I had been a Christian about six months in 2009. I was on fire for the Lord and could not wait to spend the rest of my life serving Christ. God had begun the process of restoration in my life, and I felt the Holy Spirit’s urging to enter full-time ministry. After many hours of prayer, long conversations with my wife, and examining the process of becoming ordained, I was ready to tell a pastor that 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.
I am 33 years old now and have experienced a great deal of pain in the church. Like many, 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 by church people through gossip, neglect, backstabbing, 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? How should we respond?
Here are some steps that Ihave found helpful to pursue when Ihave experienced these conflicts in the church.
PRAY FIRST. Remember that the church sometimes does not imitate Christ well. Sometimes we are not good at showing love. However, 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 with God resting in His love. Follow the instructions of 1 Peter 5:7: “Cast all your anxiety on Him, because he cares for you.”
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. Being honest with another person is not easy, but it is necessary. We do not like confrontation! A wise man once told me, “The only thing worse than confronting the person is what could happen if we don’tconfront.” We need to address the issue head on.
FORGIVE. I think forgiveness is the hardest thing to practice as a Christian. I had to learn to forgive one day at a time. For instance, I would wake up on Monday and have to forgive, but then Tuesday would roll around, and I was still wrestling with the hurt. I had to learn to forgive day by day until I had completely forgiven the wrong. Though forgiveness is hard, actually 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.” This is a hard scripture, but when I remember how much I have been forgiven, it helps my perspective. Forgiven people forgive.
A FAITHFUL PARTNER. If the situation is not resolved, then confide in a faithful friend. I love loyal friends who have my back no matter what comes my way. In the midst of hurt, remember supporters like these. Confide in these people privately—not as a point of gossip, but to seek help. This friend may need to go with you to resolve the issue. As Matthew 18:16 says, “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.’” A faithful friend can help you deal with the problem.
RESOLVE YOUR OWN PAST. When we address the pain others have caused us, we are often reminded of our need to address hurt we have caused. Maybe you’ve offended or wronged some in the church and need to clear it up. I had to do this. Matthew 7:3-5 says, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 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 caused to me allowed me to look at ways I have caused pain to others, and I knew I had to ask for forgiveness.
COMMIT TO ALWAYS ACT IN LOVE. One of my driving factors in ministry is love. Since I have been hurt by some in the church, I am committed to help the church be more loving. I want to be an example of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, which says, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” 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 of the Church and repeat the steps again. One day we will live in a place where there is no more hurt. Until then, however, let’s commit to move forward in love and forgiveness.
KEVIN MCDONALD is lead pastor of Gateway Church of the Nazarene in Murrieta, California.