It’s discouraging that the institution God ordained to protect and shepherd his people can sometimes hurt his people. Whether church leaders have been corrupt themselves or failed to protect victims of abuse, these failures can create deep wounds. Perhaps gossip, slander, jealousy, or the lack of hospitality and love has left you feeling isolated or damaged. The apostle Paul describes the church as a body of many members who care for each other, honor each other, give to each other, and suffer with each other (1 Cor. 12:12–27). So what do we do when this earthly church doesn’t live up to its divine purpose?
Jesus knows your pain. The leaders of the church in Jesus’ day harassed him, spread lies about him, verbally abused him, plotted to kill him, and eventually put him to death. You may feel alone, but you’re not. Others may not hear or believe you, but Jesus does. He condemned the abuses of church leaders (Matt. 12:34; Matt. 21:12). He too has wounds, but he promises healing (Jer. 33:6). He endured violence and betrayal, but he is the Prince of Peace (Isa 9:6). And he will one day wipe away our every tear (Rev. 21:4).
Scripture outlines the process of reconciliation. It isn’t easy. It may not always bear the fruit we hope for. But we have hope that God will complete in us the good work he has begun (Phil. 1:6). Unique to Christianity is the promise that we’re no longer slaves to sin and thus can repent (Eph. 4:22–24). The gossip can quiet his or her tongue. The accuser can be filled with humility and grace. The abuser can become a helper and comforter, made gentle by the work of the Holy Spirit. Relationships can be restored. This ministry of reconciliation has been established and made possible by Christ himself, who reconciled us to God (2 Cor. 5:18).
This process of reconciliation must begin, however, with confrontation. For small offenses, the steps are clear (Matt. 18:15–17). Biblical wisdom tells us how to carry those out: control our tongues (Eph. 4:29), continue to do what’s right (Gal. 6:9–10), check our own hearts and actions (Gal. 6:4), and practice Christ-like love (Luke 6:27–31).
But for more serious injuries, the way forward can be unclear. If you’ve been seriously hurt, seek godly counsel from someone you trust to help you navigate the process of confrontation, reconciliation, and,where appropriate, restoration.
Here are some things to consider:
- Christians are told to confront and restore someone who is caught in sin and to make every effort to live in peace (Gal. 6:1; Heb. 12:14).
- You don’t have to do this alone. If you’re in a situation where confrontation might put you in danger, you shouldn’t do it alone. Seeking godly counsel from someone you trust or from a professional can help you establish a network of practical, emotional and spiritual support and guidance (Prov. 15:22).
- Although the process of confrontation may include physically leaving the situation for your safety or mental health, you or those supporting you should pray for the Holy Spirit to work in those who have sinned against you (Eph. 4:2).
- God will comfort you. No matter the outcome of your earthly relationships, you have a God who will never leave nor forsake you, who brims with compassion and surrounds his children with comfort and care (2 Cor. 1:3).
- God will keep the wicked accountable. They will not stand in the final judgment (Isa. 13:11; Ps. 1:5).
- There may come a time in this process when you’re asked to forgive those who have sinned against you. We’re called to forgive just as we’ve been forgiven. Christ himself set this precedent by asking God to forgive those who cast lots for his clothing while he hung on the cross (Luke 23:34; Matt 6:14-15; Ps. 103:10–11).
Stay in Fellowship
It’s crucial to recognize the difference between a church and the church. The church—the global body of believers—is made up of many churches. Each of those consists of people who profess the name of Christ and are yet still sinners themselves (Rom. 3:23). Individual churches can be rife with problems, and it may be appropriate to leave such a church, but the transition should be to another congregation.
The church is designed to be a blessing for believers. We’re a body of many members so that we may serve each other with our unique gifts (1 Cor. 4–11). It’s also the means by which Christ preserves his people (John 10:28–30). If you’ve been hurt by a church, don’t cast aside the many blessings that come from being a member of the church.
What Does the Bible Say?
- Reconciliation and forgiveness: Matt. 18:15–17; Eph. 4:32; Heb. 12:14; Luke 17:3; Matt. 5:24; Rom. 5:10; Col. 1:20–22; 2 Cor. 5:18-21; Eph. 2:15–18
- How God works through the local church: Eph. 4:4–16; John 14:26; Acts 1:8–11; 1 Tim. 3:10, 4:2; Ps. 119:176; Matt. 18:12–13