I’m a church girl to my core. As a music minister’s daughter, my world revolved around our church from an early age. It was my second home. I thrived at church. I remember learning about God’s love for all kinds of people as a preschooler in Mission Friends, then graduating to Girls In Action (GA’s) and wearing a white dress to the coronation ceremony where we crowned a Queen with a Scepter. (Don’t ask me to explain this. The details are fuzzy.) When we moved to Denver, I became a proud uniform-wearing, handbook-carrying, Bible verse-memorizing, allegiance-pledging member of the Awana program at our church because Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed. Our church won the gold medal at the Awana Olympics every year. I was ½ of the 3-Legged Race championship team. All glory goes to God.
The church gave birth to my love for choirs. I started in my mom’s Children’s Choir at the age of 3. Sound doctrine was drilled into my head on a weekly basis through her “Hymn of the Month” program. I was a super-saved 7-year-old singing “Rescue the perishing, care for the dying. Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave.” (Snatch them???) To this day, I possess the freakish ability to remember almost every lyric of every song from every kids’ musical I was ever in. After honing my singing/acting skills in groundbreaking performances such as “Family Portrait,” “Christmas in Egypt,” and “Go Go Jonah,” I graduated to my dad’s student choir, where we went on world tour and blessed the masses in places like Carson City, NV and St. Louis, MO. Nothing brings in the harvest like a bunch of white kids in matching t-shirts and knee-length shorts (on the girls because #modestishottest) performing sanctified choreography to a choral arrangement of DC Talk’s “Love is a Verb.”
In high school, I joined my dad’s adult choir, where I was a featured soloist and worship leader on a regular basis. My dad recognized my gift and empowered me to use it. Sunday mornings on stage next to my dad will forever be some of my favorite memories. My family had a great relationship with our pastor and his family. We regularly ate together, played together, vacationed together. Growing up, I had an open door to my pastor’s office and his house. Pastor Rick Ferguson and my dad were the best of friends. (I didn’t realize then how rare this was.) I loved my pastor and I knew he loved me. Bradley and I were the last wedding he performed before his life tragically ended in July of 2002. He cried during our ceremony and told Bradley to “take care of our girl.”
Church was an actual sanctuary for me. It was my happy place. It was where I was known and accepted and validated in my gifts. I was given opportunities to serve and to lead. It was where I felt God’s calling to be a worship leader. It was where I was transformed, taught, and trained. I made lifelong friends at church. I experienced God at church.
I didn’t realize then that church could also be a place where pain was inflicted. I didn’t know it was possible to be hurt by the church. I’m sure my childhood church had problems. I’m sure there were politics involved in some way. But I was sheltered from all of it. I was blissfully unaware.
It wasn’t until I became an adult that I found out there was such thing as Church Hurt.
If you’ve been an active member of a church for any length of time, you have probably experienced Church Hurt, or know someone who has. Maybe you’ve been wounded by someone in leadership over you. Maybe you’ve been betrayed. Maybe you’ve been undervalued and overlooked. Maybe you’ve been lied to. Maybe you’ve been taken advantage of. And because of the treatment you have endured, maybe you’ve left the church altogether.
***I want to insert a strong asterisk here. I am in no way talking about harassment, abuse, or assault at the hand of a church leader or member. If this is your experience, leave your church, tell someone, and seek professional help immediately.***
I think the main reason that Church Hurt is so painful is that we operate under the assumption that we’re not supposed to be hurt at church. It seems counterintuitive. Aren’t we all Christians? Aren’t we all striving for holiness? Aren’t we all trying to emulate Jesus? Aren’t we all working out our salvation? The easy, pessimistic answer to these questions is “no.” But the honest, vulnerable answer is “probably.” Those who hurt us are probably Christians, who are probably striving for holiness, who are probably trying to emulate Jesus, and are probably working out their salvation.
The bottom line is this: you can be hurt at church because your church is filled with humans.
Much of the New Testament features letters written by Paul to various churches for the purpose of admonishing, encouraging, and guiding them in their Faith. The reason these letters were necessary is because these churches were filled with humans. And these humans needed instruction because they were imperfect.
“Make my joy complete by thinking the same way, having the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” (Philippians 2:2)
“Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation. If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:17-18)
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:2-3)
I have to imagine that this correction would not have been needed had the early churches been functioning as they ought. As you can see, not much has changed in the past two-thousand years. Somehow, our churches are still populated by humans.
Humans are going to hurt you. Even those who claim to be in Christ. Because we’re all sinners who have been saved by grace (justification), yet are in the daily process of salvation (sanctification). Meaning: Heaven is our destination. Holiness is our ambition. But perfection has not yet been attained. While we dwell on this broken earth, we will be hurt by people. And we will hurt people. Full stop.
You wanna know who will never hurt you? Jesus. Jesus will never wound you. Jesus will never betray you. Jesus will never undervalue or overlook you. Jesus will never lie to you. Jesus will never take advantage of you.
While Jesus was fully human on earth, he was and is and will always be fully God. He’s never messed up or made a mistake. He’s never issued an apology. He is the embodiment of goodness. He is the definition of love. His people may have hurt you. But he never will. Jesus is literally the best news I can give you today.
I know what it feels like to be hurt by the church. Adulthood opened my eyes to this reality. I understand the urge to leave the place that hurt you. But I am boldly begging you to forgive those who have wronged you and give church another shot. Jesus is worth it. His Bride is worth it. His Kingdom is worth it. Find a good church filled with good people led by a good pastor. It won’t be perfect, but it’ll be good. This kind of church really does exist. I promise.
The writer of Hebrews encouraged the early believers with these words. I pray that they encourage you, as well.
“Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, since he who promised is faithful. And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:23-25)
I’m sorry the church hurt you, friend. People may have let you down, but "he (Jesus) who promised is faithful." I pray that you’ll let Jesus begin the healing process in you today. He is so good.