If you are in ministry, you are well acquainted with the fact that ministers are not immune from the effects of ill will and controversy within their congregations. In fact, being in a position of authority in what most congregants regard the most important sphere of their lives often exacerbates emotions that otherwise could be minimized or even altogether ignored. When ministry is your life, people are your concern. And anything involving people will inevitably, at some point, involve misunderstanding.
Sometimes, people in our churches get angry with one another. Sometimes, they get angry with us. The anger may be justified; often it is not. Regardless, being a minister does not protect ministers from these people and their anger. And none of us is too holy to feel hurt by it.
Ministry tends to attract people who are relationally sensitive. By that, I mean that the people who are drawn to ministry are people who care for people and who feel deeply. While this is a gift that serves ministers well in their calling, it is also akin to a curse when controversy arises. Church hurt really hurts, and there is no escaping it. The only thing a minister can count on, is that they can never make everyone happy.
While ministers should keep a cool head during times of distress in their churches, that does not mean they will not feel the impact emotionally. Being ultra-sensitive by nature, many ministers suffer quietly behind closed doors, and frustration and hurt can lead to resentment and depression.
Unfortunately, there is no formula to avoid these feelings. There is no guarantee against them, no promise that they will not linger for a time. Most of the time, in these kinds of articles, I would attempt to give you “5 Steps to Take When You Have Been Hurt By A Church.” But there are no such universal steps. To think so would be to belittle the complexities of these kinds of situations in churches.
What I can offer, and hope to offer, are a series of exhortations.
- Remember how suffering is a side effect of following Christ. If we have not suffered, we may indeed ask ourselves if we really follow Christ. This is not to glorify suffering, but it is to normalize it. Christ lived through great pain and in following His example, we too will feel the sting of pain. Even Christ lost one of his followers to the purse. Keep that in mind.
- Church hurt can come with feelings of guilt for a minister, too, even when that guilt is not justified. Let me gently remind all reading this that you are only human. Do not expect of yourself what Christ does not demand. Christ demands faithfulness, not perfection. This convicts me, as a life-long, true blue people-pleaser. I am not made to make everyone happy. I am made to cause Christ to be glorified. If my words and actions have glorified Christ, there is no need for guilt. If my words and actions have not glorified Christ, I may repent and be forgiven. In neither instance should I flagellate myself for my fallen nature.
- Let me also give ministers permission to release themselves of the burden of fixing everything. I am not saying that ministers should not work toward understanding in cases where such is achievable. I am only reminding those who have tried their best to make things right and have asked for forgiveness and sought a solution that once those things are done, so are your responsibilities with the situation. Sometimes, we just have to give a thing over to Christ. Doing so allows our faith to be a witness to any onlookers in the congregation.
- Stop trying to explain yourself. This is hard for me, and I am sure it is hard for others too. It is natural to want to tell our side of the story. And it is frustrating when our side is not heard. However, justifying yourself does not guarantee that people will understand. It often appears to others as excuses and only makes the situation worse. You do not owe anyone an explanation of your intentions. Especially if they are unwilling to listen.
- Next, do not let pride keep you from seeking solace in others. I do not mean ministers should engage in idle gossip. But expressing hurt to family or professionals such as therapists or fellow ministers who understand can go far in relieving the anxiety and sometimes hopelessness associated with church hurt. Just be sure that the people you speak with will not exacerbate the situation. It is best to find these people outside your church, in a confidential setting. It is important not to allow resentment to build up inside because it will release itself in one way or another, and if it is not dealt with, it can become its own source of hurt not just for the minister involved, but for others as well.
- Take care. Seriously. I mean it. Take a break from social media. Take a bath. Take a vacation. Do whatever you need to do to ease your mind and recharge. Nobody can run on a depleted battery. Jesus often went away to a hillside to pray and recuperate. God designed rest for a reason. Most people get rest built into their week on Sundays. Ministers do not have that luxury and therefore must set aside their own time for rest. Rest is just as necessary for the health of the Kingdom as is the work of the Kingdom.
If you are embroiled in some church controversy or reeling from church hurt, I am praying for you. I do not deny that what you are going through is hard and lonely. But there is still light in Christ. There is an end to suffering. Christ is our living hope, and we may find our peace in Him.