“How to heal from church hurt.” Even the title seems a bit “churchy,” doesn’t it? As if the wounds we’ve experienced from people who say they love Jesus can be wiped away, smoothed over, or fixed in a few short steps. That’s an overly simple Sunday School answer to a legitimate real-life wound. It’s a Pollyanna promise. So, before you click away or roll your eyes, please hear this. Church hurt hurts. Church hurt is real, and church hurt takes a long time to heal. Full stop.
Many of you reading this would love to hear me, your pastor, or maybe anyone in the Christian community say the very important words, “I’m sorry.” And friend, if you’ve been hurt by the church, I see you. I feel for you, and I am so, so sorry.
You’re not alone. So many of us, myself included, have been hurt by the very people closest to us, the people we’ve welcomed into community, the ones with whom we share worship and communion. And if we’re honest, we have likely been not just the victim, but party to inflicting the pain on occasion too. (Because when we are hurt by the church, sadly we often bite back.)
So no, I don’t want to minimize the pain. It’s not my intention to pretend it isn’t real. But two competing realities can simultaneously be true.
We can be hurt by the church, but we can’t quit the church. That’s simply not an option, not for Christ followers.
Jesus loves the church. You probably know this. In fact, many of us who love Jesus but have a complicated relationship with the Church would agree that Jesus loves her. But we often think about the church in a global, eternal sense. It makes it easier to put distance between ourselves and the very real people we share pews or rows with. You know, the ones who drive us bananas.
But Jesus doesn’t just love the global, eternal church. When He addresses letters to seven churches in Revelation, Jesus calls each church by name. He speaks specifically to their challenges and triumphs. Over and over again, He says “I know.” He is intimately aware of the persecution they endure, the patience they practice, or the laziness they have fallen into. Jesus sees your church. Jesus sees my church.
This truth doesn’t just compel us to continue with the church. It’s also the first way we heal from church hurt. Friend, Jesus knows all you’ve endured. More than that, He empathizes. Read any one of the Gospels and you’ll see countless instances where Jesus was misunderstood, criticized, or attacked. Sometimes we stay stuck in our pain because we want others to finally see how hurtful and wrong they were. I won’t say that never happens, but you don’t have to wait for your pain to be validated. Jesus sees and knows now. When we believe the lie that no one understands our pain, we will run from community and cling to our hurt. But we are not alone. We can choose today to believe Jesus when He says, “I know.”
If we believe the lie that no one knows our pain, we inadvertently diminish the deity of Jesus. He can’t be all-knowing and not understand what we’re going through. But when we agree with and act on the unchangeable truth that Jesus knows all our hurts and hang-ups, we elevate Him and unhinge ourselves from the prison of people pleasing. When we truly believe that Jesus not just knows about our hurts but wants to comfort us in them, we no longer feel the desperate need for others to affirm, understand, apologize, or see our point of view. And that liberty brings the freedom to finally begin to heal. I know from years of seeing the underbelly of church life, people don’t always come around. Though it’s the biblical goal and hope, restoration doesn’t always happen. But you and I don’t have to stay hijacked by others’ refusal to reconcile. Part of healing is letting Jesus hold the place of priority in our hearts, not the people who hurt us.
Finally, even when we believe that Jesus knows our pain and that our healing is not dependent on others, we still have to choose to begin letting Jesus heal us. I’ve been guilty of holding onto my hurt, petting it, and rehearsing it. I’ve played and replayed all that happened. But if I’m honest, all that isn’t for the purpose of healing; it’s for the purpose of hanging on. If I stay wounded, I don’t have to get well. And if I’m not well, I don’t have to risk being hurt again. Sometimes it’s easier just to stay in pain.
Easier? Yes. Better? No.
Because Jesus loves the church and because Jesus loves us, His desire is for you and me to live in beautiful, albeit complicated, community together. And that means we have to get over our hurts. Now, I know, I know. To write an entire article about how to heal from church hurt and only talk about Jesus seems pretty tidy, right? Easy to preach. Hard to live. Listen, I started this article as a five-point checklist. I like a practical takeaway as much as the next girl. But here’s the thing. We will never be healed unless we realize that the hurt isn’t our issue; our hearts are. We will never be able to live the abundant life Jesus calls us to if we aren’t willing to ask Him to heal our hearts. When we keep focusing on our hurt and the people who hurt us, the devil will always be there to salt that wound and remind us why we deserve to withdraw, sulk, and stay sour. Believe me.
Friend, the church is jacked up. And your hurt is real and legitimate, I’m sure. But as diverse and personal as all our pain is, I can say categorically that Jesus is the only healer for a hurt that deep. And I know because I’ve seen it and experienced it. I also know that the beauty of community is worth the work of healing.
Whitney Capps is a national speaker for Proverbs 31 Ministries and a writer for the free Bible app, First 5, reaching more than one million people daily. As a Bible study geek, Whitney’s delight is to dig into God’s Word for profound, yet practical, truth. A communicator at heart, Whitney comes alive sharing those truths with any gal who will give her even a few minutes. Before her writing and speaking gig, Whitney served as a talent acquisitions professional for the corporate office of Chick-fil-A. Additionally, Whitney served her community as her local Bible Study Fellowship teaching leader for several years.
Whitney has written a Bible study called We Over Me that teaches us about God’s call to us in the church and a book entitled Sick of Me: From Transparency to Transformation, both release in March 2019.
A girly-girl living among all boys, Whitney and her husband, Chad, are raising their four sons, Cooper, Dylan, Ryder, and Tate, just outside of Atlanta, Georgia. Her house is wild, loud, and littered with Legos®. Whitney is addicted to shoes, Coke Zero®, queso, and guac.
To hear more from Whitney, visit her website WhitneyCapps.com.
Want to read more from Whitney? You can pre-order her new Bible study, We Over Me, at LifeWay.com/WeOverMe.