How Do I Deal With Church Hurt Without Losing My Faith?

How Do I Deal with Church Hurt (Without Losing My Faith)?
1 Cor. 1:10-13 (also 1 Cor. 3-6)

In the New Testament, we see the beginnings of the early church. Paul, an apostle tasked with sharing the good news to Gentiles and responsible for planting many churches is dealing with church division, lawsuits, scandals etc - there was a lot of church hurt right from the start.  So, we are dealing with an age-old problem when we face church hurt. In his book, Church Hurt, Jerome Gay defines church hurt this way: “Church hurt refers to the pain inflicted by religious institutions, its people, and/or its leadership - pain that distances sufferers from their communities and sometimes even God.”

Maybe you have experienced church hurt.  Maybe you were shamed, shunned, excluded, mocked because of addiction, divorce, the way you identify, etc. You felt betrayed or disillusioned by a pastor, elder or leader that pushed you away from the church. It takes years to build trust, but takes just a moment to break it.

Church hurt can often operate like an autoimmune disease - the body starts to attack itself. The Body of Christ, aka, the Church, can act the same way sometimes.  Unfortunately, that can reduce God to the worst behaviors of a few of His people, leaving many without a church home. Church hurt is often not theological, but relational.

We need to acknowledge that church hurt is real.

The worst thing to do is to deny our role in someone else’s hurt. They have to be heard, seen, and any injustice addressed. This does not mean reconciliation is always possible, but we have to give it our best shot. Otherwise, denying church hurt will lead to bitterness, anger, resentment, etc. which is the opposite of what the church should be known for.

Church hurt isn't exclusive to those on the margins or outside the church. Pastors experience church hurt as well - unfair criticisms and attacks, thoughtless comments etc.  A helpful exercise for those who are in church leadership that have also been hurt - write down the name of every person who has ever hurt you or offended you. You will likely see that it wasn’t the church as whole that hurt you, but a few misguided people within the church that hurt you.  That is an important distinction and can help guide your perspective.  

The same can be true for those who are not involved in the church, but still experience church hurt.  It could be the voices that hurt you are actually not good representatives of the church, and are guided by misinterpretations or teachings outside of scripture.  There are people in the church that are good representatives and can help in the healing process.

We need to acknowledge what church hurt is NOT.

It is not simply disagreement - disagreement can be done in a harmful or disagreeable way, but disagreement is often unavoidable and itself is not church hurt.  Likewise, loving confrontation for the good of a person is not church hurt.  Also, being told "no" - we can often be hurt when we are told no, especially when it involves the church saying no to a request to start a new program.  This is not church hurt and there are often other considerations involved when starting programs.

So when you are hurt in situations where there is no malice involved, recognize that there are two ways to deal with this.  You can pull away out of fear, anger, etc or stay engaged.  When there is discord, there is opportunity for bitterness and resentment to settle in - playing right into Satan's hands.  Satan longs to steal, kill and destroy the work of God in us and around us. Let’s also recognize the real Savior - there is no human that we can fully put our trust in, but there is one we can and should trust completely.  The one who died for the church, Jesus himself.

Reality is, the church, because people are involved, has never been a problem-free zone. In fact, most of the NT would not have been written if it were not for church problems that Paul was addressing (just read through Galatians, Corinthians, Thessalonians for a good idea of early church issues).

Some people might say, “I can be a Christian and not be part of (or attend) a local church.” Absolutely. Your salvation is not tied to it and you don’t get any heavenly gold stars on your chart. So why be part of a church?


It’s not content - you can get better content anywhere else. It’s not the coffee - even though it’s good, you don’t go because of that. It’s not even the music - you can get top notch worship content online or in concerts. You won’t be formed into the image of Christ because formation requires community. You are not shaped by content but by relationship.

If you’ve been hurt - we are sorry for your hurt. The circumstances that lead to your hurt shouldn’t have happened. But we urge you to not run away or isolate yourself. The truth of the matter is: we get hurt by the people closest to us - and the closer they are, the more they can hurt us. But the only way to heal from past wounds is also through people (probably not the people who hurt you, but others).

It’s not time that will heal your wounds, but rich, deep caring relationships that will bring healing to your wounds. Saying that you don’t want to deal with the mess and hassle of other people is like saying that marriage is better when the other person isn’t around - there’s no arguments, disagreements etc.  It may be comforting in the short term, but in the long term, isolating from community will be worse.

We don’t pretend to have never caused any church hurt - we have, and we will (unintentionally), but as a church, our aim is to lead with a posture of humility, transparency, teachability, and accountability. We aim to point people to Jesus, not the pastor, or worship band etc.