In my last year of seminary, I crumbled. An unfortunate living situation bled over into my ministry community. Rumors flew. I lost friends. I was left lonely and confused. A prominent figure at my school told me bluntly that I was not cut out for ministry. I began to believe the lies. I questioned God’s call on my life. The very same people who were called to proclaim God’s grace to a broken world had broken me.
I am not alone in this experience.
Perhaps you were not broken by your seminary. Perhaps for you, it was a church member who did everything they could to ensure your downfall. Perhaps you witnessed God’s people tear themselves apart over a seemingly innocuous matter. Perhaps the faith community you come from does not affirm God’s call on your life. Whatever is was, it hurt. And it made you question everything.
Am I really called to this ministry? Can I really trust the people of God? Will I ever heal from what they did to me? The questions flood your mind.
Beloved of God, I recognize your pain.
Ministry is not all beautiful testimonies and witnessing miracles. Sometimes it is tear-stained cheeks and desperate, lonely nights.
The community of God is made up of broken people, often doing what broken people do. We, too, are as human as any other, and are broken ourselves.
When we have been broken, how do we find the strength to continue to serve God? How do we carry out a ministry of healing when we are hurting? After all, once safe from a previous storm, there are no guarantees that we will never be hurt again.
Church hurt pierces your spirit in a way no other damaged relationship can. The church should be a place of refuge. When that place becomes unsafe for our spirits, how do we carry on? Do we reject the church and everything it stands for?
Of course, the Sunday School answer would be no, and I tend to agree. But embracing the Church even after it has left you wounded is much easier in theory than in practice.
Yet remember this: as a child of God, no wound for you is mortal. Christ was mortally wounded so you could live eternally healed.
I would love to be able to say that in my circumstances, I was eager to forgive, to see the image of God in the offending parties. I would love to say I moved on quickly from what they did to me, that I came out on the other side better than before.
But no, it was not that way. Maybe it is not for you either. Healing takes time. Even as ministers, we fall. We need time for rest. We need restoration, especially after God’s people hurt us.
For a time, I had to stop proclaiming God’s grace so that I could experience it anew for myself.
In a way, my professor at school had been right. I was not cut out for ministry.
But that did not mean I was not called.
The beauty of our Savior is that he calls those who are undeserving. He anoints the weak, the broken, the confused.
Let God’s grace wash over you. Remember that it washes over those who hurt you, too.
Ministry is glorious, but it is not safe. We were never promised safety. Christ’s faithfulness led him straight to the cross.
We share in the suffering of Christ when God’s people grieve us.
God, forgive them, for they know not what they do.
But God, oh God, have you forsaken us?
He has not forsaken us.
Christ is with us with every blow dealt to our vulnerable hearts. Jesus is there with every nasty rumor that passes across their lying lips. The Spirit cradles us when we weep weary tears.
Your pain is valid. You are not alone. Allow yourself to grieve. If you must move on to another ministry position, do so.
You may discover surprising things. Allow room in your spirit for new discoveries of God’s presence and purpose in every situation.
When I left seminary, I took a job at a church in a new place, knowing full well what God’s people were capable of. What I myself was capable of becoming when wounded.
Yet even knowing this, I knew more certainly still that God was at work. Faithful as always.
I was humbled by the hurt. I no longer envisioned myself as “specially chosen” by God to accomplish extraordinary things for His name. I was instead a wounded warrior, doing battle with my fellow soldiers, all for the glory of a kingdom I believe in more than I believe in anything else.
And there is a beauty in that that is a balm for the spirit. I no longer had to strive for spiritual perfection. I no longer felt like I had to prove anything to anyone. I began to see the beauty in God’s use of imperfect people to accomplish some good in the world. I began to be able to forgive the beloved of God who had so wounded me.
I had to rely on Jesus, who called me and continues to call me despite everything. I had no other option.
And friend, as you move on from church hurt, I pray that you too will allow yourself to experience the grace of Jesus. The grace that will allow you to experience the beauties of ministry just as fully as the hurts. The grace that has you covered just as you are.
And so I leave you with the words of the age-old hymn:
Just as I am
Thou tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt
Fightings within, and fears without
Oh, Lamb of God, I come
God has called you to a new place just as you are. And he will use you just as you are. And he will bless your ministry.
Just as you are. And just as they are, too.