Question: "I have been burned and hurt by the church in the past. How can I overcome this and renew a passion for church and a desire to attend church?"
Answer: The pain caused by a church is a “silent killer.” This doesn’t mean that the words and events that “burned” and hurt your heart are not very ugly and public. It is a “silent killer” because of what it does deep in the fabric of the mind, heart, and soul of the wounded. If not dealt with, it will destroy future happiness, joy, and well-being. The collateral damage always negatively affects the ministry and outreach of the church, too, and some churches never recover. Recognize that the behavior which brought such devastation in your heart is not much different than the hurt any of us can encounter in the workplace, marketplace, or home. The difference is we just don’t expect God’s people to behave like those without Christ in their lives. The church is the one place almost everyone agrees should be safe, accepting, forgiving, and free from conflict and pain. Yet, in most churches, at least some elements of strife, conflict, and hatred creep in and shatter that dream.
It happens more in some churches than others. The spiritual health of people in a church and the strength of leadership determine how prevalent and to what extent that divisive behavior can gain control. Out of control, it has the effect of a termite infiltration that slowly and surely decays the foundation of the spiritual life of a congregation.
For you, it is important to turn your focus away from the people involved and the church itself and with laser focus identify the root cause of your pain, turmoil, and disillusionment. Honestly identify what you are feeling. If you are like most, here are some possibilities: anger, sorrow, disappointment, rejection, hurt feelings, jealousy, threatened, fear, rebellion, pride, feeling foolish, ashamed, embarrassed, blame, loss… Find out what is at the core of your hurt—not what someone said or did to you, but what is really causing your pain? Then search the Scriptures to discover what God says about what is really hurting you. Take a Bible concordance and look up each word and read, think, pray, and apply the scripture reference. For example, you may think that you are angry when in reality you feel rejected. What does God say about rejection? He says, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5); “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3); and, “Surely I am with you always" (Matthew 28:20).
When you truly identify the root of your pain, God has a balm of wisdom, compassion, and love to generously apply to heal your wound(s). If you call on Him for this, your focus quickly becomes riveted on Him rather than on someone else, or dwelling on and rehearsing the event over and over that caused you harm. Admittedly, you truly may be harmed, injured, or offended. You certainly feel it. Those are by-products of deeper, more important realities that have derailed your passion for God, His church, and His purpose for your life. This has soured your taste, and if unattended, it will lead to a root of bitterness that will negatively affect every fiber of your soul and will rob you of any possibility of finding fulfillment in Christ. You do not want this to happen in your life.
How do we keep hurtful experiences from moving their destruction into the fiber of our souls? The book of wisdom from the Bible says we must “guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (Proverbs 4:23, NLT). We guard our hearts by choosing the thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and actions we hold. Guard your heart in this situation by refusing to rehearse what happened over and over, dwelling on the people who hurt you, and laboring over the weaknesses of the church. This will take humility. “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6; Proverbs 3:34). It will take forgiving attitudes and actions (Matthew 18:22; Mark 11:27; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13) with no hint of vengeance (Romans 12:19). Mostly, it will take the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through you (Ephesians 3:16).
Don’t blame God for how His children behave. Don’t abandon the church, either. There are many more dedicated, grace-filled, loving, and forgiving people than not in most churches. Seek them out. Spend time with them. If you cannot find them, find another church (it is rare that you cannot find them even in the most difficult church environment). The church is God’s idea, and He protects it faithfully even though He is pained often by its behavior.
There is a strong warning throughout this answer that a wound of this kind, if unattended, will penetrate deep into the soul and destroy any chance of living an abundant life in Christ (John 10:10). You can have hope because you are seeking healing. It is now up to you to do the right thing and turn your focus to the place, no, the Person, who will truly transform your life above and beyond this hurt in the following way:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
--Jesus Christ, Matthew 11:28-30
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