embodiment of Jesus here on earth. The Church is God’s tool for restoring all things to Himself. We are also an imperfect group of broken people. The Church is currently nowhere near what she’s called to be, and yet Jesus loves her and He believes in her potential for bringing the kingdom to earth. If Jesus loves this messy, broken bride He calls the Church, then I guess I should try to love her too.
Next week, we will become members of our new church. A church that is not perfect, but one that we have chosen to call our family. A church that has affirmed my husband in the ministry he is called to and not let us slip by unnoticed. A church that loves immigrants and refugees and equips disciples to use their gifts in building His kingdom. A church full of broken, redeemed people who have welcomed us into a place of belonging.
Church hurt was not the end of our story and neither is this church healing. This is just the (re)start of a life-long relationship with Jesus and His bride. Praise the Lord for healing broken places, rebuilding trust, and restoring our hope for church.
‘But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds,’ declares the LORD, ‘because you are called an outcast, Zion for whom no one cares.’ Jeremiah 30:17, NIV