Burned by Church — Part One
Church problems — Wounds, disappointments, and divisions
Doug Britton, MFT
It is common to feel wounded or disappointed in church
(This is part 1 of a two-part series. Click here to read part 2 of “Burned by Church.”)
Are you—or is someone you know—bitter, cynical, angry or depressed because of disappointments or wounds experienced in church? If so, that’s not unusual. Here are some common complaints people make about church:
- “People aren’t friendly there.”
- “I don’t like the sermons.”
- “It is just like high school, with cliques and in-crowds.”
- “All the church is interested in is my money.”
- “People gossip about me.”
- “The pastor said something mean or untrue about me.”
- “The leaders are hypocrites.”
- “People snub me.”
- “I won’t tithe because they spend the money wrong.”
- “The pastor (or a board member) had an affair.”
- “No one returns my phone calls.”
- “The people are judgmental.”
How do people react to these disappointments? They often:
- Become bitter, cynical, or depressed.
- Stay in church, but complain and gossip.
- Lose faith or confidence in Jesus.
- Go to a different church.
- Stop attending any church.
- Start a new church.
How to deal with hurts and disappointments in church
If you have felt wounded by church, don’t let those hurts destroy your faith or drive you away from fellowshipping with other believers. Instead, ask God to help you deal with the wounds wisely and press on in your walk with him.
God says all Christians collectively are the “body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:27). Although he knows that we will face problems as we interact with one another, God tells us to function as a team and to respect each other (Romans 12:3-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:4-31).
May the following insights encourage and strengthen you.
1. Expect church problems. Realize that everyone is imperfect.
We expect too much of our pastors, leaders, and fellow Christians. We say things such as, “I expect mistreatment from non-Christians, but not Christians.” But everyone is imperfect, including your pastor and fellow believers. Everyone makes mistakes from time to time. People won’t always be loving, wise and patient.
Look at leaders in the early church. They too were imperfect.
- Peter was guilty of hypocrisy (Galatians 2:11-12).
- Barnabas gave in to peer pressure (Galatians 2:13).
- Euodia and Syntyche argued (Philippians 4:2).
- Many of Paul’s helpers were selfish (Philippians 2:20-21).
- Many were fearful (Acts 9:26).
- Peter actually said “no” to God (Acts 10:14).
Accepting the fact that everyone is imperfect can make a tremendous difference in your attitude. Ask yourself, “What do you expect from imperfect people?” The answer is obvious: Expect that from time to time even the most godly person will blow it. That’s just part of life. Plus remember that you too are imperfect, and sometimes you hurt or disappoint others.
Related: Replace irritation with grace
Related: Do not take things personally
2. Realize there may be more to the picture.
When you disagree with a decision, realize that you may not know all the facts. If you hear gossip about someone, it may not be accurate. Or if the pastor fires a friend of yours, it may be for a good reason, although there may be personal or confidential information that can’t be made public.
If you make a suggestion that church leaders don’t go along with, don’t take it personally. Remember that they hear many points of view, and that whatever decision they make will disappoint someone.
Be aware that someone who ignores or mistreats you may be going through a hard time in life or be exhausted, super-busy or under pressure. (Even if this isn’t the case, don’t allow yourself to slip into bitterness.)
Related: Do you set yourself up to get hurt?
3. Realize you may be wrong.
There have been times when I disagreed about a decision made by a church I attended, yet I later discovered the church’s leadership had been right. This knowledge helps me not get too upset if some things don’t go the way I think they should.
Along the same lines, if someone at church criticizes you, don’t immediately discount what is said. Even if he or she speaks with a poor attitude, there may be things you can learn.
Related: Improving your conflict resolution
4. Agree to disagree — courteously.
It’s highly unlikely that you will agree with everything that is said or preached in any church.
5. If you are sure you are right about a concern, respond with love.
Remember that people are imperfect! In our human nature, we take disappointments and wounds personally, and we get upset. Yet God shows us an entirely different way to respond:
Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. (1 Peter 3:9)
Ask God to help you feel concern for someone who wounds or disappoints you. Then pray for him or her. Prayer can change things.
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About Doug Britton, MFT
Doug Britton, Bible-based Marriage and Family Therapist, has helped hundreds of thousands of people as a therapist, clinical director of a treatment center, seminar speaker, radio cohost, and author of over twenty books that show how to apply God's truths in your daily life. (Visit www.dougbrittonbooks.com.)
Copyright © 2020 Doug Britton. Permission granted to print for personal use. (Scripture verses are from the New International Version, copyright © 1984.) See reprint policy.