What to Do When the Church or Christians Let You Down
If you have been in a church for a length of time, you are aware that they are full of sinful people. And sinful people hurt others. But there are sometimes, such as abuse from church leaders or betrayal by church friends, when the hurt is so big that it causes you to question where you belong.
In fact, bad church experiences is one of the main reasons people leave the church. Andy Stanley writes, “Most bad church experiences are the result of somebody prioritizing a view over a you – something Jesus never did and instructed us not to do either. Self-righteousness and legalism are leftovers of the Old Testament laws, which Jesus replaced through his death on the cross. Relationships are messy and complicated. But if our actions are rooted in Jesus’ command to love one another (John 13:34), we can prevent many of the experiences that lead people away from his body.”
Sadly, there are awful things that happen inside and outside of churches, but when these things happen within a church body, it shakes you. Sometimes, it is enough to make you never want to go to church again. This isn’t the answer.
If the church or fellow believers have hurt you, here’s what to do instead.
Pray About It
The first thing to do is pray. God cares for us, and He doesn’t want us to hurt. Spend time in his love. Peter says, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).
And don’t forget to pray for the person who hurt you.
Don’t Stop Living Your Faith
When the church or Christians hurt you, it may make you question your faith. Don’t let it. Question people. Question leadership. But don’t question your faith.
One way to address this crisis head-on is to continue living your faith. Even while you are hurting, continue to pray, read your Bible, and spend time worshiping God with others.
Process Your Hurt
Unfortunately, a lot of times Christians feel like they must ignore the hurt and press on. This is only shoving it down until you reach a breaking point.
Instead, it is important for your healing to process the hurt. Allow yourself to feel your hurt, anger, or sadness. Then, name the specifics of your hurt. Who hurt you? What did they do to cause this hurt?
Rachel Baker, a pastor’s wife, described her thought process after a painful experience in a previous congregation to Christianity Today: “In order to begin the process of healing and forgiving it became imperative that I pinpointed the ‘who’ behind the hurt. Once I was able to identify ‘who’ had actually done the hurting I was able to separate them from the church as a whole. Suddenly, I wasn’t really experiencing ‘church hurt’ but rather ‘relational hurt.’”
This is a crucial step.
However, sometimes church hurt is bigger than one person. It may involve repeated patterns of spiritual abuse from leadership. Identify these patterns.
Confront the Offender
In Matthew 18:15, Jesus says, “If your brother or sister sins go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.” Often, hurt can be resolved by simply confronting the person who has hurt you. It’s uncomfortable but a necessary part of the healing and forgiveness process.
Note – While confrontation is biblical, make sure you can safely confront the offender. There may be situations where it is unsafe for you to confront the offender alone.
Forgive the Offender
Forgiveness is hard – especially when you feel deeply hurt. One thing to understand is that forgiveness for us is not typically “one and done.” When you have been deeply hurt, you may find yourself having to forgive day by day until you have completely forgiven the offender.
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
– Matthew 18:21-22
Confide in a Friend
God loves friendship. If you are hurting, you should go to a trusted friend with your hurt. This friend should be like-minded, encouraging, and mature in their faith. Your friend can listen, provide advice, and pray with you.
Note – This does not mean to gossip or slander the offender.
When you are hurt, it is easy to become cynical. But that’s not what you need in this situation. You must remember that even when people fail us or the church fails us, God is good, and love will prevail.
Desiring God notes, “Love anyway. It seems impossible in the moment, but it’s the call of every Christian in every situation. In the end, only love will abide (1 Corinthians 13:13). […] Love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). Therefore, the wisest and safest way forward is always love. Love as if your life depends on it.”
Don’t Expect Perfection
It’s important to remember that there are no perfect people, so there are no perfect churches. Give people grace as warranted.
However, as Russell Moore notes, “What is not repaired is repeated—and what is not reformed cannot be revived.” If there are patterns of hurt that continue, it is important and necessary to see changes made for relationships to be restored.
It’s important to practice discernment and not trust too readily. Sadly, there are wolves in sheep’s clothing among us. Seattle Christian Counseling explains, “Because we live in a fallen world, we do well to practice discernment and seek the wisdom of wise counsel, especially the counsel of the Holy Spirit, when “following” anyone. This is also why it’s so important to be intimately acquainted with the Bible, knowing what it says because you’ve read and studied it yourself.”
Go Somewhere New
While we don’t want to suggest you leave a church every time you get hurt, it is important to understand that even after you’ve gone through all the steps above, you may need to find a new place to worship.
If where you are worshiping continues to cause hurt, consider visiting a new church rather than giving up on church altogether.