I think we’ve all heard it before. We ask our friends to come to church with us, or we simply talk about church, and the criticism follows…
“Why would I go to church? It’s just a bureaucracy. They just want your money. etc. etc. etc.”
Because we’ve all had to stand up for church at some point, it makes it even harder when our church — or our pastor — messes up BIG TIME. We have a hard enough time when some pastor somewhere makes a mistake, and we have to answer for it. But it almost knocks the wind out of us when someone who we trusted or esteemed shames your church and the role of a spiritual leader.
I’ve been a part of good churches. And I’ve been a part of bad churches. I’ve been a part of good churches that go bad. Needless to say, I’ve been through the disappointment enough times now to know how to walk through it without it breaking me or my faith. And so, if you’re a part of a situation like this, then I’d like to encourage you. Not with a list of “should-do’s,” but a list of “give yourself some permission to….” It doesn’t take away the pain/hurt/disappointment, but it’s the best encouragement I can offer if you’re in this situation.
Step One: Grieve
That’s right. Grieve. Go ahead and cry. Or grab your heart. Or be angry. Just allow yourself the space and time to feel the weight of what has happened. Don’t give in to the temptation to make a massive change RIGHT NOW. Don’t give in to the temptation to diminish pain. Your relationship with that person or that church is never going to be the same. It’s okay to grieve the loss. Give yourself some time and space to grieve. And know that you absolutely DON’T HAVE TO HAVE AN ANSWER FOR ANYONE RIGHT NOW.
Just give yourself the space to just be honest with your God about how you feel. He will bless your honesty. He can take your words he can take your emotions. He knows where you’re at. you don’t need to “say it right” as you’re grieving with Him. You don’t even need to pray it right. you can just grieve.
Step Two: Get Healing
Before you take action — before you try to fix things — before you try to defend or rebuild — GET HEALING. You got hurt. If you don’t deal with that hurt, it’s going to turn into bitterness. And when we get hurt by church, we often feel a little betrayal by God, too. So if you don’t get some healing, you’re going to find yourself not being able to pray, as well.
It’s so important to seek out a Jesus loving friend, another pastor, or a counselor that can help you start to process through all that hurt and disappointment and who will pray for you to be healed. Part of healing may also mean that you go to another church for a time. Don’t feel ashamed or disloyal if you have to do that. Better to be getting healing than to be sitting in a pew bitter as hell and totally checking out.
Healing may also mean that you stay in the church, but you’re a bit withdrawn as you sort things out. Don’t feel guilty if you want to stay. It’s enough to lose confidence in person you loved. It’s really hard to lose your closest community, too.
And yes, healing on rare (RARE, my friends, RARE) occasions may even mean that you don’t go to church for a SHORT time. 9I say short because if you don’t get back in church, a lot of times you never heal. You just get stuck by that disappointment.)
It may take one conversation. It may take a year. But don’t make yourself just get over it. Actually be healed. And in case you’re wondering, you’ll know when you’re healed because you won’t want revenge or an explanation from the one that hurt you. That, my friends, THAT. takes. time.
Step Three: Move Forward
If you have grieved, and if you have been healed, then give yourself permission to move forward. So many times, we keep ourselves locked in this place or replaying and repeating the past when it doesn’t even really bother us anymore. We feel the need to keep bringing it up because we feel guilty somehow that we didn’t do something to change the situation. At some point, we have to be willing to admit what role that we played, repent, admit what role others played, release them to God’s judgement — AND THEN MOVE ON! You don’t have to fix that person. You don’t have to fix that church. You don’t have to explain for the past.
If you want to, you can go somewhere else. If you want to stay, you can move forward rebuilding the church. And when others ask you why you stayed, you can say BECAUSE I WANTED TO DO. That’s it.
The beauty of being a Christian is that our mistakes and our past don’t define us or our paths. The mistakes of others don’t define us or our churches or our beliefs, either. I am responsible for me and me only. You are responsible for you and you only. If you did the best you could to live a God honoring way, then be at peace. And if you didn’t do your best, repent, make amends, and be at peace knowing that God knows you and loves you, and really wants you and His people to move forward.
I pray that you will. That you’ll keep walking with Him. And that you’ll find other brothers and sisters to keep walking with as well.
Peace to you,