Pain and Promise: The Complicated Path of Church Hurt.
Pastor Daniel Bramlett
I wasn’t a very old, experienced pastor the first time I felt pain in the Church. There was a couple in the Body who had experienced a tremendous amount of physical pain. I cared for them and honestly, could have done more. Some young pastors get what I’ll call a Jesus complex. They are gifted and don’t really know what to do with their gift. They are charismatic and can easily begin to think that their charisma is something that comes naturally to them. This leads a pastor down a windy, treacherous road that leads to burnout. He begins to think that he is actually the one sustaining the Church. He is the one rescuing and fixing people; He is the one bringing hope and ministering peace. This was my story and in the case of this family, I think this was how I responded to their pain. In my limited ability, I tried to care for them rather than allow the Holy Spirit to minister to their needs. The result was a family whose pain was multiplied rather than lessened. They left the Church and left me with their pain.
Church hurt can be some of the ugliest, most painful hurt in the world. I heard someone at a foster care conference say the other day “My husband is the only one in the world who can really hurt me. I don’t let anyone else have that kind of authority or intimacy in my life.” A lot of people live that way, but people in the Church do not. We are investors. We spend our days pouring into each other and are radically, deeply hurt when one or more of those relationships is broken, temporarily or permanently.
I know this. I’ve experienced it. Part of the pastor’s job is to walk with people through pain. I’m far from perfect and sometimes we discover that I am the one who caused the pain. Other times, I am just the recipient of someone else’s poor decisions. Either way, it’s pain and it hurts. But pastors aren’t the only ones in the Church to hurt. Anyone, everyone who engages in an open, trusting way, leaves themselves open to pain. This is the nature of love. And unfortunately, because we live in a broken world, it is also the nature of sin. Intimacy can be gentle on one hand and brutal on the other. What do we do in a broken world when the Church we know and love is just as broken? We love it.
The Church is and always has been the bride of Christ. Just like Hosea’s loose wife, we find ourselves bruised and running from a groom who is nothing but faithful to us. We run and shout and slap because we don’t trust ourselves. We know our own broken hearts and think to ourselves “There’s going to come a day when Jesus will not want me anymore. I’d better get away now, before things get too serious.” We run because of experiences we’ve had in the past. We misinterpret God’s involvement in our past and don’t want a repeat scenario. We run because someone(s) says or does something to us that is hurtful. Most people don’t want to hurt anyone, they just don’t want to be hurt themselves.
The only other reason I can think of for Christians to break and run is a disagreement. We don’t see eye to eye anymore. Sometimes this is over something inconsequential. I want blue carpet with red pew cushions. You want red carpet with blue cushions. I’m vocal about my reasons and you are, too. We both get people in our ‘corner’ to agree with us. We vote, one side wins and the other leaves. I really want you to hear me on this. When people argue, one ‘side’ always has to win. You know this. You’ve known this since Suzy stepped on your toe in Kindergarten and took your sucker. Somebody always ends up with the sucker and someone else ends up with a hurt toe. But we aren’t in Kindergarten anymore. We are talking about the Bride of Christ; the beloved, blood-stained, Bride Jesus died for and lives for today. Surely she is worth another chance.
I want to encourage you if you have experienced Church hurt before. Wherever people are, there will always be pain. But there is also love. Part of being the Church is learning how to struggle and all come out stronger in the end. If this is you, I pray for you today. If you are on the hurt side, I pray God will mend your feelings and your thoughts about His Bride. I pray He gives you a heart of compassion to come alongside anyone who is dishing out pain and love them with His unconditional love. If you are on the hurting side, I pray God slows your speech and your fist. I know, believe me, there will always be something you feel strongly about. Many times your reasons are Godly and good. Hang onto your reasons! But I pray you will learn to express them with tenderness and not anger. I pray your previous pain will not be used as an excuse for you to exact pain from others.
In the end, God is the only One who will remain in control. He holds the reins and for that we are thankful! We are also thankful for the washing of the water of the Word. God’s goal has always been to present us spotless and pure before Himself. Church, God will accomplish His goal. In the meantime, I pray we can grow and learn together, not apart.
Church hurt is real, but healing is stronger. Pain can be severe, but love is stouter. We are better together than we ever were apart.