When You’re Hurt by Your Church

“No good deed goes unpunished.” 

If you’ve served in ministry for any length of time, you may have uttered this expression to yourself in a counseling session, when you’ve offered words of wisdom or encouragement in a trying time in someone’s life, or even when you’ve greeted people on a Sunday and your efforts were met with hostility. When good is returned for evil and a desire to help is thrown in your face, it is a horrible feeling.

Buffering other people’s misdirected hurt is my least favorite part of serving as a pastor. I know there are things I will do, with the best of intentions, that will be twisted, turned, and thrown back at me from time-to-time, but the frequency is unpredictable and it is the “surprise” element of it that makes it hurt so much.

Though there’s usually an underlying cause in the other person, rather than something I’ve actually done, it never fails to discourage and beat me down. Let’s be honest, pastor and ministry leader, being treated disdainfully creates deep wounds you carry but don’t show to others. 

 

Hurt people Hurt You

In recent years, there’s been much talk of hurt caused by leaders in the church and of congregants abandoning church, as a whole, because it’s full of hypocrites and abuse. Sadly, in some places, that is the case, but I don’t believe it’s the norm. Among the pastors and ministry leaders I know, what is more prevalent is the always painful and sometimes calculated cuts and jabs at a pastor’s character, calling, and soul from those he tried to serve and love. “Hurt people hurt people” sits in the catalog of pastoral pain and should find its way into a scientific law of some sort right next to gravity and thermodynamics.

Pastor and ministry leader, I need you to hear me when I say, generally, the wounds you receive from your church are usually not about you. I know this doesn’t make them sting less, but it is the truth. 

We have a calling from God to avail ourselves to hurting, wounded people. We’ve been given the responsibility to be the ones who find the hurting, the broken, and the wounded, and bring them to Jesus.

 

When You’re the One Who is Hurt

I’ve always been a big guy. When I say big, I mean thick — able to lift heavy objects, don’t fit into an airplane seat well, sometimes break other people’s furniture just by sitting on it–big. Naturally, I am amazed by bears because we share some similar characteristics. A few years ago, my wife and I went on a road trip to Yellowstone National Park and I had one goal: see a bear.

After a week of looking, it didn’t happen. No-bear-sightings. I ended up settling for a documentary about bears. In it, the narrator expressed how dangerous a wounded bear can be. The bleeding bear loses judgement, discernment, faculties of reason, and becomes the most fierce creature in the woods. 

Sin is like a wound on our heart and soul. It affects all of us, some in greater measure because of traumatic events and abuse, and it makes us like the angry, fierce, wounded bear who attacks, not just its enemy, but even the one trying to help. Sound familiar? Do you feel like you have some claw marks on your soul? 

Being wounded once by a congregant is one thing, but years of ministry service with wound after wound builds up into something more. There is a great warning for ministry leaders here: if you have been hurt by your church, you are at risk of being the one who now becomes the hurter — you can become the wounded bear.

 

Healing Your Hurt

If you’re in ministry leadership, you can’t hide from or avoid hurt people to “protect” yourself. So, what can you do? Ultimately, we need to believe something for ourselves before we can ever hope to care for the wounded: 

 

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. – Psalm 147:3

 

God binds up our wounds as he uses us to bind up the wounds of others.

Your qualification for helping hurt people is not to find a way to shield yourself from unjust words, attacks, and actions or to cut yourself off completely from emotion. It is to first be bound up by your loving Savior who was wounded in your place for sin and all of its effects. From there, you can love people who are hurting, despite their slings and arrows. 

When you carry minor attack after minor attack around with you, without turning them over to Christ, your wounds grow even deeper and become major. You become weary and your injuries no longer stay hidden. Be on guard lest you too become like the angry bear who wounds those around them. Let Jesus heal your broken heart and bind the wounds as they come so you might be used by God to bring true healing to the hearts of those you are called to care for.

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