If I asked you if you have ever been hurt in church or ministry, what would your answer be?
I have a feeling I know what most of you would say.
Sadly, I have been hurt, too. But I’m not writing this to complain or throw stones at any church or ministry. I’m writing it because I don’t think I’m alone. And I think it’s okay to not be okay with this.
It started as a young girl, when we went to a church that was extremely legalistic. We were not allowed to wear pants, watch TV, listen to anything but Christian music and every “sin” we committed (wearing pants, sitting closer than 6 inches to a boy, etc.) we were reprimanded by the church, in the name of accountability. When we left the church, we got hate mail from some of the members, pointing out that someone saw us in jeans at the roller rink and in bathing suits in our back yard. We were completely devastated, to say the least. I’m surprised we didn’t give up on church then and there, as we had only been going to church for a few short years.
I ran from God once I graduated from high school and went to college. I met Rod in college and when we married, we were not a churched family. I didn’t care - but I did know that God was real - and honestly I was terrified of Him. I felt like the churchy people in my life were an extension of Him. And since I was not able to live up to their standards, I knew I couldn’t live up to His. Why bother trying? It all seemed useless.
Fast forward to the age of 33, when my husband and I were desperately seeking God. We knew, somehow, that He was real and there was more to Him than we had believed. We both surrendered our hearts to Christ in February of 2003. The same night. It was awesome. And the beautiful reality of the grace and love of God was filling our hearts and our home for the first time. (if you want to read the whole amazing story, it's in my book, Wholehearted: Living the Life You Were Created to Live)
We settled into a church where our middle school kids wanted to attend because the youth group was very popular. We loved this church, and the people! However, I began to discern something was up with the youth pastor. I couldn’t pin point it, but I felt something was off. I prayed about it, talked to my husband about it and then went to the pastor for counsel. I was dismissed about my misgivings and basically made to feel like I was being judgmental. I cannot explain the feelings I had - except to say we had done everything we felt God was telling us to do, but we were ignored. We left this church, with heavy, heavy hearts. Within a year, we heard that youth pastor had fallen into some awful sin, had hurt many people and left the church without remorse. I had hoped I was wrong about him and that I was over-reacting. I still wish I was wrong about him, as he hurt so many people that I loved, including my children.
The ministry I was working in had some serious issues, as well. I tried to pray and work through it, but I ended up leaving. Every other ministry I worked in served up a big heaping bowl of hurt to my heart in some way, too. Several other things happened in literally every church I went to. I kept leaving and trying to find the “right” church and ministry.
I began to wonder if I was the problem, because the common denominator in every situation was ME. I even heard a sermon once where the pastor said if you are always the one getting hurt, perhaps you should look in the mirror. I decided I must have been the one causing all the problems. I begged God to help me see where I had gone wrong. I was so afraid of being hurt - and I was even more afraid of hurting others.
In retrospect, I know I handled some situations wrong. I know I am not perfect. But nothing that happened to me was fully on me. They were humans - just like me - who were doing their best, but who were just as afraid as I was of being hurt. Sometimes people act out of fear, out of frustration, out of self-preservation, out of past hurts…it’s all a mess, honestly. But it’s also quite beautiful. In church, I made some amazing connections, learned some life-changing and life-giving truths, worshipped to the point of overwhelm and was given opportunities to serve and love on others that I haven’t had since walking away. I miss that. I’ve actually been out of church (except for the occasional pop-in) for a couple of years. Literally every ministry & church I’ve been immersed in has had some sort of dysfunction and I came to the point where I decided I needed a break from it all.
I spoke with a friend once who counseled me that perhaps Jesus was calling me out of the boat? Remember when the disciples were in the boat and Jesus called Peter out? Perhaps the boat represented the church in this case? As I prayed about this counsel, I really felt that Jesus called me out to spend time teaching me that my focus needs to be on HIM, not the people in the boat, not the waves around us, not the clouds above us. HIM. And that’s where I was going wrong. That was the common denominator. I was not focusing on Him.
I have decided it’s time to get back in the boat. I realize that the people in the boat are sinners, saved by grace, just like me. I have been a bit isolated out here on my own - and though I have Jesus (He has never left my side), I can honestly say that the community He provides in the local church has left a huge vacancy in my heart.
Jesus tells us that in the church, there are wheat and weeds - and that we cannot discern which is which. He doesn’t tell us to stay away, though. He tells us to stay in the field (the church) and trust that HE will weed out the weeds in His time, as we trust and obey Him in all things. I will never find the wheat - the true, Spirit-filled believers, if I don’t get back into the church.
I haven’t wavered even once in my faith in Christ or in my belief in the grace and goodness of God over these past couple of years. And I do think He used this time to teach me more about focusing on Him, trusting His plan and loving others in spite of their sin and shortcomings. Perhaps He even taught me to love myself a little more, to show myself some grace, too. A couple of months ago, in my quiet time He spoke to my heart clearly. He said,
“When you turn back - and you will - encourage your brothers & sisters.”
I hear you, God.
So, again, if I asked you the question, “Have you ever been hurt in ministry or the church?”, what would your answer be? If the answer is yes, please hear my heart here. There is nothing the enemy of your soul wants more than for you to stay away from the wheat. That’s why the weeds are there, to choke the life out of the church. You have a choice, and God loves you no matter what you decided, but mark my words: the enemy is using divisions and offense in the church right now to divide us for a reason. He knows God can use us best when we are unified and strong. And we can only be that when we are together.
Perhaps it's time to get back in the boat? Will you join me?