Thursday, November 29, 2012

Hurt by Church

Have you been wounded by a church?

Barna reports that millions of unchurched adults are Christians who were hurt by church. They have decided not to look for another church because of their prior painful experiences with a church, a pastor or people in the church. Many Christians, including some of my relatives, have left church and say they are too hurt to try to find another church.

My experiences in leaving two churches were painful, but I didn't carry deep wounds. My faith had grown strong enough to anchor me, and many positive experiences in church gave me perspective. I drifted away from church once and knew this was not the answer. Many who leave church carry wounds they cannot forget. Their reluctance to find another church is understandable. They may need professional help, but they must also look for another church. Lone Ranger Christians lose their spark. Their growth in Christ is stalled without a church. They may even lose their faith as I did.

Unfortunately there are pastors and church leaders who demean, manipulate, seduce or even sexually abuse a member. These hurts are deep and real, even traumatic. Expectations attached to the role of pastor are shattered; trust is gone. Those leaving a church for horrendous reasons will need to seek professional counseling to heal the damage done. Be sure to see a Christian counselor familiar with your denomination or church.

Timothy Keller, in his book, The Reason for God, says "I realize that so many people's main problem with Christianity has far more to do with the church than with Jesus. They don't want to be told that to become a Christian and live a Christian life they need to find a church they can thrive in. They've had too many bad experiences with churches....I realize how risky it is to tell my readers that they should seek out a church. I don't do it lightly, and I urge them to do it with the utmost care. But there is no alternative. You can't live the Christian life without a band of Christian friends, without a family of believers in which you find a place."

Some who leave church and don't return have unrealistic expectations of church. They don't realize that Christians are sinners. We can be mean, petty, and unkind; you name it. Many people leave church because they view other members as hypocrites. They fail to realize that we are all works in progress. We can "talk the talk" better than we can "walk the walk." Who can't?

Close connections with others are fraught with problems. Look at family problems, marital issues, and extended family conflicts. Relationships are difficult. But we learn in relationships and we need them. The alternative is to be alone, uninvolved. Churches demonstrate greater love and acceptance than most groups even though the church spans all generations and all economic levels. Also, God has covered our sins and accepted us without any merit of our own. We are told by Jesus to love and accept others.

So, leavers, I urge you to look for another church. Do so carefully and prayerfully.There are many caring and safe churches.  

Pastors and elders, please be alert to visitors who have been deeply hurt by a church, but have decided to follow Keller's admonition (and mine) and look for another church. Handle them with loving care.

Blessings, Dottie

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