By: Kelly Arena
“I reported you to Pastor Smith.” The voice over the phone was cold and sharp. My heart pounded and cheeks warmed. With a lump in my throat I continued the conversation as maturely and kindly as possible. As the conversation unnecessarily dragged on, I prayed; when I hung up the phone, I screamed.
I had been in this church for about two years and it was my second semester of teaching the Women’s Bible study. The phone call was from a lady who I served with on the women’s council. She had not been attending the study that semester but was on my roster list. I had sent out an email to the class containing a clip of a pastor sharing an appropriate and comical story that tied into our lesson that week. This woman disapproved of the individual in the video so she reported me to our senior pastor, offered to review all of my lesson plans before I taught, and would now be coming to the class to keep an eye on me.
I wish I could say this story ended with clearing up any misunderstandings and amending hurt feelings, but the semester only got progressively worse. The assistant Pastor quickly jumped in and sent me email after email of “church correction” saying that sharing material not pre-approved by himself could lead women in the Bible Study astray. There were Bible verses quoted out of context, and I was treated like an enemy. The mess culminated in an email sent out to my entire class of ladies (twenty-five woman) and the church elders, without my consent or knowledge.
Sundays truly used to be my favorite day of the week. Now I dreaded church. The atmosphere was suffocating for me. On Easter Sunday my husband and I visited a new church simply because our church was the last place I wanted to be on Easter.
I have been hurt by people in church before, but never like this. My little world was turned upside down. I began to question everything and dig deeply in my own heart to purge any pride or wrong thinking that may have caused these leaders to react so intensely. Proverbs 15:32 is always a good reminder, “Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.”
I know that the church is full of sinners because I am one. I’m daily aware of my need for grace because Jesus’ work of sanctification continues in my heart and mind day in and day out. I don’t have rose-colored glasses and I never thought church was “perfect”. But what happens when you think church is the safe place, the haven from the outside world, and then it becomes the most hostile environment in your life? What do you do when the church deeply wounds you?
I wish that I was the only person to experience this, but if you’re still reading, then just maybe you’ve also had a similar shock to your system, an experience when the church didn’t act like the church we read about in Scripture. Friend, this breaks my heart. But what breaks my heart even more is that being hurt by the church makes it very easy to leave not only the church but Jesus too.
Thankfully, due to job and location change, it was a convenient time to leave that particular church. But the pain didn’t just roll off my back. When we moved, I was so tempted to “take a break” from church. Yet as my frustration with God’s people grew so did my compassion for those who had been hurt by the church. For the first time I really got how easy it would be to just leave it behind. But I pressed on knowing that I needed to worship God in community, to be surrounded by brothers and sisters’ in Christ, and be discipled by people who are smarter and wiser than I am.
So what does my story of church scars have to do with our Quiet Times? I can honestly say that the only reason I didn’t leave Jesus or His church is because of God’s gracious preparation in my years of having my Quiet Time.
Friend, keep your Quiet Time. Our hearts are deceitful and we need Jesus to continually renew our hearts and minds into thinking His thoughts and having a heart like His, instead of allowing our sinful hearts to take over a situation. We have so many voices coming at us; keeping our Quiet Time helps us to keep God’s Voice from the Scriptures as the main voice in our heart and mind.
I am a wicked sinner. I wanted to toilet paper someone’s house during our final night in that city. It’s insane what our knee-jerk reactions to pain can be, especially when pain comes from the people who should be shepherding you instead of accusing and demeaning you. I needed God’s Voice to speak louder than my pain.
We live in a broken and fallen world. The question is not “if we are hurt by the church” but “when we are hurt by the church”. What are we going to do? Most of the time we could never anticipate or plan for what kind of hurt we’ll face or who it comes from. Our job is not to worry and strategize. Our job is to continue down our path of clinging to Jesus and learning to truly abide in Him.
My heart breaks for those who have left the church because of hurt. My eyes were opened to seeing how very easily it could happen. When Christians don’t reflect Christ, it’s easy to get tangled and discombobulated. It came to a point that I didn’t want anything to do with the leaders in my church. I can say nothing but “thank you, Jesus!” that my opinion of them did not transfer over to my opinion of HIM. And it sends shivers down my spine to think that, yes, that all too easily could have happened.
So, what do you do when you are hurt by the church? There is no formula and everyone is different. But I would like to take a moment and try to encourage your heart with some things that helped me survive my final months in that very broken church.
- PRAY. Prayer is The Most Powerful weapon we have against the Enemy. Romans 8:26, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”
- Get your battle buddy. I’m continually convinced that the Enemy thrives on isolation. We can be more easily wounded if we are alone on the battlefield. I’m super blessed that my Mom is my best friend and she’s my Godly cheer-leader who encouraged me and spoke Godly truth to me. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”
- The obvious…do your Quiet Time! Spending time reading Scripture. Studying Scripture not only deepens your relationship with God-which is the ultimate goal-but also prepares you to be able to wisely navigate hurts. John 15:4-5,“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
- Memorize Scripture. There were several verses I memorized during this season including things like holding my tongue, not sinning in anger, praying for others etc. Scripture keeps me level-headed like nothing else in this world, and ladies, that’s how it should be! Ephesians 6:17, “…and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
- If Biblical reconciliation is unattainable, leave your church and find a new one. Just please, please don’t leave Jesus. Also, please don’t fool yourself into thinking that you don’t need other believers because we were made for community. Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
My friend, if you’ve already experienced church hurt, let me extend a huge air hug to you. If your church is your favorite thing, then I’m happy for you, and maybe this blog can help you realize why perhaps some of your friends aren’t as keen on church as you are. If you have left the church and are reading this, then well, there is so much more I wish we could talk about. But for now, my prayer is that you would continue with or get back into your Quiet Time. Learn about Who Jesus truly is, and not the person church people so poorly reflected to you. I promise you that He is the greatest Person and Friend because He is Emmanuel, God with us, and He desires nothing more than to restore your broken heart.
Through God’s mercy and loving-kindness on my heart, I have learned and grown from our heart-wrenching church experience. My prayer for you is that you will allow God to do the hard, but good work in your heart of learning, growing and forgiving as well. When deep wounding occurs, know that it was never God’s plan, but He is the one who promises to make all things work together for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28). Let us stand strong together in the faith, and please, please don’t leave sinners like me even when the going gets tough.
God took Kelly from being a little girl in speech therapy, to someone who desires to write passionately and speak boldly for the glory of God. In the midst of various trials including living in chronic pain, Kelly chooses to find her joy in the Lord and trust that God has a good and perfect plan. Kelly now resides in Fayetteville, NC as an Army wife to her life-long friend, Jarrett, along with their two dogs Maddy and Radar.