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Posts Tagged ‘wounded Christians’

I recently met a woman who told me why she will never serve in a church again.

While a new believer, she became the office manager for a prestigious megachurch.  She served in that position for seven years.

The pastor governed the church without any kind of board or advisory group … an acceptable practice within that church’s wider Christian movement.

After she eventually left her position – she said she “knew too much” – she was asked to go back and comb through seven years of financial records.

When she did so, she found that the pastor had used church funds to do work on his house, among other things.

But then the coup de grace came when the pastor had an affair … divorced his wife … and married his lover.

The pastor left his position, but several years later, was placed in another church by the leader of that wider Christian movement.

That was it for her.

She told me that she attends a church with her husband, but that they will not serve as volunteers or in any other fashion.

I asked her, “So you just sit on the back row and leave after the service?”

“Yes,” she said.

This woman was thoughtful, intelligent, and interesting, with a great personality.

But she also has her limits for witnessing and tolerating bad behavior … as is true for most of us.

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Christian leaders are fond of proclaiming that Jesus wants His Church to fulfill His Great Commission … to “make disciples of all nations” … and making disciples initially involves bringing people to faith in Christ.

So Christians share Christ through mass crusades … rock concerts … youth camps … men and women’s retreats … movies and literature … and numerous other methodologies.

But we devote little to no personnel, time, energy, or resources to believers who are the victims of Christian misbehavior.

Our country is littered with tens of thousands of Christians who feel so wounded and violated by the sins of Christian leaders (pastors, staffers, board members and other leaders) that they either don’t go to church or, if they do, they sit on the back row.

And when they hear the pastor say, “We need volunteers for Vacation Bible School next week,” or “We ask you to give so our mission team can go to Russia,” they immediately exempt themselves from any involvement.

These people are believers in Jesus Christ … they have just stopped believing in the local church.

After they have seen and heard “enough,” they pull back on church participation.  They become isolated … sometimes from other Christians, mostly from local churches.

And they don’t identify themselves inside the Christian community.  They just keep quiet.

I encouraged the woman I mentioned above to tell me her story.  She was hesitant to do so.  Like most believers, she didn’t want to cause any trouble.

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Thirty years ago, I read an article in Leadership Journal written by John Savage.  Based on his research, Savage claimed that whenever a churchgoer stopped attending their home church for six to eight weeks, they would reinvest their lives in other pursuits and quit church altogether because they concluded that nobody at the church cared enough to notice they were missing.

Savage believed that congregations need systems to track their attendees and that they should be contacted by someone from their church well before that six-week period.

For instance, in our last ministry, once a regular attender was missing for two Sundays, someone contacted them the very next week and said, “We’ve missed seeing you.  Is everything okay?  How can we help?”

Savage said that once someone stops attending for eight weeks, there is only one way to get them to return.

He said a loving, well-trained person/couple need to set up an appointment with the lapsed attender(s) … and the meeting needs to take place in the attender’s home.

Savage said that the people from church should only stay one hour … and that they should spend at least fifty minutes of that hour listening rather than talking.

Savage said it takes five or six similar meetings before the lapsed churchgoer(s) shares the real reasons why they aren’t attending church … and only then is there hope they might return.

Assuming that Savage’s research was accurate, there are obvious downsides to his approach.

To reclaim lapsed attenders, a church would need to:

*make such a ministry a priority

*identify people who could do it well

*get them to buy into Savage’s approach

*train these people to listen attentively to the hurts of lapsed attendees

*expect little return from such a ministry

That’s why it’s far better for a church to set up a ministry to identify and contact missing churchgoers within two weeks than to wait two months.

And the pastor can’t engage in such a ministry personally because many of the complaints center around him … and most churchgoers will never share that information in his presence.

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How can we minister to people who have been deeply wounded by Christian leaders?

Let me offer four suggestions:

First, stop blaming them for the way they feel.

If you’ve been hurt by a Christian leader, you may feel anger … disappointment … hurt … and fear.

Those feelings are all legitimate.

When most Christians are violated in some way by a leader, they can’t reconcile that leader’s behavior with the gospel or New Testament Christianity.

Especially since most of the time, sinning leaders don’t repent and ask forgiveness from their victims.

The closer a Christian was to that leader, the more deeply they feel the pain.

When a pastor commits a major offense, he creates unknown collateral damage … so we shouldn’t blame the victims.

I’ve heard pastors criticize these Christian victims from the pulpit.  It doesn’t work.

Instead:

Second, we have to understand where they’re coming from.

I once knew a pastor who was trying to convince the people in his congregation to serve as volunteers.

He proudly told me what he told them: “If you aren’t serving in this church, you’re out of the will of God.”

That statement was not only insensitive … it was just plain dumb … and designed to drive people away from service rather than move them toward it.

Is is possible that some people in that church had tried to serve in another church and had a terrible experience?

Yes.

Then why condemn them because they didn’t want to feel the same kind of pain again?

It would be better for someone in that church to set up meetings and listen to people’s stories than to tar them all as being “out of the will of God.”

In fact, if I’d been wounded by a leader, the only way I’d even consider participation in a church again is if I could tell my story to a safe Christian.

Where are such safe Christians today?

Third, most Christians will only tolerate so much sin in their leaders.

Most people know who actress Patricia Heaton is.  She is a Roman Catholic Christian who stands strongly against abortion and often quotes Scripture on her Twitter account.

Yesterday she tweeted about a priest who has been found guilty of raping young boys.  She wrote: “The church will continue to decline and lose people like me if they keep tolerating this abomination.”

The woman I wrote about at the beginning of this article was most upset that her former pastor was given another church by his superior.  She felt that his behavior was so horrendous that he should never pastor again.

Since I don’t know the details, I can’t comment on that pastor’s reassignment.

But that reassignment came with a price … one that most people would never hear about: the alienation of a good woman and her husband from Christian service.

I know many pastors who have been married for decades and have always been faithful to their wives … yet because they were forced to resign from their churches, no church will even consider them as a pastoral candidate.

But if a church has a pastoral opening, shouldn’t those pastors be considered before someone guilty of sexual immorality?

Finally, we need to speak openly about wounded Christians because their ranks are growing.

Many years ago, when I was still a pastor, I had a conversation with a Christian couple I’ve known for decades.

When I asked them about their current church commitment, they told me they weren’t going to church anymore.

They told me a story about how they went to their pastor, and tried talking to him about a family issue, and how insensitive the pastor was toward them.

Instead of trying to understand, I got on them a bit, telling them, “But all pastors and churches aren’t like that.”

What I failed to understand was that the experience was so painful that they couldn’t go through it again … so their best solution was just to stay away from church altogether.

Right now, I know many Christians who used to attend church regularly and serve enthusiastically.  But now they aren’t going to church at all, go only sporadically, or warm a pew and then zip right home.

Sometimes they have good reasons for their non-participation.  Other times, their reasons don’t seem very compelling.

But there are thousands and thousands of good, solid believers who could be reclaimed, restored, and renewed if only someone in Christ’s church would devise a ministry for them.

Any ideas?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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There is an assumption among many Christians that when a pastor … staff member … board member … or churchgoer remains perpetually hurt about something, this is an indication that that person is bitter.

And as long as they’re bitter, we’re told, they can’t be right with God, they’re automatically divisive, and good Christians should avoid them until they repent.

As proof, Christians like to quote Hebrews 12:15, which says, “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”

The phrase “no bitter root” is translated “root of bitterness” in other translations.

I’ve met bitter Christians, and you probably have as well … and we’ve all been bitter in our own lives at times.

But I believe there is a difference between Christians who are bitter and Christians who have been wounded, and that most Christians make the mistake of identifying the two.

So let me share with you three contrasts between bitter and wounded Christians:

First, a bitter Christian stays that way over the years, while a wounded believer gradually begins to heal.

Let’s say that I’ve been a volunteer at my church for years, and one Sunday, my supervisor (also a volunteer) tells me in front of others, “I’m making some changes in this ministry, and you’re out.  That’s it.”

How would you feel?

Angry?  Probably.  Hurt?  Definitely.

Would you stay in the church?  Maybe … or maybe not.

Most likely, you’d be bitter initially.  You wouldn’t feel like forgiving the supervisor, or supporting the church’s capital campaign financially.

In fact, you might even feel like getting even with the supervisor, like writing him a nasty letter, or putting some derogatory comments on Facebook, or blasting him to your friends.

Many Christians feel bitter when they are mistreated by another believer … and we have to allow them to feel this way.

But in most cases, that initial bitterness will probably subside over time … and may very well change into woundedness.

Second, a bitter Christian focuses on the injustice, while the wounded believer focuses on God’s sovereignty.

If I’m a bitter Christian, I’ll say to myself, “I was doing such a great job at my church!  I was there all the time … really cared about people … and this is the thanks I get?”

And I’ll say that Sunday after Sunday after Sunday.

I’ll keep recalling the words of the supervisor and ruminating about the way I felt on that Sunday so long ago … and I won’t be able to put it out of my mind.

For the bitter Christian, yesterday’s injustices are just as fresh today as the day they occurred.

But the wounded Christian says, “Yes, I was hurt, and had every right to be.  My supervisor handled matters poorly, demeaning and devaluing me.  But although I couldn’t see it at the time, God used that incident to let me know that I was overloaded and overwhelmed in my life, and that I needed to spend more time with the Lord and with my family.”

Focus on the injustice, and you’ll stay bitter.  Focus on God’s good plan, and your bitterness will subside … but not necessarily your woundedness.

Third, the bitter Christian won’t forgive his assailant, while the wounded believer will.

We Christians spend a lot of time excusing people who have hurt us.  We don’t want to admit that someone has penetrated our emotional defenses enough to harm us.

The only way to handle some situations is to say, “So-and-So really hurt me … and maybe they meant to hurt me.  What they did was inexcusable … and very, very wrong.”

We only need to forgive those who have wronged us.  There’s no need to forgive anybody who hurt us without wronging us.

The bitter Christian holds on to his or her anger because it makes them feel alive … and more powerful than their attacker.

And the bitter Christian continues to hope that something awful happens to the person who hurt them.

The wounded Christian eventually forgives the person who hurt them … and lets the bitterness go … because they know that ongoing bitterness will destroy them, much less their relationships with others.

Several days ago, I was listening to the great Irish vocalist Mary Black sing a song from her CD Mary Black Live called “The Poison Tree.”  Black and Marcia Howard rewrote some of poet William Blake’s original lyrics and they deeply moved me:

I was angry with my friend
I told him so and my wrath did end
I was angry with my foe
Told him not and my wrath did grow

And I watered it in fears
Night and morning with my tears
And I sunned it with smiles
And with soft deceitful wiles

And it grew both day and night
Till it bore an apple bright
And my foe beheld it shine
And he knew that it was mine

Was a poison tree
Beware of a Poison Tree
Poison Tree
Growing inside of me

And into my garden stole
When the night had veiled the pole
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretched
Beneath that tree

Was a Poison Tree
Beware of a Poison Tree
Poison Tree
Growing inside of me

Poison Tree
Beware of a Poison Tree
Poison Tree

What happened to you
And me

I don’t want a poison tree growing inside of me … and my guess is that you don’t, either.

And the only way to stop the poison tree is to forgive those who have hurt us.

But even after we forgive, we may still feel wounded … but being wounded does not mean that we are still bitter.

Over the past five years, I have lost many things I once held as precious: a career, a job, a house, Christian friends, and so much more.

Those losses have created wounds that won’t easily go away.  How could they?

But I don’t wish any harm on those who hurt me.  I don’t wish … or plot … that they will lose their careers, or houses, or friends.

I’m not bitter.

I am wounded.

There’s a difference.

And I’m trying to take those wounds to prevent and resolve conflicts in churches … especially those that involve pastors.

I guess, in the words of Henri Nouwen, I am a wounded healer.

And that’s the best thing to do with our wounds: heal others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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