by Laura Acuna
“There is nothing quite like the pain of being hurt by the church.”
This is what my new pastor acknowledged to me when I first visited him after leaving the church where our family worshipped and served for over fifteen years.
Boy, was he correct — there really is nothing quite like the pain of being hurt and disappointed within the Body of Christ. It’s disorienting and confusing to say the least.
I’ve always loved the church. I was raised in an active and loving congregation and, with the exception of a year or two as a young adult, have been a member of a local body my whole life.
However, the church is made up of humans and we often do not do conflict well.
Leaving our church family was such a difficult decision. Pat and I prayed for over a year, asking God to point us in the right direction.
Should we move on or should we stay?
There was no angry conflict and we were not at odds with anyone in particular. We’d grown unhappy and uneasy with the direction of leadership. We desired a more active youth group for our youngest son and felt strongly we needed the change for his sake.
Having been in this particular body of Christ for such a long time, we knew what leaving would mean. We understood that no matter how much we tried to explain how we had come to our decision, feelings would be hurt, our motives would be misunderstood and many would sever their ties with us.
And that is exactly what happened.
We hurt the leaders and our church family when we left — and their response to our departure hurt us.
That was eight years ago.
Since then, life has gone on. It has been made clear to us in so many ways that the correct decision was made.
We only wish it had been received with more grace and understanding – and to be perfectly honest, we could have handled our end of it with more grace and understanding too.
Hindsight, as they say, is a beautiful thing. After eight years, I don’t have all the answers, but I have learned a few lessons along the way.
• Leaving a church should be bathed in prayer and done as peacefully and kindly as possible. This can be hard when you are hurt and you want to defend yourself, but it is essential.
• People will want to know the ‘whole’ story. This is where Pat and I got tripped up. We explained ourselves to too many people and it kept the wound open. There were a few who did not have our best interests at heart. They stirred the pot.
• On the other end, when folks leave our churches, we must be kingdom-minded, understanding that we are all on the same team, no matter whose bench we are sitting on.
• We are the Body of Christ and not members of a closed circle. God will move people on to other churches for His purposes. We must respect the decision to leave and keep the return door open. No burned bridges, no severed ties.
• When we are hurt, it may be tempting to give up church altogether and even confuse God with the behaviors of His children. We can’t allow that to happen.
• The Lord has chosen the Body of Christ, His bride, to meet together regularly to be the incubator for growing, developing Christians. The church is God’s idea, and He protects it faithfully even though He is often saddened by its behavior.
• Yes, there are difficult folks in the church, but grace-filled, loving, and forgiving people can be found there too. We have to seek them out and ask God for the courage to put down roots again.
As for us, we are happily settled in our new church home and in time, the hurts faded. It took a while, but forgiveness & reconciliation have mended the broken relationships. God is so faithful to His children.
Sweet friend, if you have been hurt by the church, take heart. Don’t give up and trust in God’s plan. There is a place for you in the Body of Christ.
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” — Colossians 3:12-20
Laura loves to encourage, equip, and connect with women of all ages and stages. She blogs at laura-acuna. She’s also a speaker at Christian women’s gatherings – conferences, workshops, MOPS groups, retreats, leadership training events, etc. You can also follow her on Twitter.