Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Have You Been Hurt by the Church?

If you've been been hurt by the church, you have something in common with nearly every Christian on the planet. If you've left the church because you were hurt there, you've got something in common with me (and probably a whole lot of other Christians, too). My husband and I are currently taking a break that has lasted a year, so far.

During our time away from church, we've had lots of discussions about whether we should go back, look for a different church, or not go to church anymore at all. Each of us has family members that no longer attend church because of past hurts, which is a senseless tragedy all on its own, and doesn't sit well with us. We don't want to quit on God's people, but how can we risk being hurt again? 

Here's a bit of my story...

I've been an active part of the church community all my life, participating with my time, money, and various gifts and services.

A little over a year ago, I lost my youngest brother to suicide. That same evening, I sent a text to all of my Christian friends asking for prayer. These are the people we went to church with, had coffee with, spent time getting to know, and served alongside. Some of them never even replied. To this day, I haven't heard a peep about it. Others gave an immediate reply of support, but in the days and weeks that followed, quickly forgot about the devastation that had wreaked havoc on my family and my life. They wanted to "hang out" again, do fun stuff, and go back to normal. For me, that wasn't possible. It became increasingly difficult to go to church, since we were greeted by huge smiles, "How are you?"s and the like. At church, I was not allowed to be broken, ripped open, desperate, forsaken by God, or even mildly sad (let alone depressed). The pastor that met with us (God bless his soul!) rambled nervously through the visit, and it was painfully obvious that he was in over his head and at a loss. He had lots of words, but he didn't know how to walk with us through our valley. So we left.

(Side note: I could write a whole blogsworth on the acts of love and compassion shown to us by a handful of awesome friends and relatives, but for the sake of brevity I'm paring it down.)

Now, over a year later, we're talking about going to church again. Partly because a gracious and generous act of love from a friend opened the door for forgiveness. She apologized - not having personally done anything to hurt us - for the shortcomings of our church and its leadership. Prior to that, I'd been having a hard time forgiving and letting go of my bitterness. Afterwards, the idea of reconciliation seemed a lot sweeter. She didn't have to stick her neck out like that, or even acknowledge it; she didn't have to say anything at all. But she did, and it helped.

So after all of that, here are my thoughts on Christians leaving the church because they've been hurt:

When we leave the church because we've been hurt, we have a couple of options...

1) We can use the time to heal, be restored, rest, forgive, and then return to church (or find a new one).
2) We can hold onto our hurts, nurse our wounds, feed our bitterness, and refuse to put ourselves at risk of being hurt again by opening ourselves up to relationships within the church.  

When we leave the church permanently (Christmas and Easter don't count, by the way), we end up hurting the body of Christ WAY more than they ever hurt us. How? Well, we've amputated ourselves off of the Body, which leaves the rest of Christ's people with a serious handicap. For example: One thing I love to do is help people in practical ways. Since we left the church, we haven't been contributing our gifts to the other members of the body. We've done service related things outside of the church, but even non-Christians do that. 

The other way it hurts the church when we leave is that there are other Christians going through hard times, tragedies, and loss, and they are also looking for people in the church who can relate, empathize, and simply walk through the valley with them. But guess what? They're not there; they left the church. The people (you and I) who could be of the most help (because we understand deep suffering) have left the church because we were let down in our hour of need. 

So if all the the hurting people leave the church because no one there can help them, then the next wave of hurting people are going to find a church body that is missing the very people it needs most.

To put it another way: Let's say my husband and I never go back to church because the body of Christ wasn't there for us. A year later, someone else from our old church experiences a suicide in their family, and reach out to the church for help. Now there's no one there for them, who can relate with their pain, or who can show love in a relevant way and be a lifeline. That person then leaves the church, too. The cycle repeats itself, with more and more hurting people leaving the church. 

So, we're going back. Not sure where, yet, but that's irrelevant. There are hurting people in the church who need us. If we leave the church because we were failed by others, then we in turn fail those who come after us, who need us. It's selfish and destructive to stay away from the church because of past hurts, and we don't want that on our score card come Judgment Day. 

Each one of us is desperately needed in the church, regardless of past failures and hurts. We have no excuse to hack ourselves off of the body. There is no substitute for your presence at church; your story, your love, your voice, your prayers, your compassion, your help, your worship. No one can take your place!

I'll close with this passage from Corinthians:

Certainly the body isn’t one part but many. If the foot says, “I’m not part of the body because I’m not a hand,” does that mean it’s not part of the body?  If the ear says, “I’m not part of the body because I’m not an eye,” does that mean it’s not part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, what would happen to the hearing? And if the whole body were an ear, what would happen to the sense of smell? But as it is, God has placed each one of the parts in the body just like he wanted.  If all were one and the same body part, what would happen to the body? But as it is, there are many parts but one body. So the eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you,” or in turn, the head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” Instead, the parts of the body that people think are the weakest are the most necessary. The parts of the body that we think are less honorable are the ones we honor the most. The private parts of our body that aren’t presentable are the ones that are given the most dignity. The parts of our body that are presentable don’t need this. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the part with less honor so that there won’t be division in the body and so the parts might have mutual concern for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part gets the glory, all the parts celebrate with it. You are the body of Christ and parts of each other.
1 Corinthians 12:14-27 (CEB)

images sourced from Open Photo (a free photo site) and edited by me with PXLR


  1. Per usual very well stated!!! Part of the whole thing is learning grace for the other "parts" of the body. Like you said we are all needed and no one can take our place. Love you Shosh.

  2. Your words are so true..Shosh. Out of such pain and suffering came such wonderful revelations! Love you!

  3. Excellent perspective and thought provoking. Having left the "organized" church over five years ago, we just recently found a church we now call home. In our time "out" however, we never forsook gathering with other believers and we made sure we were in touch with people we trusted and could be accountable to.

    1. Well, you've done better than us! We still get together with our believing friends, but for me it has been more casual. I want to do the "accountability thing", but I don't really know how, I guess. I suppose I'd have to be really intentional about it. We've thought about trying to find a house church because it would be more intimate. Our old church has "home communities" that meet weekly, and it's basically another name for cell groups. But they start meeting at the time when Jed is getting tired and cranky :) sooooo, yeah.

  4. I am covered in goose bumps. CO. VERED.
    You did it again, Sister.

    And we love you.

    1. Thanks Shan :) we love you too!
      By the way, keep your eyes on the mail box for a small envelope addressed to you :) <3

  5. Thank you for this. We have been "on break" from church for a few months after suffering some hurts. I wasn't feeling like anyone understood where I was or where I was even going to end up. Thank you for giving words to my feelings.

    1. Sending up a prayer for you now, Kris. God bless you.

  6. Hi Shoshana. I came to your blog because I love Shanna's blog. I am so sorry to hear about this, but so encouraged to hear your story. I too had a similar journey. I took a break last year from church because my husband stopped attending. I was so sad and ashamed. For a year I wondered if I really needed church, and after a "wrestling match" with God he answered my prayers and my convictions are stronger than ever now to go. Since, I have found a church of people who have welcomed my little, broken family with love. I am growing spiritually. My daughter is taken care of. And my husband is even being loved from afar! It is NOT what I was looking for or expecting, but after trying, oh, 20 churches it was where I felt PEACE! I will say a prayer for you guys that God will plant you where you belong, and that you can nurse the wounds of people who have experience what you have gone through in your future church. Who knows? Maybe you can follow through in someone else's life the way other people neglected to do! Blessings to you! :)


    1. Hi Tiffany,
      Thanks for sharing some of your story as well. It's a strange comfort, if you know what I mean, to not feel so alone in this struggle. We recently found a church that we might just call home. We've sort of fallen in love with the people there, and it's such a refreshing feeling. I don't know where I'm at with trust though - it's hard to go to the deep places with people who have never been there. But I'll bet God has a hand in that as well - he seems to excel in taking us through the rough patches, as opposed to avoiding them :)
      God bless you and your family!