When my heart was prompted to write about a touchy subject like church hurt, I honestly didn't know where to start. What happens when Christians don't behave like Christians? What happens when the church, “God's House”, doesn’t feel safe and you feel like you can’t be who you truly are? Let me start off by saying that this is in no means meant to be one of those negative, bashing articles about how Christians have got it wrong. That’s not my heart. So bear with me.
But before I venture forward, I think it’s important to understand a key thing about the church. The church is made up of imperfect people, much like the rest of humanity.
It would be dangerous to spin off of the idea that the source of the Christian faith, Jesus, is a reflection of His followers. It would also be faulty to sum up the whole of Christianity only on an encounter or experience with self-proclaiming Christians. In fact, that would be backwards. It is Christians who strive to obtain the spirit and attitude of Christ and the love of God. Imperfect human nature tends to fall short of that. We can’t verify who God is based on the flawed actions of His people. We can only verify who God is by who He says He is in His word. The sad reality is that many people walk away from the church because they’ve defined Christianity by the shortcomings of its followers.
That being said, Christians, there are a couple things we have to stop doing to people that is doing more harm than good.
1. Judging without knowing, listening or understanding.
Some of us have taken “judge according to their fruit” to an extreme. It's certainly a scripture of discernment that can be used to verify how a person's actions align by their character and spirit. It's wisdom. But ask yourself, are you judging just to judge? Or are you using this discernment to better understand who a person is out of a place of love? He or she doesn’t have it all together, but who does? This is the epitome of why we came to Christ. This is why we became a body, to help each other- not center on each other’s flaws.
And this is the core of it. We have shallow judgments because we have shallow relationships. I always say, “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” There's a natural and understandably negative stigma in trying to judge someone you barely know or even vice versa. This judgment is shallow. All these critical debates on social networks like Twitter or Facebook don’t help because it barely allows for deep and genuine relationships to be built unless true effort is made to understand the other’s positions. For example, my mother and I, brother or best friend could disagree and correct each other all day long, but because we’ve built an emotional bank with one another and because there is a deep source of love for one another, there is effectiveness and good motives in the correction. I feel safe in that.
Right is right and wrong is wrong no matter who points it out; I’m not canceling that. We ought to be humble enough to accept correction when we’re wrong, even though it absolutely makes our flesh cringe and it wants to fight back in defense. But it all comes down to the source: love. Do you love a person enough to understand why they are the way they are? Why did they say what they said? What brought them to this current place? Do you GENUINELY care? Or are you just scrolling, eyeing, assuming and pre-judging. Correction and accountability are healthy, but being critical and shallow is not.
2. Go to the person you have an issue with.
A lack of healthy confrontation is probably one of the biggest catalysts of not just church drama but all drama.
Matthew 18:15-17says, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
To paraphrase, if someone is doing wrong, if you’re feeling some kind of way about someone or bothered by something they did, go to that person directly, talk it out and settle it there. This is done with the hopes that a mature conversation (one willing to understand the other) would take place and would defuse resentment, harboring bitterness or the urge to gossip. If someone comes to you with a problem with someone else, direct him or her to that person. If it can't be resolved, you bring in a mutual, trusted and sound third or fourth party to help bring a solution. If the other person isn't willing to work your differences or continues to be negative about it, forgive him or her and let him or her go. I’ve witnessed my fair share of unnecessary drama in ministry, church and life because two people weren’t mature or courageous enough to talk out their own problems. We must all adopt this forgiving mindset if we want to be effective in love and unity as a body.
There are a number of things we can work on personally and together. And I’ve probably only scratched the surface but here's the fundamental truth: When we lose love as the center motive for all we do, we miss the power of the gospel. It's love that changed us all. It’s Love that died on the cross. It’s love that set us free. Any shallow acts of Christianity only backfire.
And a word of encouragement to us all:
It goes both ways. Even when Christians hurt us, we can’t hold God accountable to the ill choices imperfect people have made in their free will. We still need to find it in our heart to forgive all people. I get it, it hurts when the people who are suppose to love and accept you prove themselves otherwise. I’m sure at some point in time we’ve been on both sides of the spectrum.
So what happens when we see bad seed being sown on God’s grounds? What happens when the world enters the church— whether that is attitudes or beliefs? Do we say, “Forget this. I don’t want any part of this.” and walk away? Do we isolate ourselves to prevent another bad experience? I’ve been there! And here’s what I learned, confirmed by Pastor Thornell Godfrey.
The good and the bad must grow together.
Matthew 13:27-30 reads, “So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares? He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”
We’ll never impact the world positively if we run and isolate ourselves in the face of evil. The saying goes, “All that takes for evil to prevail is that good people do nothing.” If you see bad things happening in the church that is more of a reason to be the difference you want to see where you want to see it. Lead by example in the direction you aspire for. That mindset doesn’t apply only in the church, but everywhere we go in our lives. How will anything change if good people cannot bring a positive shift to bad culture? Don’t stop growing into the best you can be because of the disappointment of others. Don't let their actions push you back. Don’t stop pursuing Christ or seeking the truth of who He is because of a bad experience with His people.
But also don’t lose hope! There are plenty of great, loving, serving and generous people in the church. As I’ve grown, I’ve had the overwhelming experience of being embraced as family, sometimes even closer than family! I’ve encountered people who’ve helped change my life for the better forever. In relationship to this post, I can finally say that through overcoming a stronghold of church hurt, I’ve learned in summary:
1. God is good even when His people aren't.
2. We have to be the solution we want to see around us.
3. We have to remain good in the face of evil and not reduce ourselves to evil in response.
4. Love must be the driving cause of everything we do if we’re going to be effective.
5. Forgiving and praying for those who’ve hurt us (even leaders) is way more effective than harboring resentment and falsely projecting it on the church as a body.