As preparation for writing this book, I put up a poll on my blog and invited anyone who had been wounded by the church to answer a few simple questions. Many of YOU answered, and I am so grateful for your honesty and transparency. Frankly, I was unprepared for the number of answers I received and the comments that thanked me for having the “courage” to ask the question.
Many, many people have been wounded by the church, but not many have been asked to talk about their experience. Most quietly nurse their hurts and withdraw from the church—either partially or completely.
Here are the poll results:1. When you were hurt by your church, were you a member, a lay leader, or on paid staff?
I was a member . . . 62.37 percent.
I was a lay leader (volunteer leadership role): 33.90 percent
I was on part-time staff: 5.76 percent
I was on full-time staff: 9.83 percent
2. The situation that caused your hurt—was it primarily the work of one person or several people?
One person—the pastor: 42.54 percent
One person—someone in the congregation: 10.96 percent
One person—a staff member, but not the pastor: 12.72 percent
Many people—a committee: 20.61 percent
Many people—an ad hoc group from within the congregation: 28.95 percent
3. When you were hurt by your church—was this a one-time thing (one certain situation), or was the hurt ongoing?
It was a one-time thing—before that I’d been happy in my church: 36.52 percent
It was pretty much ongoing—the situation kept repeating itself: 36.17 percent
It was pretty much continual: 29.79 percent
4. Did you try to directly confront the person or situation who hurt you?
Yes, I went to the person or persons who had hurt me: 34.16 percent
No, I didn’t: 10.68 percent
I tried, but was unsuccessful in my attempts to confront them: 20.64 percent
I wanted to, but didn’t think I’d be heard: 11.39 percent
I didn’t think I had the right to confront the situation: 9.25 percent
No, because I didn’t want to make trouble in the church: 9.96 percent
I didn’t do anything; I just quietly left the church: 19.93 percent
5. If you didn’t directly confront the person or persons who hurt you, did you talk about the problem to someone else?
I went to another church staff member: 20 percent
I went to a friend: 42.16 percent
I confided in my spouse only: 36.76 percent
I asked people outside the church for advice: 22.70 percent
6. Has this hurt you experienced kept you from church still? In other words, are you currently worshipping and active in a church body?
No, I am currently active in the same church where I experienced hurt: 10.83 percent
I went away for a while, but time passed and now I’m back: 5.78 percent
I am worshipping and active at another church: 33.57 percent
I have been unable to find another church home: 15.88 percent
I have no interest in regularly attending another church: 12.64 percent
7. If you could advise the body of Christ about how to prevent hurt or how to heal hurt, what advice would you give? (Note: These are the answers given in the poll. These answers are not necessarily grounded in biblical truth, as we shall see.)
I’ve presented these in no particular order, but notice how many of these deal with either an abuse of power (especially considering what we’ve just learned about biblical pastoral leadership) OR a lack of biblical communication.
*Create channels to regularly check in with people, not only at the church level, but also in small groups.
*Don’t jump to conclusions and assumptions.
*Have honest, open discussion. This church never listened to me or answered my questions. And grace.
*Walk in love, be humble, accept discipline, and look for ways to nurture and build people up.
*Bathe decisions in prayer, treat people with respect, and humbly be willing to answer questions.
*Don’t give power to any one person – Christ should be the head of or in charge at your church, not a human!
*Change the way you approach divorces and divorcées. Divorce is rarely, if ever, an option of first (or second or third) resort. By the time most couples reach the end of their marriage, every option has been tried and exhausted. Look into what abused women experience, and make certain not to encourage them to stay and try again because the abuse is ‘only’ psychological or emotional.
*Open communication and respect for women.
*Genuinely care about people. Enough to reach out when they are hurting. You may not be able to do anything about their situation, but at least it shows love and concern.
*Make your church a place where everyone feels loved and wanted and included, not just the people who have their junk together.
*Advocate for independent thinking instead of trying to make everyone think the same way.
*The overriding directive we have from God is to love one another. He enumerates many ways we should live in order to please him–true. But too often Christians turn hypocritical and elitist about stupid things like worship practices. God judges; we don’t. Start loving people as other children of God, regardless of what beliefs or behaviors they hold. More love and empathy is never a bad thing.
*Strive for transparency.
*Don’t create cliques within the church.
*Do unto others as you would have done to you.
*The church is not a social club or a political party. It is a family. You may not always like your family. You may fight with your family. But you should be committed to your family for the long haul. The amazing thing about it, is that if you stick it out through conflict with your family, you will become closer to them on the other end.
*Go public right away and get problems out in the open
*Make sure you are clean before the Lord and just chalk [problems] up to human [nature]. Decide in your own mind to forget it and move on.
*Listen and apply. Give validity to everyone’s thoughts, feelings and discussions. Make time for the people in your church. Don’t become closed-minded and don’t become prideful—wisdom and innovation often come from the most unlikely places. Don’t treat women like secondary citizens.
*Just love people and listen. Don’t try to have answers and stop judging. You don’t know
*Listen, talk, and walk out your faith rather than judging too quickly.
*Love everyone. Just love them. And give back to the ones who pour their selves into the church. That means asking their opinion, soaking them in prayer, and not using them as a last resort. Remember, women were the first Christians. Check out Luke 24:10 where the angels appeared to Joanna, Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary. They believed and it took the men they tried to share with a bit longer. Typical. Anyway, women should not be the last ones considered.
*People are fallen, and will let you down. There is true joy in forgiveness, and the other person doesn’t have to deserve it or even know that you have forgiven him. Hanging on to hurt, however legitimate, causes bitterness, which only hurts you.
*Do not worship the pastor; he is not God.
*”The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” 1 Samuel 16:7 (NIV)
*Stop playing God. Keep the plank out of your own eye.
*To seek God and His will and way before destroying a godly family and their children
*Forgive not because they need it, but because you do . . .
*Communicate, be honest, be forthright, and don’t allow any deceit in the relationship. And if all else fails, take it to the bishop. If that doesn’t work, quit and let the congregation know why. And pray for your enemies.
*Love everyone just the same. God doesn’t care what religion you are. You won’t get to Heaven because you’re this or that. Only if you have Jesus in your heart.
*”Take a good long look into the Word, a mirror to your own soul, and deal with the planks in your own eye . . . then move on with forgiveness and wisdom, careful not to gossip, but open to quietly be available to others who have been hurt.”
*Love unconditionally like we are supposed to. God is our judge and jury, not any person on this earth.
*Time and prayer helps to heal hurt. God can heal all hurt. Love one another as God commanded and treat each other the way you would want to be treated.
*Love others and accept them as they are. The next church I went to loved my children and accepted them for who they were as well as understood my son’s need to be dong something manual, Rubik’s cube, puzzles, while he listened to the lesson. He always was the first one to answer the questions even though he might have looked like he wasn’t listening. Both children are believers!
*To recognize that we do not wrestle with flesh and blood, but with the principalities of darkness. Even when the darkness has skin on, the real perpetrator is Satan. I’ve learned that persecutions, afflictions, and tribulations come with living a godly life. All of our heroes of faith have endured difficulties because they stood for righteousness. Also, I try to remind myself that everyone has a story. Quite often, the bad behavior is a symptom of a deep hurt. That helps me have some compassion and helps me see them through the eyes of God. And always remember, “But for the grace of God go I.” No one walks in perfection.
*Be humble and know that you are not immune.
*Forgiveness is key. Also a willingness to look at your own sins. I believe there is a need for better conflict management in the church. The way my dad was treated was not out of love.
*Leadership (pastors, elders, shepherds) need to attend to the entire flock, not just their friends. If someone is hurting go and pray with them… not just once but often. Don’t let those who are hurting be an island in the middle of a stormy sea. Silence is heartbreaking.
*Whatever the case, whoever is responsible in a marriage separation, reach out to both members. And if you can’t try and counsel them together, at least reach out to both and try and assist in the healing.
*We are called to forgive as Christ forgave us- undeserving as we are. He also told us to pray for our enemies, so we have no excuse.
*Be kind, don’t make assumptions, be accepting, try to understand people’s personal decisions, realize that we are all different. As Christians we are not to conform to this world, but there is a great deal of conformity in the church as well. Just because I’m a Christian doesn’t mean that I listen to the same worship songs, or that I’m called to be in the church ministry, or that I’m reading the popular Bible study. I would want the church to be more accepting of individuality and to know God has specific plans for each of us, and that most of the time those plans lead us in different directions.
*If you are a friend, then be a friend.
*The deepest hurt I see today is the judgment of homosexuals and other marginalized people. How dare they.
*Approach your differences in love and with straight talk about specifics. The person you have a problem with needs to know that you care about them and their feelings even if you have to do something hard like let a staff member go.
*I knew God did not want this pastor in this church, my husband and I were the only ones who did not agree with our small congregation. I knew he was destroying the church that the Lord had called us to come there to build. When we saw we had no power to stop, we should have left and not stayed for our friends’ sake. I felt we had to stay because God called us to that place. Well, God can also move you to another place. Listen, listen, listen to the Holy Spirit and do His will.
*Take a very close look at how Jesus dealt with people—with love, compassion, forgiveness, gentleness, impartiality, humility, firmness. Jesus gave us the perfect example of how to treat others.
*Obviously, lots of prayer. The regional leaders of a denomination would be wise to hear from “regular” church members and not automatically assume the pastor’s story is unbiased. With more than one pastor, I’ve seen different behavior depending on the position of the person/people he/she was communicating with. I wonder if three to six months sabbaticals would be helpful for pastors. I didn’t feel like I could share with those in authority in the region because I didn’t want to condemn the pastor or gossip. By the way, the pastor and I did talk during the whole time . . . but the pastor pretty much became a dictator.
*Don’t take things personally. Some things just aren’t worth it, but if you need to take a stand on something, then do it and accept the fallout.
*Go in the trenches with the people. Do not abandon the young widows. Get educated about suicide. Pay more attention to the weakened and stop the judgments. After all . . . who is stronger during these types of crises? Is the church not called to help carry the burdens?
*Keep confidences . . . teach children and adults the biblical truth about homosexuality.
*Don’t discount or mistrust secular mental health professionals.
*The pastor needs checks and balances. When a pastor heads into the woods with false or harmful teachings, someone has to curb him. If there is no safety net, the congregation suffers. If wasn’t just the “teens are going to hell” comments — it was the “if you were truly in the will of God, you wouldn’t have any problems.” I’m sorry, but that’s not what my Bible says at all! But the pastor appeared to be beyond the correction of any person. We left him to God, and knew only He could correct this pastor’s thinking. I don’t know how that came out.
*Get over yourself and learn to differentiate between your personal preferences and the standards in the Scripture. Learn how to follow. Learn how to pray. Learn how to keep the main thing the main thing. Understand that the church is not your country club; it is a hospital and a dispatch center to care for the lost and wounded.
*Don’t gossip, don’t judge, and go to that person and talk to them in love.
*Listen and react with compassion
*We are all people made in the image of Christ. We must be united as one body.
*If there is someone in the body causing pain to others, address the problem as soon as possible and do what is necessary no matter who is involved. There is a place for church discipline, doled out in appropriate measure.
*Remember that we all have to come to the cross. Be real and compassionate in your dealings with others.
*Listen to both sides of a situation before you judge someone. If you are going to offer support to one party, also offer support to the other. Don’t judge and automatically assume that the woman is at fault in domestic violence situations.
*Offer healing in the ways that you would want others to help you heal—that is, be compassionate.
*Don’t judge Christians by the church or the behavior of those in the church. We are all flawed and the only perfect example is Christ.
*My God-Sized Dream—I dream that one day Christians would be warm, caring, non- legalistic, non-self-righteous, authentic, passionate followers of Jesus.
The broken, the irreligious, the fallen, the different, and the unlovely should be welcomed at church.
I wish churches would measure success by the depth of their love, not by the number of their flock, size of the budget, or beauty of their buildings.
I’m dreaming of a day when Christians would stay married when times are tough; when forgiveness is sought and granted, and predictable struggles would result in humbly coming to God, His Word, and a wise brother or sister for wisdom and help.
I’m dreaming of a day when parents model holiness, purity, and set boundaries for their children to protect them from the seductive world system (that promises everything and delivers death).
I’m dreaming of a day when parents eat together and laugh, tell stories of God’s love at bedtime, tickle each other to tears, spill popcorn on the floor, pray about tests, lost friends, and neighbors, and make their house the most exciting and fun place on the block.
I’m dreaming of a day when Christians know their neighbors’ names and eat hamburgers with them in the back yard; a day when … we’re known by our love.
I’m dreaming of a day when churches work together to paint schools, clean parks, build houses in the tough part of town, and refuse to care who gets the credit.
I’m dreaming of a day when Christians would be known more what we are “for” more than what we are against; a day when prayer would be viewed as more powerful than politics, and people would be valued and treated with dignity even if what they believe is the antithesis of all we stand for.
I’m dreaming of a day when Christians would cease to be so concerned about being “cool,” hip, cutting edge and relevant, and simply be consistent, caring, and committed to become like Jesus and do what He says.
I’m dreaming of a day when nine out of tenChristians would think it abnormal and strange if they did not:
Live before God daily—in His word and prayer
Do life in community—small group, authentic relationships weekly
Be on mission twenty-four/seven.
This is a dream I can’t shake. It’s a dream that Christians everywhere, in every culture, in every country, in every expression of Christ’s church, would simply “live like Christians!”
Maybe it’s because this isn’t my dream at all, it’s Jesus’ divine will and prayer for His church … It’s what He meant when He taught us to pray …
“May Thy will be done and Thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is in Heaven.”— Chip Ingram
*Listen with an open mind, dialogue with a forgiving spirit, don’t get caught up in yourself.
*Advertise the job to get the best person. Don’t just hire family and get the church to vote if not all were happy with the decision.
*Don’t just tell the wounded to forgive. It lays the burden of repairing the relationship solely on them, and allows the perpetrator to continue their destruction. For the sake of their souls, they need to be confronted.
*Don’t get too close to people, try not to substitute them for family. They are not your family!
*For prevention, be open to honest, constructive communication.
*It would be so wonderful if we could just get along and support one another even if there are differences of opinions. Not everyone believes the same about certain things and as long as you agree doctrinally, then why nitpick at someone else for seeing a doctor, using a different homeschool curriculum, etc.
*If you are worried about someone using Christ as an excuse to behave inappropriately toward your spouse, meet with that person as a couple. Don’t just treat them like a hooker. They are looking at you to see Jesus. It was only because I had other Christians in the family that I held on for so long. Not everyone has that support.
*Love people—hate the sin. Remember God has already forgiven their sin, so who are we to be suspicious, standoffish and judgmental?
*Deal with problems . . . even when it is tough. Everyone sins, so don’t expect perfection but repentance and the will to want to make things right.
*Everyone makes mistakes but all can and should be forgiven. No one is above saying “I’m sorry.” Every spoken word has the ability to hurt or to heal, and words should be used cautiously. God is the ultimate authority in church—He is the head, not a man. Prayer is available to all and the Holy Spirit leads many in the body, not just the pastor.
*Reach out to your own.
*Do not treat people as if they’re invisible. Call them, ask them to come meet with you. Include another woman in the church to help you come alongside. Make sure youth ministers are coming alongside the children, especially when they stop attending church. Ask. Form a support group for women or men in similar situations.
*Be accountable and responsible for not only your actions but also your words, let your yes mean yes and no mean no.
*Like all people, churches need to overlook the superficial outside of people and get to know people’s heart. In my case, I was not as they thought . . . but if I were, would that have made my service to the Lord any different?
*Be kind. Be caring. Smile as often as possible. Follow God’s rules as given in Scripture before following anything else. Scripture covers how to treat people.
*Be clear about the principles your church is founded on and stay true to those beliefs.
*Find another church, don’t let it keep hurting you.
*The church is not above the law. If a crime is going on, it needs to be reported to the authorities, no matter what. “Prophets” can prophesy falsely, or make mistakes, or bring their own agenda into the mix, and a lot of people can be hurt if abuse isn’t dealt with properly and legally.
*Check all the facts; don’t re-victimize the victim.
*Be a hand for your community, but most importantly your members.
*Forgive and move forward.
*Decide if a problem incident is a reflection on that body as a whole, or the sin of one. If it’s the one, then try to work it out . . . or, as in my case, avoid them (as leadership didn’t do anything about it). If you are in danger, leave. And pray for the person.
*Honor, esteem one another higher than yourself, deal honestly with one another, and if hurts do occur, restore don’t reject.
*Think before you act. Stop and think about how you are affecting others before opening your mouth and making bad choices.
*God can turn what others meant for harm into good.
*You cannot prevent hurt. Focus on and trust in Jesus primarily. Forgive generously. Remember to be authentic and kind yourself. People are not a commodity!
*Listen to the people’s concerns. Even if you don’t agree with them, hear them out, pray with them, do any appropriate follow-up, and don’t cut them off from from your caring and compassion. Don’t pretend there is no problem, but confront it together and work toward a solution or at least some understanding of each other’s position. Don’t refuse to respect someone.
*Be responsible for your own spiritual growth! You are responsible for your own self and your kids! Love God and keep Him #1!
*The same advice the other pastor’s wife gave me. Don’t rehearse the hurt to everyone you can because each time you do, you are reliving it. You forgive the person through prayer and leaning on God. Then it is up to the other because they are responsible for their own behavior.
*Prayer. If you are in ministry you can’t prevent hurt and still be effective in ministry. Yes, there are things I would do differently, but they are mostly small things, nothing specific in nature. In my case, remaining in the same church for two and a half years prevented healing. We stayed mainly for our children, who were very active in the church. But, as a result all three left their faith and the church; only one has returned. And that has been a nightmare of epic portions; causing hurt beyond comprehension. It has also prevented returning to ministry which would be the ultimate healing; if it ever happens; as I am nearly sixty and have a multitude of health issues.
*Pastors that do spiritual violence to others in the church should be held accountable just as surely as those who do physical violence.
*I am not sure. I think it comes with getting saved and realizing that church is not about me but about God. It is about worshiping Him and not myself. I think the most hurt occurs when we put ourselves up as our own “God” and expect people to worship us.
*Trust the ones who bring charges in the job they are mandated to do.
*Love each other and know that offenses will come. I look at hurts as a fence between two parties. Tear it down.
*There isn’t any hope. People do what they think is right.
*Be supportive and open minded to change. Not just any change; the change that is for the betterment of the church. There are hurting people that need Jesus. We need to put ourselves and our personal agenda aside and see that there is a lost & dying world headed to Hell if we don’t straighten up and listen to and follow Christ’s leadership and not ourselves. When we take the focus off ourselves and put it on Christ, where it should be, everything else doesn’t matter. Following Christ and leading others into a personal relationship with Him is what it’s all about. It’s not about us, it’s about how can we share Jesus through our hurts and trials? Am I living to please man or God? That is what matters . . . doing what God has called us to do.
*It’s normal that we get hurt. Jesus took on more hurt than I could ever endure. I need to remember that and know that Jesus taught forgiveness.
*Own up to what you do and people will forgive you and work through it with you.
*Get to know all of the people in your church for who they are as a person, not just for what they can do for the church.
*First, go to the Bible for guidance and eliminate the “but what’s” , then avoid the cowardly responses by addressing the complete issues at hand, not just numbers. To address the physical histories, to look each person in a pew in the eye. I think it would be wonderful to get people from all sides of the fences together to communicate needs and help. Surely there have to be brainstormers of record at other churches whom can perhaps match folks up as sister churches or mentors. I do not have much hope for this denomination’s future unless care from the very person responsible for its health is taken care of.
*The church does not exist to serve you. You exist to serve God through the church.
*Do everything to prevent cliques and don’t ignore issues in the church.
*Show compassion when someone is broken. Don’t be afraid of the tears. Meet with the congregation minister even if it takes a few minutes longer at the end of the service.
*I would advise the body to make the time for lots and lots of prayer—and diligent study of scripture—before hiring anyone to minister! Even persons who have grown up in a church and are wanting to minister in that church should be accountable and be willing to submit to a waiting period that includes lots of prayer and (hopefully) hearing from the Lord. Any teachers need to study James 3:1 and pray over it, acknowledging the warning it contains.
*Act like a Christ-centered person and not a lip-service Christian. BE a Christ-centered person.
*When hurt has occurred, it is extremely important for things to be cleared up in the same manner they were administered – with all parties!
*Grace and forgiveness
*Love everyone, regardless of their circumstances. Don’t be judgmental. Don’t be afraid to give a hug or smile. Provide a meal for child-sit for an afternoon.
*I was never told the truth. I met with the pastor and asked about forgiving, but he was not helpful. My friends were the only ones that helped me. The church should not cater to those that put the most in the offering plate. We are all the body of Christ and are all needed and important to the other parts. The pastor should have set me up with people to help with my feelings and help me to learn how to forgive.
Maybe God needs to use you somewhere else. Be still and listen!
*Pray. Take the feelings of others into account. If you are offended by something, discuss it with the one who gave offense. They may not have meant it the way you took it.
*That we will (or at least should have) Jew and Gentiles following after the King of The Jews and leave us alone to be happy that the scriptures were opened for us. The church is not a Gentile entity.
*Stand on God’s word, not just your personal feelings.
*We are all imperfect people serving a perfect/holy God. We all need to grasp that concept when looking at each other.
*James 2:1 and 2:9
*Practice the ‘One Anothers’ from the New Testament.
*Ask questions: What can I do to help you in your time of need? Make follow up calls a few days later to see if anything has changed. Do you need anything now? The day after a death you are numb.
*Do not put people into social groups. Love and care about each individual as unto the Lord. We are all the same in God’s eyes.
*Be kind and gentle when you give a decision, also if you could give a brief explanation as to why your answer is what it is it might help.
*Above all, be truthful!
*Pay attention to the kids. If they show signs of abuse, physical, mental or sexual (my father did all three) take the issue seriously, ask questions, and find out what’s going on.
*Treat others like you would want them to treat you.
*Develop a real understanding of the love chapter, how God wants us to love and nurture one another through good times and bad, through both real and perceived wrongs. Strive for unity and take to heart the scripture and song that says, “they will know we are Christians by our love.”
*How to heal? I have no idea. I still haven’t. To prevent hurt, love me every day, not just on Sundays.
TO BE CONTINUED . . .