Monday, March 17, 2014

When Sheep Bite

     
Have you had hurtful
experiences in church?                                                                                                
Does the word 'church'
conjure up negative thoughts
and emotions in you?

Have you given up hope in

finding the perfect church?

If your answer to any of the above questions is 'yes', then you are not alone.  Many, many people have been hurt in church.  In fact, almost every person I know has experienced some degree of hurt at one time or another in church.  Do you know why?  Because people attend church.  Or, let me put it a little more gently.......people in process attend church.  A speaker I heard put it this way, "Sheep bite".

I am in no way excusing hurtful attitudes and behavior from individuals in church, but I would like to share some thoughts and truth that I have learned along the way that might help in dealing with pain  experienced from such encounters.

But first, I would like to share just a smidgeon of my journey. I was raised in a traditional denominational church in a small community in the south. You may be surprised, but my overall experience with church all the way till adulthood was pretty positive. I attribute this to a couple of things.  One, my parents had a pretty high value for respecting not only the leaders and authority in the church, but also those who attended. The benefit and result of this was that I grew up with a respect and understanding of honoring people of all types.

The second reason I believe my church experience was positive is found within the church community where I belonged. I could name off quite a list of adults who poured into my life through the years of Sunday school, VBS, choir, mission trips, etc. In many ways it felt like a big family to me. I grew up with these people. I felt loved there. They nurtured me, pastored me, mentored me, and helped launch me into the first steps of the calling on my life.

Now, fast forward about 10 years and my husband and I have begun our journey of experiencing the in's and out's of church ministry life. After pastoring for 9 years in the Northwest, an experience full of life lessons not to be delved into here, we entered a 10 year desert season where we experienced the gamut of hurtful church experiences, some intentional and some not.

It was about halfway through that 10 years that I spiraled into depression.  I had never been depressed before, so I didn't see it coming, and I didn't recognize the unhealthy thought patterns that allowed this dark cloud to overtake me.  I sought God in that place of desperation and He was so faithful to bring me out of one very dark pit.

During this time, a couple of books ministered greatly to me; Letters to a Devastated Christian by Gene Edwards, and God Meant it For Good, by R.T. Kendall. A CD I listened to over and over during our wilderness season was Why Wounded and Betrayed Believers are So Useful to God, by Graham Cooke.  I began to see clearly the enemies' plan to cause me to give up on the church, the destiny that God had for me, and ultimately God. The enemy was up to something, but God was up to something much bigger and greater.

With the constant help of the Holy Spirit, I began to sort out truth from lies and come to a place of  healing in my heart.

Below are listed some of the steps towards healing and lessons I learned on my journey.  I hope they will be helpful for you.

1.  Forgiveness for all those involved is an essential first step.

2.  Make a firm commitment to quit rehashing the whole ordeal.  By all means talk with a trusted friend or counselor, but you cannot release things until you quit rehearsing them.

3. Remember that all people (Christians, too!) are in process and many are badly broken. Broken people hurt people, so don't be surprised when you encounter conflict in the church. Understand that everyone is in process and varying stages of wholeness and healing. Having healthy structures, ministries, and core values for dealing with brokenness is essential to a healthy church.

4. Thankfulness and gratefulness for your journey is a giant step toward having your heart healed. It was not until I could begin to see with grateful eyes how God wanted to use my journey, that I began to experience the grace to be healed. The life story of Joseph was bread for me during those desert years and I was continually reminded of Gen. 50:20, "You intended to harm me but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives."

5.  Allow God to use the furnace you are in to purify your own heart. Remember that God is never the author of evil, but He is an expert at taking the evil that befalls us and turning it around for our good. Part of that process involves letting our injustices cause the impurities of our own hearts to come to the surface. Repentance and cleansing will always change your perspective.

6.  Don't let your hurt cause you to be jaded and carry you into cynicism. In our journey we made a decision not to give up on the church. Why?  God hasn't given up on the church, so neither should we. When we separate ourselves from the Body of Christ we have taken a step away from the very ones who will help us step into our own destiny. I don't mean that we are supposed to remain in unhealthy, abusive situations, but find a church body that generally operates with healthy core values and practices and find your place in the wall. When we remove ourselves at the first sign of trouble, we are most likely removing ourselves from the very process that God wants to use in our life.

7.  The only way to trust again is to trust again. Self preservation never leads us in a good direction, but instead takes us farther into isolation from others and from God. Take His hand and let Him lead you out of the heartache you have experienced and into a place of healing. Acknowledge your own inadequacy to protect yourself and find rest from your striving under His wings.

8.  Have your mind renewed to begin seeing the people around you as treasures, made in the image of God with potential for greatness. Ask God to give you eyes to see them as He sees them, looking past the brokenness to call forth their treasure.

Now, back to those three questions at the beginning of my blog. I must admit that third question was a trick question. If you answered 'yes' to "Have you given up hope in finding the perfect church?", then give yourself a pat on the back, because there are no perfect churches. But, there are plenty of churches filled will beautiful, redeemed people who are right in the middle of their journey of growth and healing. Most are hungry for something real in their relationships.

I encourage you to find a community where you can love and be loved as you take the step to trust God with His process in your life.


5 comments:

  1. So good and timely. Thank you for sharing!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Madeline, and thanks for reading!

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  2. GREAT words. I too wrote about Church in the March issue! Thanks for sharing.

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