“Church hurts” is a bit of an oxymoron to me.
The church is supposed to be a place where believers love one another like Christ loves, a place where Christians live in harmony with each other. Yet, it is also in this context where many of us experience relational struggles and have to deal with hurt – either as someone who causes it or receives it.
While hurts and disappointments in relationships are not exclusive to believers, I’ve come to realise that it is often more painful and heartbreaking when these experiences come from within the church. This is because the relationships we have in church run deep.
Opening ourselves up to intimacy is to be vulnerable, and sometimes that can mean disappointment or conflict with the people we trust and value most.
A few years back, I struggled with disappointment and hurts from a leader in church whom I had looked up to greatly.
Later, when I started seeking help through counselling, my counsellor eventually identified that experience as a trauma in my life, because it has affected how I see my worth in relationships and my identity.
And so I’m not just talking about this topic at arm’s length, but from a place of personal wrestling and struggling.
There were times when I really questioned if the church is worth loving. I questioned whether the church really was a safe place for the broken, especially on times when it felt like the church left me more wounded and broken than before.
It took me months to wrestle through this season with God, all while I was fighting the urge to just give up and leave. But here are five realisations that eventually made me stay, persevere and love.
1. The church is imperfect
I believe this isn’t something that we’re hearing for the first time. But as much as it is easy to acknowledge this in our minds, it is quite another thing to accept it as reality when we actually feel hurt or disappointed in church.
While this is certainly not an excuse to be careless with our relationships in church and hurt one another, it means that we actually shouldn’t be too surprised when things don’t go well sometimes. After all, sin will be inevitable where there are humans.
Remember that we are called to be kind, compassionate and to forgive one another (Ephesians 4:31-32).
Hold on to Jesus and let go of bitterness and unforgiveness. That enables us to process and heal from our hurts without holding on to offences and grudges.
2. I am also imperfect
I want to be clear that this doesn’t cancel out the wrongs that have been done towards us. However, it is important to remember that we are also imperfect because it prevents us from falling into self-righteousness.
Merely recognising that the church is imperfect, it becomes easy to victimise ourselves and feel like it is always other people who hurt and disappoint us.
It takes humility and honesty to recognise that we are also part of the imperfect church. As imperfect people we bring our fair share of flaws and imperfections to the church, and we also hurt and disappoint people.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3-4)
Yes, we have every right to acknowledge the hurts we have experienced. And it is true that the church is imperfect.
However, it doesn’t mean that we are “too good” for the church and that the church is no longer worth investing in. Just as the church and our spiritual community accept and embrace us despite our flaws and imperfections, can we do the same?
3. We help one another
“…first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5)
While the Bible calls us to pay attention to the plank in our own eyes, it doesn’t tell us to ignore and remain silent towards the specks in others’ eyes. We are called to first take the plank out of our own eye, and then help others remove the speck from their eyes.
This to me, is a beautiful picture of the church – a safe place where we can be real about our flaws and weaknesses and grow together. A community that builds one another up will involve helping each other to recognise our weaknesses so as to grow.
Pastor Natalie Runion, author of Raised To Stay, said this in a podcast: “The church is a family of broken people. We’re gonna have siblings who are pinching under the table. We’re gonna have siblings who are being bad. And we’re also gonna have spiritual parents who might mistreat [rephrased] us.”
But I learnt that this is the beautiful thing: an imperfect family is still a family. We don’t give up, we stick together and we help each other to grow.
Blood is thicker than water; the Blood of Christ that binds us together is stronger than anything in this world that seeks to divide us.
4. This is spiritual warfare
There was one thing she said that really spoke to me: “Our hurts and disappointments in church are more than just our personal struggles. This is a spiritual warfare. And we need the Body of Christ to come together to fight these battles.”
As much as our hurts and disappointments in church could feel like they are just our relational struggles with one another, it is also important for us to remember that spiritual warfare exists. We should also recognise that emotional baggages can sometimes become stumbling blocks to what God wants to do in us and through us.
Conflicts in church are not just a matter of losing a friend or a few people we can trust; if our hurts and disappointments are unresolved the church could eventually be divided and become distracted from God’s purpose.
We cannot afford to lose sight of our calling as the Church because we are God’s instrument to reach the lost. So we need to be aware not to fall into the traps of offence and unforgiveness such that we stop believing in the church and in what God has in store for all of us.
5. There is still hope
Church hurts are incredibly real. I know of people who have left the church because of these hurts, and they still can’t bear to talk about their hurts till today.
The truth is, we may not see a perfect church in our lifetime. We may only see the spotless Bride when Christ returns (Revelation 19:7-8).
But the question right now is this: Are we willing to persevere in believing and loving the church?
Jesus was no stranger to such hurts from the people He held dear. In Matthew 26:36-46, Jesus was repeatedly let down by His disciples when He asked them to keep watch and pray with Him. In the same chapter, He was also betrayed by His very own disciple, Judas.
Yet, even after experiencing all this disappointment, Jesus did not turn on His people or give up on them. He still went ahead to suffer and die for them on the cross.
Jesus did not let His hurts and disappointment distract Him from His mission.
Out of God’s grace, He chooses to use imperfect people like you and me to do His work. He chooses to use the imperfect Church for His work.
While the hurts and disappointment we face in church are definitely real, it doesn’t mean that our only valid response would be to give up on church and what it stands for.
Colossians 1:24 reads: “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.”
I pray that just like Paul, we will be people who are unafraid to suffer for the church.
If you are thinking of giving up on church, I encourage you to take a step back and be reminded of her beauty.
One week, when I felt really tempted to give up, God impressed this on my heart during a church service: “While the church may be broken in ways that we do not expect, it is also beautiful in ways that we can’t imagine.”
Indeed, I have found some of the most precious friendships in my life here in the church. The church has journeyed with me through my many ups and downs. Some in church have even received me in my darkest moments and picked me up when I was at my lowest.
“While the church may be broken in ways that we do not expect, it is also beautiful in ways that we can’t imagine.”
Thus it is perhaps unfair for me to overlook how the church has loved and blessed me simply because there were hurts and disappointments that came along the way.
So, if you are dealing with church hurts today, I pray that God will also help you to recognise how the church has been a blessing to you. I pray that you will be able to come to a resolution that brings healing and peace.
You’re a valuable part of the church. You’re seen, you’re loved and you matter.
- Have you ever been hurt in church?
- If no, is it possible you have not yet made yourself vulnerable to your spiritual community? How can you change that?
- If yes, who do you need to seek reconciliation with? Who do you need to forgive?
- Do you know someone who struggles to love the church? How can you support them?