Monday, July 5, 2010

If the Church Hurt You, Let the Church Heal You (Part Two)
By William T "Bill" Faris, MPC"

NOTE: I'm reprinting this from my weekly "Gracelets" email newsletter. If you do not yet receive Gracelets and would like to, simply email me at:
In the meantime, enjoy! ---
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I recently met up with old friends who shared with me their disappointments and hurts regarding their various church experiences. They confessed that they were now "mad at God". One of them told me that they had no immediate plans to seek further church involvement.

Only Option?

It's not that I don't understand my friend's inclination to back away from the church altogether. There are a host of people who have made the choice to stay away from the church rather that to risk further personal, emotional or spiritual injury. But is a church boycott the only option? I think not. In fact, I believe it is important for those who have experienced hurt in the church to find their healing there. The best case scenario for my friends would be for them to find a healthy, life-giving and wholesome connection to the Body of Christ.

If you, or someone you know, has experienced deep hurt in the church, I would like to offer a couple of pointers to help the restoration and recovery process move through the pain to a stronger, healthier, more fruitful place.

* Look at your own contribution to the hurt you have experienced

It is likely that you made at least some contribution to the wounding you have experienced. Personal immaturity, carryover from family issues, personal agendas for recognition, leftover pain from previous church hurts, idealistic expectations, unscriptural notions of church life and other factors may have set you up for the hurt you have known. Debriefing your church hurts with a trusted friend or counselor can help you to uncover some of these "setups". You probably won't see them on your own.

There was a time in my life when my own craving for affirmation and recognition made me blind to the serious brokenness of the leader I was following at the time (he was our church's founding pastor). When his downfall came, I was shocked and scandalized. Looking back, I can see that there were plenty of signs that he was nurturing unhealthy attitudes and behaviors. I had ignored them, however, for my own reasons. While his contribution to my pain was plain enough, I have to also admit that I had set myself up to be hurt. Recognizing our "setups" can help us grow from the painful experiences we undergo.

* Separate church hurt from God hurt.

"If you've been burned, here's what I've learned - the Lord's not the One to blame". These lyrics from CCM pioneer Keith Green point out the fact that we can sometimes confuse the church with the kingdom of God or even God Himself. However, the church is NOT the kingdom and the kingdom is NOT the church. And neither God's kingdom nor His church are Him. Separating these entities is more important than we might think.

God is the Master of the Universe and the Savior of our souls. He is the Perfect Lord of Life and the Head of the Church which stands apart from Him as His bride. Although blessed beyond measure with God's gifts, His graces, and His promises, the church is nevertheless a human institution. It does not exist as the Kingdom of God, but as the stewards of His kingdom. Therefore there will always be failures, shortcomings and even outright abuses within the context of church life (the New Testament epistles are filled with examples and warnings). This is because of the human factor.

I have often said that the greatest people I have every known, the ones who mean the most to me and who inspire me most are Christians. But it is also true that the people who have most hurt, disappointed and offended me are also Christians - church people! This is a sometimes confusing paradox.

I have most profoundly experienced the reality of God's kingdom - His rule, His reign and His manifested presence in His people - in the context of the church. But I have also experienced some of my deepest heartaches in the context of the church as well. It helps to be honest about these things!

It also helps to note that the sense of God's power and presence in a given church or church system is not necessarily God's wholesale endorsement of that church, leader, or church system. Nor can the power and presence of God be assumed to be a divine endorsement of the various methods, doctrines or church organization as such. Recognizing these things can help us avoid our tendency to confuse "church hurt" with "God hurt". .

* Keep it real.

Some of our church hurts are fueled by the more unfortunate aspects of the typical church subculture. For example, a church's efforts to be highly attractive to newcomers can sometimes result in a tendency to emphasize "window dressing" while avoiding or sugarcoating the nitty-gritty issues or needs that lie unaddressed behind the scenes.

A "powerhouse" church culture may wind up ignoring or devaluing some of the more mundane factors which will ultimately determine the emotional and spiritual health of both leaders and congregation. "Touchy-feely" churches, legalistic churches, personality-driven churches and other types of faith communities have their down sides. One way to minimize the downsides of each system is to strive to "keep it real" as believers.

I admire author Larry Crabbe's vision for the church as a "real" environment where tough issues can be worked out in an engaging atmosphere of grace and truth. He writes that
"a central task of community is to create a place that is safe enough for the walls to be torn down, safe enough for each of us to own and reveal our brokenness. Only then can the power of connecting do it job. Only then can community be used of God to restore our souls." (Larry Crabbe, The Safest Place on Earth).

Bottom line: The more that a church can be both Spirit-filled and "real", the less it is likely to have painful booby-traps.
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One more installment in this series will be posted soon.

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