I spent the majority of my twenties growing in an amazing mega-church, with incredible leadership, sound preaching, and moving worship.
As wholesome as my experience was, I struggled to find and maintain a sense of community– something that became increasingly more important to me as I matured in years and in my faith.
Eventually, I moved out of state and was intentional about finding a smaller church, specifically to satisfy my desire and need for genuine community.
Though I casually prayed on finding a new church home, in hindsight, I could have been more prayerful about having God lead me to a church– because after all, where we are planted and who covers us is important.
I found a small, promising church-plant near my home and instantly felt a fit and very much at home. I was eager to be a part of and have a “church family.”
But instead of continuing to pray for God to confirm if this was the place that He had for me, I led and asked God to follow me– an error that I am intentional about in not replicating in any area of my life again.
After a few sweet and hopeful months at my new church, which I am still absolutely thankful for, things began to unravel. Interpersonal conflict, sin, and discomfort began to inflate, without proper addressing by both me and leadership.
This situation was new, intense, and concentrated for me because I had never had budding, intimate relationships at church before.
I began to become physically and emotionally unwell, in part due to my shattered hope of what my new church-family would be.
This was particularly painful because being attached to a healthy family is foreign for me; and in many ways, my rebuilding of my chosen, church-family represented something afresh; but instead, I began to feel how I often do when around my natural family: isolated, under-appreciated, and mistreated.
The place that once brought me so much comfort and warmness on cold winter nights, became a space of crippling anxiety and uneasiness for me, so I opted to take a brief hiatus from the church to forgive, re-group, and truly wrestle with God to see if this is where He really wanted me.
Though I felt like He was working on my heart because I was able to forgive and eventually go back to church, feeling lighter and clear-headed, I still felt like God was silent on whether I needed to stay or go: I wasn’t sure if God was simply asking me to stay in discomfort and work on the conflict (something, admittedly, I struggle(d) with), or if He was exiting me out of that space.
It felt elementary of me, but I specifically asked God for a loud confirmation one way or the other. That same day I went back to church, a volatile encounter ensued that though hurtful, absolutely demonstrated to me that I indeed needed to remove myself from that church permanently.
I took a Sunday or two to re-group from that hurtful episode: I wept, prayed, talked, and wrote about it.
And then I was strengthened to find another church. I was on a mission to find what I was looking for because I knew it existed. I asked around and used resources at my disposal to find churches in the area. I visited small, large, outlandish, and dry churches.
Some of my (unsaved) friends couldn’t understand why I didn’t just give up on finding a church. They didn’t see the significance of being around Christian people that were constantly missing the mark.
But I knew I couldn’t forsake the assembly of believers, as scripture implores us (Hebrews 10:25). Though I had to give up on one church, I couldn’t give up on “the” church because I love the church too much.
And also because I have the awareness that church is not for perfect people, but for us Christians who do miss the mark, and are in need of grace from God and one another. The benefits of being attached to a Godly church will always outweigh the hardship found there.
Frankly, we are the church and unfortunately, we don’t always get things right. If we are in church for long enough, we are going to come face-to-face with strife, hurt, and conflict in some respect.
If God calls us to a place, then it is our responsibility to confront those things biblically and work through them.
But other times, those very things are God’s pull on us to get us away from a situation, into another for whatever reason—only true discernment and the help of the Holy Spirit can make that distinction.
When I found my new church, I prayed more fervently about the process. I took my time with things and asked specific questions. I zeroed in on the rapport that everyone had with one another and took notice of the care they bestowed on each other.
At that point, I knew what I was looking for and what I was not. And I became more adamant about praying for the old church that hurt me.
We may not be the cause of the hurt that is inflicted on us, but we are still responsible for our recovery from it.
Am I going to face difficulty at the new church? Inevitably. But now I have the experience and wisdom to negotiate through those moments because of past experience. I also have the assurance that God Himself planted me in this new church, so I have a greater responsibility to work things out appropriately.
If you’ve been grieved by church-hurt, I encourage you to not give up on forgiveness, and/or reconciliation, as well as forward-movement. This is the prayer that I should have prayed over myself, so let it be yours:
Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank You for Your church. I am grateful to be among it.
Lord, I lift up all my church-hurt to You and I pray for those who failed to love me well. Forgive me for those that I didn’t love the way You’ve commanded me to. Help me to not give up on Your hope that You have for Your people. Give me the capacity to love those that are hard to love. Embolden me to forgive and show me if reconciliation is possible.
Lord, I pray for discernment and for Your guidance as You show me where I should be planted and covered. As You lead, I will follow–not the other way around.
In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.