What To Do When Someone You Love Is Suffering From Church Hurt
Am I talking about this again? Yes. Why? Because it’s a serious problem that needs to be addressed. Unfortunately, those with the power to help heal church hurt actually don’t want to talk about it, and the majority of those who do talk about it do so in a way that is unhealthy. Usually a fight follows, and no good comes out of that.
Let’s skip the arguments. Our brothers and sisters are hurting. It’s not time to focus on who did what to whom, in what way, at what time, and point fingers at each other. It’s time to heal.
Before we proceed, let’s get an understanding. When I use the phrase “church hurt” I’m not talking about petty unforgiveness over superficial disagreements. It’s not about being upset over a parking space or who sung the lead solo during the Christmas program. If that keeps you out of church you have growing to do. A lot.
I’m talking about the pain that runs deep. Trauma. The kind that leaves believers walking away with spiritual PTSD. Overcoming abuse is hard, especially when it comes from the people who you trusted to speak on behalf of God. That’s especially hard, and a lot of people walk away from their faith because they feel it’s impossible to overcome. That’s the kind of church hurt I’m talking about. Below I have listed five things you can do to help a loved one who is suffering from church hurt.
1.) Listen To Them
If someone you love is suffering from church hurt, the worst thing you can do is dismiss their pain by ignoring their words. Don’t cut them off when they share with you the difficulty of what they’re going through. This can be painful, especially if you are a part of the church that has hurt them. But you need to listen. Don’t interrupt them. Don’t interject your thoughts of what they should do. Just listen. They’ve been hurt, and they trust you enough to share that. Don’t be irresponsible with their trust. You may be trying to help, but refusing to listen basically tells them their feelings aren’t important. That alone is unhealthy. Don’t hurt them more by insisting that they “stop complaining” or “get over it.” Hold their hand, give them a hug, close your mouth, and listen. Being supportive isn’t always about giving advice. Sometimes it simply means being there.
2.) DO NOT Send Them Back To The Same Church
Okay. I know that sounds absolutely asinine to the traditional saints. Church fixes everything, right? Not for the person who has been hurt. You have to remember that church is no longer a safe place to them. They have been victimized. They have been hurt. They have been abused emotionally and spiritually—if not physically, too. Would you send an abused wife back to the husband who hurt her? No. You’d help her find a safe place to live. You’d do the same for a child with an abusive parent. Why would church be any different? Why force them to be tortured? (Before you beat me over the head with Hebrews 10:25, I’d like to point out that “assembling together” is not restricted to Sunday morning worship services at one particular address. But that’s another blog post that I’ll write at another time.) Direct them to a safe place if they’re strong enough to go on their own.
You can also meet them where they are. Literally. Have “church” at their house in the form of a bible study or watching a trusted televangelist’s broadcast. The effort will show them that you love them and you care.
Depending on how intense the situation is, maybe they shouldn't do any form of church fellowship at all. I’d only advise this in extreme cases, though, and only for a short amount of time. A healthy spiritual environment that provides sound biblical teaching is essential to spiritual growth, which is something we all need. A break, however, will give them time to clear their head and take their mind off of the pain. They can use that time to seek God individually, study their bible more, and pray. They can also use this time to research where they would like to fellowship next, and when. Remember that this is a personal decision for them. Don’t press the issue.
3.) Pray From Them
Intercessory prayer is vital. The pain of church hurt runs so deep that it’s powerful enough to turn someone away from their faith completely. That does not mean that the person is weak. It means that they are wounded. No one, after taking a blow to the heart, can fight any battle the same way they did before. Your prayers, even if they are for grace alone, can be instrumental in their recovery. They are in the midst of a powerful supernatural battle. Fight for them through prayer.
4.) Do NOT Ostracize Them
Someone struggling with church hurt already feels rejected. Even if they haven’t been formerly or publicly put out of their fellowship, the isolation of now being outside of their church family is hurtful enough. They no longer go to the church, so automatically they’ve lost one of—if not their only—community. You know how it goes in most churches. If people don’t see you they automatically assume you aren’t a believer anymore. This judgement is hard to deal with alone. And it’s painful. Don’t add to the hurt by cutting them off, even if everyone else has.
Be a friend. Go out of your way for them. Instead of letting their presence fade away, stay connected. Take five minutes of your day to call them—not to invite them back to church, but to simply see how they’re doing. Don't ask about their spiritual activities, either. (Remember, you’re already covering them in prayer). Ask them how their day was. Maybe extend an invitation to go to dinner or a movie. Take them to their favorite coffee shop. Remember they are your sibling in the Lord. Our family isn’t restricted to one location.
5.) Love Them
If you come from a place of love, all of the above actions will be easy for you to do. After praying about it you will probably feel led to do even more. Love is essential. It is by love that we are proven to be followers of Christ. That’s what your loved one needs right now. It may be difficult. People are not always the most pleasant in the midst of pain. Love them anyway. Be patient with them, and love as much of the hurt out of them as you can. The complete work is for the Lord to do, but you can most definitely be a vessel that He uses.