How to Keep From Getting Hurt in a Church
An excerpted article from the book by the same title,
The title of this writing may seem to be rather unusual. After all, we would suppose the church to be a safe place right? However, unfortunately, the church has sometimes been a place where many have experienced wounds instead of healing. In fact, statistics show that a great percentage of persons who cease attending church, do so because of some type of offense or injury to their feelings that happened there. Sometimes these occur because of the insensitivity of the church; other times, people are themselves at fault for being too touchy or sensitive to misunderstandings.
In any case, it is sad that such experiences
ever occur, because the church is an indispensable part of the believer's life. Not only
does it provide a place to worship, serve and learn about God, but it is also a community
where believers can practice love toward their brethren as the Bible requires; "But
if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and
the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:7).
Whatever you do, don't give up on the church. God requires you to be
faithful to it and to be accountable to its spiritual leaders. (See Hebrews 10:25; 13:17).
If you have been hurt there, don't run away but equip yourself with the protection
of God's Word. You may not be able to stop offensive things from happening, but by
applying God's principles you can stop them from hurting you. "Great peace have they
which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them" (Psa 119:165 KJV).
The following steps (brief excerpts from my book, which can be ordered here online), can help believers protect themselves from
getting hurt in a church:
(1) Avoid developing
unreasonable expectations of the church
My soul, wait silently for God alone, For my expectation is from Him (Psa.
The definition of disappointment is the failure to attain
ones expectations. Dont expect things from the church or the minister
that they cant deliver, or that the Bible doesnt teach for them to do. Many
expectations have to do with preconceived traditions which we have come to
associate with a church, perhaps from another fellowship we once attended or grew up in,
etc. Its a good idea to meet with the pastor and ask what you can expect of his
ministry and the church.
Occasionally people get disappointed when they find out their church
cant supply all their earthly needs. Most ministers and churches do attempt to help
people in every way they can especially the needy during crisis and emergencies.
But some people come to expect the church to meet all their material needs or pay their
bills like the early church did. Unfortunately, this just isnt possible unless
everyone agrees to sell all their property and possessions and give them to the church
like the early believers (Acts 4:34-35). Most churches would be blessed if everyone merely
paid their tithes, however statistics show that only a small percentage of churchgoers
give a full tithe regularly.
Neither is it realistic to expect the pastor to spend all his time
with you, to attend every social function, or for him to show you constant attention.
Instead, learn to place your expectations upon God He will always be faithful to
His promises in His Word and will never let you down.
(2) Dont place an
absolute trust in people
Thus says the LORD: Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his
strength, whose heart departs from the LORD (Jer. 17:5).
Come to terms with the fact that everyone is human and will fail you
at sometime or another. Even the pastor will make mistakes. The only one you can trust
entirely without fail is God.
Realizing that any human can fall short, the degree of trust we
place in people must be limited and will depend on their track record. The more we get to
know a persons character and the history of their behavior, well be able to
determine how trustworthy they are. This is one of the reasons why the scriptures tell us
to get to know our pastors and spiritual leaders so from their godly lifestyle,
well be able to trust their leadership. And we urge you, brethren, to
recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you.
(1 Thes. 5:12).
Theres a difference between love and
trust. Its possible to love and forgive someone, without placing an
absolute trust in them. To illustrate this, lets say theres a school bus
driver who has a drinking problem. One day while transporting a load of children he
becomes intoxicated, wrecks the bus and kills all the children. As the lone survivor of
the crash, he turns to the church to seek Gods forgiveness for this horrible act of
irresponsibility. If he repents of his sin, will God forgive him? Absolutely. Should the
church love and forgive this person? Of course. And what if he would then like to
volunteer to drive the church bus for us? Do we trust him? Absolutely not! It would be
unthinkable to put a person in the drivers seat who has shown such recent
negligence. Certainly, we love and forgive him, but because of this mans poor track
record, we could not risk the lives of our passengers. Over a long period of sobriety and
safe driving, this person may be able to prove that he is again reliable or trustworthy.
Remember that love and forgiveness is granted unconditionally, but
trust must be earned. Trust is the acquired confidence in a persons
actions. We certainly can, and should trust persons who show trustworthy behavior, but
because all men have the potential for failure, we should never put an infallible sense of
trust in anyone but God.
(3) Focus on common
ground Now I plead with you,
brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and
that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the
same mind and in the same judgment (1 Cor. 1:10).
Avoid becoming highly opinionated. Opinions are the interpretations
and ideas of men, which if constantly pressed on other people, can cause division or
promote sinful debates and quarrels (Rom. 1:29). Opinionated people are prone to get hurt
when others disagree with them.
The Bible teaches for all Christians to speak the same
thing so that there will be unity in the body of Christ (1 Cor. 1:10). The only way
such unity is possible, is for Christians to focus on the common ground of Christ and His
Word. That is, we need to say what the Word says, to let the Word speak for
itself and not try to promote divisive opinions about it. In scripture, we see that Paul
instructed Timothy to Preach the Word, not his opinions (2 Tim. 4:2). A
preacher is intended be a delivery boy of Gods message, not a commentator of the
message. Thats the Holy Spirits job (1 John 2:27).
Similarly, at one time the news media was required to comply with a
very strict code of ethics. They were to report the facts of the news accurately without
adding their opinion or commentary. However, as time has passed, news reporting has become
less factual and more opinionated corrupted with rumors and gossip rather than real
information. Reporters have evolved into commentators which manipulate what people think
about the news. Like reporters, preachers need to stick with the facts.
Naturally every believer has his or her own convictions about a
great many things, but if you continually try to push your opinions on others, conflict
will eventually emerge. Avoid controversy over scriptures which are vague and foster many
interpretations stand fast upon those common, basic truths Jesus, His life,
death and resurrection and dont add to what Gods Word says. Every
word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him. Do not add to His
words, lest He reprove you, and you be found a liar (Prov. 30:5-6).
(4) Dont expect any
church to be perfect For I know
that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but
how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do;
but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. (Rom. 7:18-19)
It is remarkable to consider that the Apostle Paul the great
author of scripture openly confessed that he was not perfect. Like us, he
experienced struggles in his flesh to do the right things. If one of the leading authors
of scripture and apostles of the early church admitted to this, it should not seem too
strange if we find other brothers and sisters in the church struggling with imperfections
Since churches are made up of people like you and me who have
imperfections, there will never be such a thing as a perfect church. Unless people
understand this, theyll have an unrealistic view of the church, and will eventually
become disillusioned and hurt.
One of the jobs of the church ministry is to help perfect the saints
like a spiritual hospital, where people go to get well. Instead of resenting
persons in the church for their flaws, be thankful theyre there trying to grow in
Christ to get better. Learn to love and accept people for what they are
theyre not any more perfect than you are.
Just as it has been said of beauty, imperfection is in the eye of
the beholder. A person with a negative attitude can find fault wherever they wish. In
contrast the person with a positive outlook can always find the good and beauty in things.
The well adjusted person in the church should seek out the good and encouraging things as
the Bible teaches (Phil. 4:8). Those who dwell on the negative or continually find fault
with the church will eventually get hurt.
(5) Dont seek to
promote yourself or your own agenda Do not lift up your horn
on high; Do not speak with a stiff neck. For exaltation comes neither from the east Nor
from the west nor from the south. But God is the Judge: He puts down one, And exalts
another (Psa. 75:5-7).
Have a humble and meek attitude like Christ (Matt. 11:29, Rom.
12:3). Besides being obnoxious, pride and arrogance will set you up for a fall (Prov.
16:18). Dont promote yourself, campaign or strive to attain an appointed or elected
position. God is the one who puts persons in such positions, and unless He does it, stay
away from it. Lift up the Lord in all that you say and all you do. Dont boast or
talk about yourself. He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who
seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him
Avoid an attitude of competition which creates conflict in unity. A
competitive attitude compares self with others, and strives to rise above that comparison
(2 Cor. 10:12). The philosophy of Christianity is not to try to outdo one another, but to
submit to and lift up one another (Eph. 5:21). We are even told to prefer our
brother above ourselves. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love,
in honor giving preference to one another (Rom. 12:10). Competition between churches
and Christians is divisive and contrary to the faith.
Dont expect to receive preferential treatment or to get your
way about everything. The Bible teaches that favoritism is wrong, and the church will try
to make decisions and do things in the best interest of the whole congregation, not just a
certain few. ...but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the
law as transgressors (James 2:9). If you do things for the church or give generous
offerings, do it to bring glory to God, not to bring attention to yourself or to gain
influence (Col. 3:17). The Bible even says that when you give charitable offerings, do it
anonymously so to gain Gods approval, not merely mans (Matt. 6:1).
Avoid the trap of presuming that your opinions are always divinely
inspired or are indisputable. Share your suggestions and ideas with church leaders, but
dont press your opinions or personal agenda. Sometimes, persons feel that all their
ideas come from God. They may attempt to add clout to their suggestions or complaints by
saying God told me so. Indeed, God does speak to His children, but you will
not be the exclusive source through which God reveals himself in a matter. If your
opinions really come from God, the Bible says that others will bear witness with it,
especially His pastors and leaders (2 Cor. 13:1, 1 Cor. 14:29). (You wont even have
to invoke Gods name theyll be able to tell if your ideas came from Him.
Be cautious, lest you find yourself using His name falsely, a very dangerous thing
Ex. 20:7). Pastors are His representatives in His ordained chain of command, and if He
wants to get something across to His church, Hell bear witness with the persons in
(6) Avoid blaming the
church for personal problems You will keep him in perfect
peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You (Isaiah 26:3).
When you go to church, you should try to dissociate the church from
the other personal problems you deal with. The majority of hurt feelings in a church
result from wounds and sensitivities people carry in with them. This kind of emotional
distress can create distorted perceptions which may prevent you from seeing
reality the same way others do. Such things as a low self esteem, abuse as a child,
marital problems, personal offenses, family conflict, a root of bitterness, health
problems or job dissatisfaction can twist your interpretation of words and actions. You
may imagine that people dont like you (paranoia), or misinterpret well-intended
words as an offense. Trivial problems will seem like big problems. Blame for unhappiness
may be transferred to the church, its leaders or the people. You may lash out against
others or be quick to find fault with the church. Remember this: Dont jump to
conclusions over anything, because things are usually not as bad as they seem.
(7) Treat others as you
wish to be treated Therefore, whatever you want men to do to
you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets (Matt. 7:12).
Human beings tend to be reciprocal creatures. That is,
they reflect the way they are treated. This is why Jesus gave us the Golden rule: Do
unto others as you would have them to do unto you. The way that most people interact
with you is as a direct result of how you interact with them. If you have a frown on your
face, you wont get many smiles. If you offer friendliness, it will usually be
offered back (Proverbs 18:24). Be gracious, encouraging, and a blessing for others to be
around. If you have a negative, critical attitude toward people it will tend to generate
their critical attitude toward you. Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn
not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven (Luke 6:37).
Many hurt feelings can be avoided if we will realize that people
usually react to how we deal with them. Take a close examination at the way you say
things, or even how much you talk. ...a fools voice is known by his many
words (Ec. 5:3). Dont be rude and impolite. Check your attitude that
youre not overbearing and bossy people will be turned off and will seek to
(8) Have a teachable,
cooperative attitude Obey those who rule over you, and be
submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do
so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you (Heb. 13:17).
The Bible teaches believers to be cooperative and submissive to
their spiritual leaders something thats not possible unless the believer is
committed to a church and accountable to a local pastor. Accountability to a godly
shepherd is a part of Gods order for the spiritual growth of every Christian.
Gods Word gives the pastor authority to organize and maintain order of the church,
and to teach Gods truth, to correct, and to discipline when necessary to hold his
flock accountable to biblical principles. In Pauls encouragement to ministers, he
stated, Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke,
exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching (2 Tim. 4:2). (See also 2 Tim. 3:16,
Tit. 2:15, 1 Tim. 5:20.)
A lack of proper respect toward authority is a common problem today.
People dont want to be told what to do, or be corrected if they are wrong. This is
one reason why the modern church is turning out so many immature believers. When some
people hear something they dont like, or are corrected in some way, they simply pack
up and go to another church down the street, or church-hop until they find one that says
things they like to hear. For the time will come when they will not endure sound
doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will
heap up for themselves teachers (2 Timothy 4:3).
As long as you are a part of any particular church, you must come to
accept that the pastor and leaders are in charge there. Regardless of how unqualified you
might think they are, God recognizes them as the authority in that body and will hold them
accountable to that responsibility. Consequently, God holds you accountable to respect
their authority, to pray for them, and to cooperate not to be defiant and
Always be cooperative, willing to humble yourself. If you have a
rigid, inflexible attitude in the church you will probably get hurt.
(9) Dont oppose or
hinder the church These six things the LORD hates, yes, seven
are an abomination to Him: A proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a
heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness
who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren (Prov. 6:16-19).
One of the things that God dislikes most are those who sow discord
who create division and strife in the body of Christ. Dont be a gossip, a
complainer, or stir up turmoil. If youre displeased with the church in some way,
offer your help to make improvements, pray for it, or as a last resort, find another
church youre happier with but never become a source of agitation or
Dont badmouth a man of God if you do so, youre
asking for problems. One time when Paul was punished for preaching the Gospel, he
unknowingly condemned Ananias, the high priest, who had ordered the apostle slapped.
However, when Paul realized who he was, he apologized for speaking against Ananias,
knowing that its forbidden to speak against Gods representative despite
the fact that Ananias treatment of Paul was in error (Acts 23:5). It is a serious
matter to touch Gods anointed either with our words or our
actions. Imperfect as they may sometimes be, they are His representatives. He
permitted no one to do them wrong; Yes, He reproved kings for their sakes, Saying,
Do not touch My anointed ones, And do My prophets no harm (Psa. 105:14-15).
If a minister has done you wrong in some way, dont incriminate
yourself by responding in an unbiblical manner dont lash out against him,
retaliate with rumors against him, or run him down behind his back. You should go and
confront him privately according to the scriptural fashion described in Matthew 18:15-17.
If the first and second attempts do not bring a resolution, take the matter to the
spiritual body, such as the church board, or denominational overseers to whom he is
accountable any correction or discipline should be left to them. Keep in mind, an
accusation against a minister is a serious matter and will not be accepted unless the
matter can be substantiated by other witnesses (1 Tim. 5:19).
When things are not as they should be in the church or with its
leadership, there are honorable ways to help promote improvements or resolve inequities.
However, its unethical to oppose the church or attack its leadership, and persons
who do will likely end up hurt, bitter or possibly worse.
(10) Be committed to
forthrightness and truth Moreover if your brother sins
against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you
have gained your brother. But if he will not hear you, take with you one or two
more, that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he
refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church,
let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector (Matt. 18:15-17).
When someone has wronged you, Jesus says that you are to first go to
them and confront them privately between yourselves. Most offenses in the church result
from misunderstandings, and many could be quickly resolved if offended parties would just
go to the source and find out the facts. Unfortunately, some offended people will just
absorb the offense silently, while growing bitter and resentful. It is important to God,
and a matter of obedience to His Word, that such issues are confronted so that (1) you
will not become bitter and withdraw from the church, (2) that the offender is held
accountable to not repeat his offenses which could harm the faith of others, and (3) so
that the offender who has perpetrated sin might be reconciled with God. If they are
uncooperative with your first private effort, you are to try a second time, taking
witnesses with you. Finally, if no success, turn it over to church leadership.
You should never take one side of a story and accept it as fact
without verifying it with the other party. There are always two sides to a story. The
scriptures address this very problem, that before we believe a rumor, we are to
investigate thoroughly, to verify all the facts. ...then you shall inquire, search
out, and ask diligently... if it is indeed true and certain that such an abomination was
committed among you... (Deut. 13:14).
Without doubt, it is not possible to have a relationship with a
group of people without occasional misunderstandings and offenses. And unless you will
commit yourself to confront these issues in the way Jesus described, you will become hurt
in the church.
(11) Be devoted to love
and forgiveness He who loves his brother abides in the light,
and there is no cause for stumbling in him (1 John 2:10).
Christians will avoid a lot of problems if they will just commit
themselves to an unconditional love for their brethren. The practice of loving the
brethren all the brethren, not just the lovable ones keeps us from
stumbling. Never forget that Jesus takes personally how we entreat our Christian brothers
and sisters. When we love even the least of our brethren, Jesus accepts that
love toward Himself (Matt. 25:40). You cannot love the Lord any more than you love the
least in the body of Christ. If someone says, I love God, and hates his brother, he
is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom
he has not seen? (1 John 4:20).
Be quick to forgive and dont hold grudges. Unforgiveness and
bitterness is one of the greatest reasons why people get hurt in the church and probably
the greatest cause of apostasy falling away. Remember that unforgiveness is one of
your greatest enemies. If you refuse to forgive, it will prevent Gods forgiveness of
your sins and could keep you out of Heaven. For if you forgive men their trespasses,
your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their
trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matt. 6:14-15).
(12) Dont get
caught up in the offenses of others Lord, who may abide
in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill? He who walks uprightly, And works
righteousness, And speaks the truth in his heart; He who does not backbite with his
tongue, Nor does evil to his neighbor, Nor does he take up a reproach against his
friend (Psa. 15:1-3).
One of the great characteristics of the body of Christ is to care
about the burdens and sufferings of one another. However, as we seek to console and
encourage friends that have been offended, we may be tempted to take up their offense
against another. In sympathy, we may tend to take their part against the pastor, the
church or whoever they blame for the offense. This is very unwise and an unscriptural
thing to do, considering that your friend may be the cause of his own offense. His hurt
feelings may be due to a misunderstanding, a difference of opinion, his own rebellious
attitude, emotional instability or he may be childish and immature. There are
always two sides to a story, and only an idiot develops an opinion based on one side or
without all the facts.
Sometimes offended persons will seek sympathy from naive, listening
ears. They go about pleading their case, pouring out their bleeding-heart of injustice to
those sincere, tenderhearted persons who will listen. Their goal is to seek out persons
who will coddle them, support their opinion and take up their offense against the
offending party. You should love and encourage a friend with hurt feelings, but reserve
your opinion and avoid taking sides, lest you find yourself a partaker in other mens
sins, or you also become offended and hurt with the church.
personalize everything thats preached Obviously, every pastor
preaches with the hope that everyone will take the message personally and apply it to his
or her own life. If the shoe fits, wear it. However, there are always a few
who think the minister is pointing his sermon specifically at them. This is a common
misunderstanding which causes persons to get hurt.
Feelings of personal focus from a sermon may occur if persons are
(1) under conviction about a particular matter, (2) especially self-conscious, (3) under
emotional distress, (4) if they spend a lot of time counseling with the pastor, or (5) if
he has previously corrected them or hurt their feelings in some way. Keep in mind, a
pulpit preacher doesnt focus his attention solely upon one person. His concern is
for the broad range of people in attendance.
Occasionally persons think their pastor focuses on them, the same
way they focus on him. When a pastor stands in front of a congregation week after week,
they develop a feeling of close friendship with him they come to know personal
details of his life, his family, and other traits. However, even if the pastor knows each
person in his flock, its not really possible for him to concentrate on each with the
same detail that they do on him. Its easy for dozens of people to know him well, but
not realistic for him to know dozens of people in the same way. Consequently, some develop
the illusion that the pastor focuses on them when he preaches that he remembers
their personal details in the same way they remember his. But the pastor has too many
other people to consider. He counsels with dozens of people, hears scores of similar
problems and details. Its not likely he will single someone out and preach at them,
while trying to minister to the whole congregation. If theres something specific
that the pastor needs to say only to you, he will deliver it to you personally, in private
not in subtle hints from his sermon.
Besides this, it is the job of the Holy Spirit to personalize
Gods Word to us so that well examine ourselves and search our own hearts. When
the Lord is dealing with us about His Word, it may seem like the pastor is speaking
directly to us. Sometimes the Holy Spirit may even direct the preacher to unwittingly say
things that may pertain specifically to us. The best attitude to have is to listen to each
message objectively. In every sermon from the Bible, God has something to say to all of
us. Be open to whatever the Lord would have to say, willing to accept His correction or
guidance. Defensiveness is usually a sign of resistance to conviction.
It is my prayer that these principles will help and encourage you in your relationship with the church. If you been injured there or have merely strayed away, I urge you to find God's grace to forgive those who may have hurt you and return to the fellowship of God people. As challenging as it may seem sometimes, the church is Christ's plan for His people, and it is there that He will develop and mature you into a fully equipped disciple of His kingdom.