Dear Elder, It is spiritual abuse to wrongly disfellowship a brother or sister, and the cause of many wounds in good Christians that may never be healed, and possibly result in that brother or sister turning away from the faith.
It’s difficult to imagine churches damaging their own members, but it happens. It happens more than churches would like to admit. I know because I’ve seen it happen. I’ve seen those among the most dedicated swallowed up by church hurt. I’ve watched hurt in ignorance, destroy relationships, divide churches and drive members away forever. I’ve seen church hurt like leeches suck the spiritual life out of those who once held great standards, but today, are no longer in the faith. Sure, some might claim, “If they left, then they were never true believers”. I probably would have agreed. But now that experience has improved my thinking; it would be nonsense to claim everyone who has dedicated parts of their life to a ministry than leaves the church never possessed true devotion. How immature it would be to think people never had a heart for God after they’ve given hundreds and thousands of service hours to a ministry. And how illogical it would be to assume everyone that departs from the church lacked a relationship with God. Neither would it be wise to say everyone that leaves the church is the result of hurt. This is evident. But church hurt does exist.
On the other hand, many cases are ignored by churches, because they refuse to believe they participated in hurting members. This raises serious problems. The longer churches ignored their part in injuring members people will continue to be hurt.
In the most biblical sense, the church was designed to be a place of safety, a place of peace, a refuge, a place of love and happiness. But this idea needs some re-adjustments. The truth is church is a place of safety, peace, love, and happiness. But stopping there would only deliver half of the story; it would be like selling half a car or half a house for the full listing price. I regret to say, church doesn’t always present the desired ideal world; it can also bring pain and regret. Remember, church consists of people who are weak and fallible so err is possible. The Old Testament reveals this very thing. For example; Cain (because his deeds were evil) killed his brother Abel. Esau pursued Jacob, and Saul wanted to kill David. Amnon was killed by his brother Absalom because he violated his sister. Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, and Christ for money was betrayed by Judas. The entire old testament is full of brotherly rivalry. Yet, as we approach the New Testament, Christ teaches the church how to control human conflicts, saying “You have heard that it was said, love your friends, hate your enemies. “But now I tell you: if you are angry with your brother you will be brought to trial, if you call your brother ‘You good-for-nothing!’ you will be brought before the Council, and if you call your brother a worthless fool you will be in danger of going to the fire of hell.” (Matt 5:22)
Brotherly love is an essential part of the great teachings of Christ. Nevertheless, human errors are still a possible threat. Since becoming a Christian all sorts of stories have crossed my ears about injuries people incurred as members of local churches. One, in particular, speaks of a certain youth testifying about her time spent at a local church in Florida. She expressed her passion for the youth group and how she loved the fellowship of other youth. She acknowledged her past love for God. “It was sincere, just like any other 6 years old” she explained. However, her love was challenged when the youth was tortured by some of the leaders. It was over a span of about ten years that parts of the leadership tortured the youth with images of hell and death in order to prevent them from leaving the church. Can you Imagine? Images of demons and spirits tormenting sinners in the hell are enough to damage adults, not to mention children. This was completely inappropriate for children in the search for God. For more than 16 years the child struggled with nightmares of weird images of dying; which finally contributed to depression, fear, anxiety and her departure from the religion. As of today, the young lady is atheist. And the local church? As normal, I supposed they’ve moved on exempting themselves from any wrongdoing. Why is this? I believe it’s a defense mechanism that allows them to deny harming members, all the while accusing the victims of a lack of love for God. This mechanism is a means to aid their loss of membership. Since the majority of church hurt hardly has anything to do with God’s justice and everything to do with reserving membership. The loss of membership is a big concern for churches. Churches thrive on the concepts of love and human and spiritual development, thus the idea of people leaving the church is difficult to chew. Consequently, some churches quickly write off those who are no longer members while exempting themselves by criticizing those that have left the assembly. If you’re reading this you probably understand exactly.
Whenever people leave the church because of hurt, there is a bit of blame that the church must assume. This means something or someone is at fault. Naturally, no one desires to be the cause of hurt. However, the reality is something or someone caused the damage; and even if the hurt was accidental there are responsibilities that must be carried. For example, the LORD came to Cain and asked, “Where is your brother Abel?” Cain answered, “I don’t know: Am I my brother’s keeper”? Cain’s response mimics the behaviors in some churches. “Who cares,” “Good writ tens,” “It’s about time,” “Child please,” “They were weak anyways,” “They were nothing but trouble,” all the while as Cain, ignoring their own contributions. Cain wanted to ignore the fact that he killed his brother. But there are consequences of injuring a brother and hiding your hands. Cain was placed under a curse that made him unfruitful. Thus it is with those who harmed their brother and pretends nothing happened. Jesus said to his disciples, “Things that make people fall into sin are bound to happen, but how terrible for the one who makes them happen! It would be better for him if a large millstone were tied around his neck and he were thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. So watch what you do! “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17).
The first commandment to the brotherhood is to love one another; the love for the brotherhood covers every part of the relationship. “See that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently,” “Consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works,” “Be tolerant with one another and forgive one another whenever any of you has a complaint against someone else” -The Apostles, Paul, John, and Peter. However, when hurt occurs in churches chances are there wasn’t enough care for brotherly love, not enough tolerance, not enough forgiveness. For example, a couple joined a small local church and after a space of time, they became church leaders. They were committed members and faithful to the church teachings. Nevertheless, as the church begins to spring up in doctrine and members were added, the couple found it difficult to conform to the doctrinal changes. In the past the church struggled with all kinds of doctrinal issues; so as a point of guidance to new teachings, the pastor instructed members to move with caution. The newer members were unaware of the precautionary measure and interpreted the couple’s carefulness as rebellion. The tension only grew worse as some members refused to fellowship with them. As the pressure continued to grow the couple attendance became irregular and they finally stopped attending services. They eventually lost hope and questioned everything they ever thought to be true. This couple suffered many things at the hands of the church members who perhaps will never take responsibilities. “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God, and every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God.” “No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us”. “If a man says, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen”? “And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also”. – Apostle John
“Let us not love as Cain, who killed his brother”, because “Whosoever hates his brother is a murderer: and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. There are many ways to murder your brother. For example; “Suppose a person has enough to live on and notices another believer in need, how can God’s love be in that person if he doesn’t bother to help the other believer?” The lack of devotion toward the Brotherhood is one reason people are injured in churches. This often happens when personal agendas become more important than the health of the church community. For example, a certain lady decided to attend a service at the church she’s been a member of since she was a child. Before this, a series of embarrassing moments in the past kept her from attending the service. In hope of change, she prepared herself for the best. All was well until one of the ministers approached her in the mist of the service shouting her name and pointing her out, saying, “You have to return to the church, this is your home, you are bound to this church”. What a disaster. The lady immediately stood up and left the church. The bible teaches that we should “Follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another”. “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not”. “But love edifies”. The acting of the minister edified himself rather the whole church. It would have been more beneficial for the minister to come near the lady privately not to embarrass her and in the end, the whole church could rejoice in her restoration. Nevertheless, lady vowed to never come back. Now, where is the glory in this?
Whenever someone is treated poorly in churches; their injuries don’t just fade away. I will take years just to able live with the experience. In light of this, when the churches refuse to accept their share in the hurt it only makes matters worst and some folks will never get over the damage. Churches move on while hurting people are away desperately trying to dig their way out of the tunnel of pain.
Overcoming church hurt: there is life after the hurt
First, the accused must be completely honest; while this may be difficult, they must take responsibility for any part of the hurt that was justified? Although you cannot account for other people’s actions, being accountable for one’s own action is important in the healing process. So ask yourself, were you part of the problem? Were you dishonest or rebellious? Did you see others get hurt and you overlooked, cover up, concealed, or ignored it? Did you participate in hurting others in the past? Your participation must be acknowledged (if any) and confessed.
Secondly, increase your prayer life. Be completely honest with your feelings and confess them before the LORD. Jesus “Being in an agony prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground”. He prayed, “ Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt”. And David said, “My companion stretched out his hand against his friends; he violated his covenant. His speech was smooth as butter, yet war was in his heart; his words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords.”
Thirdly, control your actions. When people are hurting revenge is the natural response. However, to control your actions you must control your thoughts. “We pull down every proud obstacle that is raised against the knowledge of God; we take every thought captive and make it obey Christ”. You should notice when your thoughts are running outside the will of God and bring them under the obedience of Christ. To accomplish this; find scriptures that help you overcome your particular hurt. For example: to help control your thoughts you could meditate on: “In conclusion, my friends, fill your minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honorable”. “ Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect”.
Lastly, forgive: You have to learn to forgive those who have trespassed against you because unforgiveness will only hinder your healing process. Unforgiveness is poison in your life. It is difficult to forgive those that have wrong you. But in order to move forward, you have to learn to forgive. In fact, you have to forgive those that hurt you not because they deserve it, but because you deserve it. Don’t allow them to continue to rule your heart, let it go, so you can go on. Forgiveness doesn’t mean everything is okay, instead, it states, you have chosen to move on. “Lord forgive them because they do not know what they’re doing”. – Jesus
The answer to curing church hurt is to love. The curing of repairing church hurt is love. And the answer to overcoming hurt is love. Which bring us back to the greatest commandments of all “Love God and your neighbor.