Friend, don’t Christians have a way of hurting other Christians?
I share a lot on the value of Godly friendships and what scripture says about it. I encourage you on a consistent basis to not only seek friends but to strive to be a good friend. Friendships are a huge part of my life and something I not only make time for but invest in. I’ve seen time and time again the blessings friendships can bring and the gift they are.
Because of that, I’ve also seen the risk. The risk of being hurt and the difficulty they can bring. It’s why so many keep their distance and only have surface-level relationships. It’s why many choose to spend time in their homes with closed doors instead of welcoming people in. It’s why many walk into a church hopeful but instead walk out crushed.
I’ve seen Christians speak and treat others in ways that are the total and opposite of anything Jesus taught. I’ve seen others look around the room and wonder how on earth the people they’re surrounded by could call themselves Christians.
As young adults, James and I experienced some pretty difficult friendships. People whom we loved would lie, gossip, take advantage of, and steal from us. They called us friends and would say one thing to our face but then behind our backs say the total opposite.
We had friends who would mention a need in their lives and we would pray and work hard to meet that need for them simply because we loved them. Once we started to see the pattern and realize we were being used, we stopped giving. When this occurred and our friends caught on, they moved on to new people to take advantage of.
We had friends who would get angry anytime something good happened in our lives and would constantly hold it against us by saying passive-aggressive comments. Shortly after my brother passed, I overheard that friend say they’re glad something “finally” bad happened to me because they were tired of watching my perfect life. If only that friend really knew what I had walked through.
During this time, James and I were also experiencing spiritual abuse from church leadership. People would flippantly say words that were destructive and without care on how it would make the person on the receiving end feel. We were blamed for things we had nothing to do with, spoke to in ways that undermined us and our positions, and treated in ways that made us feel like we never wanted to minister in a church again.
We had people call our character into question, put us in a place where we had to publicly defend and explain ourselves, and use us for their own personal gain but then drop us in the messiest of ways once they got what they wanted.
All of these friends were people we met through church and connected with because of shared faith. They took our kindness and generosity and exploited it while pointing the finger back on us to cover up their own actions.
After James and I experienced spiritual abuse from the leaders above us, we walked away defeated and adamant we would never work in a church in a pastoral role again. We turned down a lot of offers over the course of a few years because while we never walked away from God and we kept ourselves planted in a local church, we were certain that our calling in ministry would have to exist outside the church walls.
We were hurting.
We felt betrayed by our friends and our church and we needed to heal. God led us into a different ministry and a new season where we were able to heal any hurt in our spirit and heal the anger in our hearts towards the people who hurt us.
When I hear people share how they’ve walked away from the church hurting and broken and never wanting to go back, there’s a part of me that relates and understands. I have compassion for them because I know what it’s like to look at the people you consider family and feel betrayed and thrown to the wayside.
I want to hold their hand and let them know the pain they’re currently feeling isn’t a reflection of Jesus, it’s a reflection on the brokenness within the people who hurt them.
Unhealthy people tend to hang out with other unhealthy people. They do this from a place of comfort so they won’t be confronted on their actions and expected to change. Instead, they‘re applauded for their hurtful words and judgemental hearts. There’s no accountability amongst the congregation and the leadership. This not only causes but also, enables the vicious cycle of hurting others. These communities are the ones who never accept their role in the offense.
People who are unhealthy but want to live healthy lives will find others who hold them accountable, have teachable hearts, and place importance on relationships. Grace is quickly extended and modeled from the leadership and they lead their congregation in humility through a servant’s heart. These communities aren’t perfect but their love and kindness comes from who Jesus is in their lives. They are quick to make amends because they noticed the offense on their brother or sister in Christ. They understand the value of people over their own selfish needs.
It’s important to know the difference. It’s important to know we’re all unhealthy and through Jesus we become healthy. It’s important to know your pain is valid but friend, I don’t want you to stay there.
While there are churches who hurt, there’s plenty of churches who love fiercely, deeply and truly reflect Jesus.
My heart behind sharing my experiences with you is to remind you how the church is a family, a broken one indeed, but nonetheless a family. And this family has members who are hurting and who hurt others along the way.
As followers of Jesus and members of the church, we aren’t always going to get it right. We won’t be perfect. While I’ve shared with you the hurt my husband and I have both been through, understand that I too have hurt others. I’ve had to learn and grow and figure out who I am in Christ and that road has been long and not traveled perfectly.
Friend, we must remain humble and teachable. Having a humble and teachable heart will place us in the position to not only recognize our error but to also mend it. We can then be a part of a loving body of Christ to grow in, serve, and help be a part of spreading the Good News.
When the communities that surround our church family look at us, they should see a family who loves, fights for one another, and fills in the gaps. A family who when they mess up and hurt, they correct it. They should want to get to know the Jesus we follow and submit to. They should look at us and want to be a part of our family.
I know many loving, kind, caring, and giving followers of Jesus. People who I learn from and want to grow to be more like. People I admire and believe they don’t have a mean bone in their body. People who love Jesus and strive daily to be more like Him. They’re quick to see their mistakes and through love correct them. These people are great examples of what living a life according to the teachings of Jesus is like.
There are churches full of those people. Full of people who passionately love Christ and want what’s best for you. People who will bend over backward for you simply because they love you and don’t expect anything in return.
There are leaders who humbly want to serve and teach you God’s Word. Leaders who pray for you, care about your family and want to see you grow in being a child of God. Leaders who won’t use you, take advantage of you, or see you as just a number.
If you’ve been hurt or are currently hurting; I want to encourage you to keep going to church and continue to follow Christ. Keep your eyes in the Word and walk in healing from your pain. Continue being kind, humble, teachable and loving. Be slow to anger and even slower to speak words of criticism.
Don’t believe the lie that all churches are full of people who want to hurt you. Or that there are no “good” churches out there. Don’t believe the lie that all pastors only care about the money or what the people can do for them.
And please, always extend grace.
To my friends who have been hurt:
I hope this post encourages you to continue to seek Christ and to still plant yourself in a local church. While there are times you will be called out of a community to heal, there will be times where you can stay. And when you can stay, please do.
Be prayerful about when it’s time to leave to heal or how to stay and heal. You will never find a church where you won’t get hurt but there’s a difference between a healthy and unhealthy community.
While it may be hard to see where those healthy people and church communities are when you’re standing in the middle of your pain, ask Christ to lead you there. Allow the healing your heart needs by staying planted in a local church. Love them. Forgive them. Ask Christ for you to see them the way He does and then go serve those people.
This post originally appeared on HeatherMargiotta.com and was republished with permission.
Heather Margiotta is a Christian Writer and Speaker from northeast Ohio. She is a wife to a loving husband and a mother to two handsome sons. She received a bachelors degree in Theology and writes about her faith, adoption, relationships, and grief on her blog, HeatherMargiotta.com. Besides loving Jesus and her family, Heather is obsessed with coffee, local pizza joints, and nail polish. Find her on Instagram and Facebook.