I had been a Christian for about six months and could not wait to spend the rest of my life serving Christ. After many hours of prayer, long conversations with my wife, and examining the process of becoming ordained, I was ready to tell a pastor I respected that I felt God calling me into ministry. I told this pastor on the phone that the Lord was calling me into ministry. Silence.
“Are you there?” I asked.
He finally spoke: “Kevin, God is not calling you into ministry. I do not think God has given you the gifts needed to be a pastor.”
I started to cry. I was so certain God was calling me. The rest of the conversation left me hurt and angry. For days, months, and even years, I wrestled with what this pastor had said to me. I am still sometimes haunted by his words.
It has been over a decade now, and I have experienced a great deal of pain in the church. I have even been hurt by other pastors and church leaders since becoming a pastor. Through this process, I have learned that I am not alone in this.
Pastors are hurt through gossip, neglect, backstabbing, and unfaithfulness and in other ways. I believe that most of us in the church have been wounded by those in our congregations or local leadership at some point in our lives, even if we do not like to talk about it. In some cases, it can take years to recover from such pain, if recovery happens at all.
So, what do we do when we suffer pain inflicted at church? Here are some steps that I have found helpful.
- Pray first. Remember that the church does not imitate Christ well at times. When we are hurt by the church, we should always go to the source of love: God Himself. God is not the one who has hurt us. Spend time following the instructions of 1 Peter 5:7: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”1
- Confront the offender. Matthew 18:15 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.’ ” Many divisions can be resolved by just approaching the person who has hurt you. Sometimes the person may not even know that he or she has hurt you. A wise man once told me, “The only thing worse than confronting the person is what could happen if we don’t confront.” Address the issue head-on.
- Forgive. I have had to learn to forgive one day at a time. For instance, I would wake up on Monday and forgive, but then Tuesday would roll around, and I was still wrestling with the hurt. I had to forgive day by day until I had completely forgiven the wrong. It is not optional for Christians. Matthew 6:15 says, “ ‘But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.’ ” Forgiven people forgive.
- Confide in a faithful partner. If the situation is not resolved, then confide in a faithful friend privately—not as a point of gossip but to seek help. They may need to go with you to resolve the issue as Matthew 18:16 counsels: “ ‘But if they [the offender] will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘ “every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” ’ ”
- Resolve your own past. When we address the pain others have caused us, we are often reminded of our need to address the hurt we have caused. Matthew 7:5 says, “ ‘You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.’ ” Pain dealt to me allowed me to look at ways I have caused pain in others, and I knew I had to ask for forgiveness.
- Always act in love. Since I have been hurt by some in the church, I am committed to helping the church be more loving. I want to be an example of 1 Corinthians 13:4–7, which says in part, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.” I need to act in complete love moving forward in order to multiply the healing I have received.
- Repeat the process. If you have been hurt by the church, remember that you will probably get hurt again. We are human and make mistakes. When hurt happens, do not run away from the church. Run toward the Lord and repeat the steps again. One day we will live in a place where there is no more hurt! Until then, let us commit to moving forward in love and forgiveness.