An Open Letter to Those Who Have Been Hurt by Church

Since being on staff at my church, I’ve noticed a pattern with us. We have become sort of a triage to those who have been hurt by church. No lie, in the time I’ve been here, about 7 churches have closed their doors or split up, leaving a wake of disaster among their people. Many of these people have come to find refuge within our four walls. They have come to sit, wrestle, cry and find healing.

Not that we haven’t done any hurting mind you. Let’s get that disclaimer out of the way. We are after all, just another group of humans who have been flawed by sin. Trust me, I’m well aware some have walked away from us, wounded and disappointed. And for that – I’m very sad and sorry. I’m sorry we weren’t able to work things out so you could at least go in peace.

In any case, God has given me a heavy heart for you. I’ve listened to you, read your blogs, your tweets and your books and I’m sad because this isn’t the way it was supposed to be. I’m discouraged when I hear you say you can’t bring yourself to go back to church. It’s tragic when I read that you’ve given up and I want to beg you to believe there are churches that are really different. They will receive you and be in the mess with you, they will live in the tension of being in a broken world and will attempt to be humble in walking with you through your doubts and disagreements. They may not do it perfectly, they may mess things up even more for a while, but their heart is to do it right and to do it well.

I know the pain is real because I can hear it in your voice. I’ve seen how it has devastated your families and made you fearful of being with people. I see how you have become reluctant to serve the God you love and your rising skepticism has led to loneliness. I can feel you cringe when you hear certain words come from leaders and you can’t help but to doubt the integrity of most church leaders. Some of you were robbed by your pastors, ostracized by church members and physically, sexually, emotionally, mentally and/or spiritually abused by leaders. Some of you were leaders and pastors yourselves. You gave everything you had only to be severely let down and betrayed by those closest to you.

You had some questions and some doubts and got punished for thinking differently. You wanted to try new and creative ways of worship to reach people who need Jesus, but were shut down and criticized. You say things like, “I love Jesus but I just can’t set foot in a church again.” You want more of Him, but less of His people. You have been taken advantage of, you have been over worked in the name of “serving” and you have been ruled harshly and exploited for all kinds of unthinkable things. Some of you grew up in the church and didn’t realize you were in an abusive environment until you saw it in your adult lives, realized it made it’s way into your marriage, or just simply in your desire to be known. You were not allowed to be the person God created you to be, because someone along the way got their traditions mixed up with their theology and couldn’t tell the difference.

Your marriage failed. Your kids were difficult. Rather than being supported in the hardest season of your life you were abandoned because no one wanted to get their hands dirty with what was happening with you.

Along the way, the message got mixed up and it became hard for you to distinguish between the voices of the people around you and the voice of God himself. If your earthly father abandoned you, the words, “I will never leave you or forsake you” are hard to believe. If you were brought up in a critical environment, you have a hard time believing you are fully loved and welcomed just as you are. If someone attempted to control you or put a lot of unnecessary rules on you, you have a hard time believing God just wants to lavish you with love and grace.

Some of you saw your parents pastor churches only to have your families torn apart. Your parents weren’t there for you and now you have vowed to not do that same thing to another generation. Church may have its place on Sunday morning but you refuse to give them another hour of your week.

Last Sunday in church, we studied the Good Shepherd. The one who lays down His life for the sheep… by choice. The one who goes after the sheep who are lost, hurting and wounded. The Shepherd who knows His sheep and His sheep know His voice.

It occurred to me, the reason why I feel so sad for you my friends, is that the voice of the Good Shepherd… has been muffled by the noise bad sheep and shepherds have made in your life. Ezekiel 34:3-4 says:

Tell those shepherds, ‘God, the Master, says: Doom to you shepherds of Israel, feeding your own mouths! Aren’t shepherds supposed to feed sheep? You drink the milk, you make clothes from the wool, you roast the lambs, but you don’t feed the sheep. You don’t build up the weak ones, don’t heal the sick, don’t doctor the injured, don’t go after the strays, don’t look for the lost. You bully and badger them. And now they’re scattered every which way because there was no shepherd—scattered and easy pickings for wolves and coyotes. Scattered—my sheep!—exposed and vulnerable across mountains and hills. My sheep scattered all over the world, and no one out looking for them!

My friends, many of you who are sickened by the church, have been injured by its people… you who have been bullied, badgered and abused are now scattered. You don’t want to come back and if you have, you wake up ever Sunday morning with a knot in your stomach.

I want you to know, not every church is like this.

There are people who desperately want to walk with you in your healing and hold your hand while you cry.

There are churches who know and believe what has happened to you is wrong. In fact it is so wrong that God promises He will come and take care of you Himself. He will bind up your broken heart, and He will make you whole and will remind you what His voice really sounds like. He will be the balm to your pain.

And those fat shepherds who have hurt their sheep? Those fat sheep who bite other sheep? It is written, judgment will come upon them and it won’t be pretty.

Today, I’m asking you to consider how God sent us Jesus to restore what has been broken. He knows we have a tendency to screw things up and we need His unending flow of grace and mercy. And because this is still true, I want you to know the Church needs you. She needs your heart for Jesus. She needs your authenticity, your raw faith and your heart for justice. She needs your empathy because there are many like you, but she also needs your forgiveness. Because sheep are dumb and every shepherd is a sheep as well.

There is a place for you and a church who wants to strengthen you and see God restore what was broken in you. There is a Church that can be a place of healing and safety among its walls and there are Pastors who live to see you be free in that truth.

Please don’t give up. Taking a break is good and detox is necessary… but don’t confuse the voice in John 10:10 with the voices of Ezekiel 34:4.

There is One Shepherd and He is good. He is the lover and restorer of your soul and He has placed some more imperfect people who still believe there is hope found in His body of which you are very much a necessary and vital part.

I get it. I get the pain. I get the anger.

But please… don’t let their sin become yours and please… don’t give up.

With imperfect love and hope in grace,

Suzie

Comments

  1. From experience – healing will not be complete until you trust Jesus enough to embrace another expression of the Bride that He loves.

  2. I have to say that I’m sad and I’m sorry too. I’m sorry for those that have been hurt and I’m sorry for those that I have hurt. I pray that God will bring other Christian friends into their lives to replace the bad taste I may have left in their mouths. If you’ve been hurt, I agree with Suzie, please join us imperfect people again! I’ll save you a seat! I’m now very good at listening, so maybe this time I won’t put my foot in my mouth quite as often.

    • I’m with you sister. I know I’ve done some hurting too… it’s a nice thought that God does some work in us as we walk with Him… but unfortunately, there is often quite a bit of damage along the way. I too hope I am less judgmental, less critical and more real than in years past.

  3. Amen! I love the Bride of Christ, and I pray for those hurting ones who desire fellowship, that they would find a safe place…for strength and wholeness… and I pray for those hurting who have embraced resentment to be set free. It is the enemy who is the enemy, not the church. Our battle is not agains flesh and blood but the principalities of darkness. I pray for wounded people to discern truth about their situation. To see that they have fellowship with Christ Jesus in His sufferings and they will be enabled to say, “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.”

    To love the Scriptures which shine light on the lies. That is my prayer and thank you for your words as a peacemaker. Blessed are you. :)

  4. Tonette Akers says:

    So well said! Suzie, I have been meaning to thank you for weeks. For many things. Thank you for writing on a topic that is not talked about much in churches. Thank you for sharing your heart which is so full of God’s love with the women at KHC. And most of all, thank you for being transparent at Refuge and Life Ready Woman. You are real, and you are honest when you share. I so appreciate that about you! This “city” is blessed because you are here. Thank you, thank you!

  5. Ken Murray says:

    My marriage would not have survived a horrible situation that we came out of if not for Kings Harbor. We are forever thankful for the 9 years we spent there just healing. This past year has been the most difficult one we have ever faced, much of it alone but our time at kings harbor and the healing God brought us there gave us the ability to stand, and stand we did, are doing and will continue to do.

    • Ken, I’m thankful you guys hung in there during some really hard years and am even more thankful that because this was in fact the HARDEST one, you have been able to persevere. We continue to pray for your family.

  6. Colleen says:

    thank you for this encouragement, your words spoke to a deep spot in my heart

  7. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you for saying what I know that our Jesus put on your heart. I felt as if it was written just for me. Thanks for being so bold and honest! Sincerely from a sister that has been there.

  8. Love this one Suzie! Truth! :)

  9. Samantha says:

    Thank you so much for all your words, wow wow wow…its a great release for me how much you are aware… all your words has given me a great hope to go back to chuch again, I felt no hope…THANK U SO MUCH!!!!! I see how God has given you all this just for the right people and Iam one of them..

  10. Samantha says:

    just you know that every word you said it was directly for me, I am that person who desperately wanst someonw to walk with me, in my healing and hold my hand while I cry.

    • Samantha, I’m so thankful and am praying you will find a church that will be just that for you. He is near to the broken hearted and I hope you will find refuge and restoration within the body of Christ. It is totally possible.

  11. Lakisha says:

    Reading this spoke directly to me today. Very encouraging words. I will definitely be book marking this and re-reading it as time passes. Right now I am in a very hurtful, painful time in my life and many of your words are my thought exactly. I finally spoke up after a year of dealing with a situation as to how it made me feel and how I still felt to only be told that my feelings were wrong and I had no rights to feel the way I did. It is very disappointing to know that the people to care about so much could careless about you and address the issues as they are and not defend them.

    • Lakisha, I’m so sorry for what you are going through and am glad you were encouraged by stopping by here. I will be praying for you in hopes your eyes will be set on Jesus and your heart would remain soft towards his people, the Church. I hope and pray you will find a community where truth prevails in doctrine and practice.

  12. Thank you for this letter. I am all the way down in South Africa and busy counseling a couple who have been hurt by an experience at their church. This letter could help them in their healing process. Blessings Zane

  13. I have had a major run in with some unthinking and uncaring church members.The church is like one big goofy dysfunctional family but we are OK with that. I won’t leave my church, love pastor and the deacons. My wife and family are very active in the church. I some times feel like an ATM for the funding of special projects..that’s OK we are blessed. I am a sponsor of a major fund raiser every fall..I like doing this it cost me 1000.00
    This year it was given to a business competitor who is not even a church member for one tenth the donation of what I normally give. I was devastated… I have some major hard feelings that I am trying to deal with, but to be honest I don’t know if this will ever fully leave me.

  14. Well seems like I am only man to read and respond but here it goes. I have been saved for a lot of years. The first church that I was going to is where I received the call as a Pastor to our youth. I was very active in it. The leadership was always asking for money to the point of they started d3mandind w2s to prove income to see if you were really tithing. I found out that the leadership team was dipping in to the till lets say. For obvious reasons we left there and joined another church of the same denomination. Was not long and we were again hurt by the leadership of the church by this time my wife was done with the church. I love how God works and brought her around. So now we are up to church number three that is non denominational. Served there faithfully for two years then became youth Pasto4 for eight years. We merged with another church and they put a man in as youth Pastor and kicked me to the curb as if un important. By the way this man had no experience as such and no real desire for it I see that the numbers have slowly declined this saddens me. I have tried to talk to our leadership about it they tell me it is my problem not theirs.shortly after all of this I lost first my wife then my father. I really feel like Job some days that everyone is in hatered toward me even God. I on a happier not have gotten a lot out of this so thanks a lot.

  15. Well seems like I am only man to read and respond but here it goes. I have been saved for a lot of years. The first church that I was going to is where I received the call as a Pastor to our youth. I was very active in it. The leadership was always asking for money to the point of they started d3mandind w2s to prove income to see if you were really tithing. I found out that the leadership team was dipping in to the till lets say. For obvious reasons we left there and joined another church of the same denomination. Was not long and we were again hurt by the leadership of the church by this time my wife was done with the church. I love how God works and brought her around. So now we are up to church number three that is non denominational. Served there faithfully for two years then became youth Pastor for eight years. We merged with another church and they put a man in as youth Pastor and kicked me to the curb as if un important. By the way this man had no experience as such and no real desire for it I see that the numbers have slowly declined this saddens me. I have tried to talk to our leadership about it they tell me it is my problem not theirs.shortly after all of this I lost first my wife then my father. I really feel like Job some days that everyone is in hatered toward me even God. I on a happier note I have gotten a lot out of this so thanks a lot.

    • Chuck, I am so sorry for the loss of your wife and father. I can’t even imagine the pain you must be in. I am praying God will lead you to a body that will come around you with the mercy and love that is supposed to be the church. I’m praying you are able to stand firm and hold on. The great thing about Job is that even when all was tested and taken away, he was able to praise God more fully and more authentically than even before. I’m praying the same for you. Grace and peace. P.S…. other dudes read my blog too from time to time, so welcome in.

  16. Suzie – thank you for articulating the reality of church life – I only wish it weren’t so. If my congregational leadership will listen – we have some real opportunity for growth and insight in a current situation. Thank you for this – your words are comforting and empathetic to me. It’s unfortunate that I know too many people who will also find the same comfort.

    • I wish it weren’t so either… but Jesus came for the broken and we won’t be perfect until he returns again. Until then, let’s pray together that his work of restoration will continue. Grace and peace.

  17. This really spoke to me. I cannot even vocalize the hurt I have experienced at the hands of a pastor. It has caused so much pain that I have given up my license as a minister and struggle weekly to attend a church within the same organization. All of the pastors are very close and I have no one to trust. It seems that all anyone can do is worry for my soul and quote scriptures to me about how I am harboring bitterness. Though I pray daily to forgive and release the pain, it won’t leave. I just pray for healing. Not judgement. Healing.

    • Chuck B says:

      John I totally relate I to gave up my calling as a minister at the hands of a group of pastors. I to have been blamed of holding bitterness and for a while I was but God did a great work in me and showed me that they are more at fault than me feeling condemnation for unforgiven and that the we’re at fault for being unrepentant for there errors. Which then at that point I felt the release of forgiveness rush over me and now I feel sad for them and everyone else that they have hurt under the excuse that is used that hurt people hurt people. Sorry I hope that in some way this helps you find the healing that you deserve .you brother.

  18. I’m so sorry John. Have you thought about going some where else at least for a time to heal? Sometimes clarity comes when we step away from the situation. May the God of peace unearth the pain and bring you to a place of forgiveness.

  19. lavatrice says:

    Hi. I would rather not leave my name. I get bet up enough at church already. I don’t understand now the pastor I serve under can continuously hurt members and don’t be resentful. At least 100 people have came and left since the time I have been there. Most left hurt. No call. No mention of them. It is as if they never even existed. I use to be treated nice when I have steady income coming in. Now since I am not where I was financially, its like I don’t even exist. So many people have been hurt there. Well I know you are asking, why in the world am I still there. I feel as though I have no where else to go. I am afraid of leaving and getting hurt again. Thanks for your post. It makes you feel as though you are not alone.

    • I’m glad you were able to feel some comfort in knowing you are not alone. I am praying at this very moment, God would direct your steps, bring truth to light and that his grace would abound.

  20. Bleeding Heart says:

    Where is the accountability? I have always believed that with God in my life, I could get through anything. However, when you have been abused in the church and there is no accountability… that makes it very difficult to forgive, trust and move on. I love my old church and would consider visiting but without my pastor holding himself and others accountable for the extreme abuse, I don’t see how I could ever return. As a result, this impacts my ability and willingness to trust any pastor or church.

    When you leave the church because of abuse and still love God with your whole heart, it does get lonely because you don’t want to go back to your previous secular life, but you don’t have any Christian friends either. People in church do not want to associate with anyone who has experienced anything bad with the church leadership and/or pastor. It’s a very difficult thing to overcome. Go to another church you say? Well… all the other pastors and churches in the area know my old home church… it’s a worldwide televised mega church, and everyone knows my former pastor. So when you go to another church, you feel like another one of the battered sheep who left their church. You are judged the moment you tell anyone what church you just came out of.

    I have to say… it’s a very lonely world out there for someone who has been abused (for years) in the church. I miss being in ministry, and I miss singing in the choir, and I miss working with the youth, and I miss the inner city ministry, feeding the homeless and helping at-risk youth. I try to do volunteer work on my own but it’s just not the same. However, I’ve never broken my commitment to the young people in the inner city… we’ve remained friends for years and they will always be a part of my life… they are family to me. During my darkest hours… ministering to their practical needs and building relationships with troubled youth and their families is what kept me alive. They showed me more genuine love, appreciation and loyalty than any Christian I’ve ever known.

    What irony.

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