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Why Church Hurts

Have you noticed all the Christians apologizing for the church?

It’s kind of the thing to do these days.  It just seems better to assume everyone out there has been hurt, wronged, isolated, burned or ostracized by the church.  It’s almost the battle cry of my generation.  “We’ve been emotionally wounded by the church!”

When Donald Miller wrote Blue Like Jazz, making public apologies on behalf of all Christianity seemed novel and refreshing to many readers, and many of us have run with that idea in the years since.  Some Christians just can’t resist telling everyone what jerks we’ve all been.  Don’t get me wrong, there are some things to apologize for.  (And I’m not talking about cases of serious abuse.)

When you stack up all the apologies, it might make a passer-by think that maybe the church is just an agent for pure evil.  I’m not here to apologize or take back apologies that have been made.  If anyone should feel hurt by the church, it’s me.  I’m here to ask why it happens.  Why does the relationship people are supposed to have with the church break down?

A Low-Maintenance Friend

Think about the least important relationship in your life; the person you have the lowest maintenance friendship with.  The person you talk to once every few months, or even years.  Most people probably have at least one of those friends.  I’ve had several.  One even told me he valued how low-maintenance we were.  It was weird.  It was also probably the last time we talked.  No hard feelings.

If that person were not in your life, would it make that much of a difference?  Probably not.  You already have the lowest possible investment in that person.  If they decided to not talk to not call you in six months, it wouldn’t hurt you that badly.  I dare say, it’s probably nearly impossible to be hurt by that person.

There’s some people who have that relationship with their church.  It’s very low-maintenance.  There’s no emotional investment, no risk.  They sit on the fringes.  If you don’t want to ever be hurt by the church, this is where you want to be.

A High-Maintenance Friend

Now think of the most emotionally risky relationship in your life; the one where you’ve invested the most.  Probably the most emotionally risky thing anyone can do is have children.  Right behind that is getting married.  With either of those, you’re putting your heart and soul into that relationship.

That’s where any good church leaders are with their churches, and that’s where people need to be with the church.  It needs to be an emotionally risky relationship.  Any relationship that’s worth keeping has some level of emotional risk to it.  That’s the only way you get anything out of it.  Has anyone ever benefited from an emotionally distant marriage, or an absent friend?  Same with church.  People get out of it what you put into it.

Irreconcilable Differences

The unfortunate thing about emotionally risky relationships is the people involved eventually are hurt by the relationship, one way or another.  People put their heart and soul into their marriages and children.  Thus, their hearts and souls can be crushed by their spouses or kids.  Spouses and children can hurt you, disappoint you, burn you.  Or you can just lose them, one way or another.  Any way you look at it, you’re going to get hurt, sooner or later.

I have come to believe that the people who are hurt the most by the church are the ones who care most about the church.  How can you be hurt by something you don’t care about?  Why would you be wounded by the thoughts or opinions of someone who you don’t value?

The more you become emotionally invested in the church, the more vulnerable you are to disappointment and hurt.  It’s the people who pour their hearts and souls into the church who can most have their hearts and souls completely stomped on by other Christians.  Why did I get hurt by my church?  Because I cared about it.  If I were sitting on the fringes, I wouldn’t have cared what happened to it.  I would’ve moved on.

The church relationship breaks down for the same reason any high-maintenance friendship or marriage breaks down.  The love or friendship turns out to be conditional.  Married people love each other, until they have irreconcilable differences.  Isn’t that a trite reason for divorce?  It just means those two people had love for the other that was conditional.  The relationship breaks down because one person didn’t meet the other person’s conditions for being loved.

Church breaks down because Christians decide their love for others is conditional.  Or their love for their church is conditional.  So maybe you’re the person who didn’t meet Christians’ conditions for love.  Maybe your church didn’t meet your conditions for love.  It disappointed you, and you walked away.  Either way, the result is the same.

In fact, I might say that given enough time, a person who is truly emotionally invested in the church won’t be able to not be disappointed or hurt by the people inside.  Just like any other relationship, it’s inevitable.

Maybe making apologies for the church is quickly becoming a cliché.  But it will never become obsolete, so long as people continue to emotionally invest in it.  So tell us where you’re at.  Is the church a low-maintenance friend that you keep at arm’s distance, or a high-maintenance friend that you are heavily invested in?  Has that close relationship led to some kind of hurt yet?

Matt Appling is a pastor and school teacher in Kansas City, Missouri.  He blogs at TheChurchOfNoPeople.com



3 Responses to “ “Why Church Hurts”

  1. The question is asked, “Why does the relationship people are supposed to have with the church break down?”

    I believe the problem is that people in general, and the church in particular, avoid conflict at all cost which then equates to a psuedo-community. Authentic community can only be achieved by working through conflict.

  2. Steve Miller says:

    Great article!

    I would only add that the biggest contributor to hurts in the church growing into divisions in the church is we forget God is there to heal us when brothers and sisters wrong us. We tend to hold onto our wounding so we can stay angry and practice righteous indignation. Church ain’t a social club and it doesn’t operate because we got good leaders or good programs (those all help), it operates mainly because we got a great Father, Friend, and Healer. The Holy Spirit is always available for help and power when man lets us down.

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