Faith & Culture

The 5 Steps To Take When You Are Mistreated By The Church

A photo of a man sitting on a church pew in an empty cathedral
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After my latest blog post where I discussed my experience with a ministry, I received numerous messages from individuals who expressed how they have been hurt in the past by Christians or/and a ministry and how my story had brought it all back up. I discuss in this post the steps that I believe should be taken when we are mistreated by other believers:

Step 1: Acknowledge That You Have Been Hurt.

This is probably the most necessary step you need to take when you are mistreated, or even back stabbed, by another believer. It is crucial to give yourself permission to acknowledge that you feel hurt. Unfortunately, many wounded believers stay in denial about the hurt because they are afraid of dealing with the pain, they associate it with weakness, or because they have idolized that individual that hurt them. Weakness and vulnerability are necessary emotions that we not only must face but also embrace.

Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable.
– Brene Brown

Step 2: Give Yourself Space.

If you stay in denial that you are hurt or convince yourself that it is smaller than what it really is, you won’t give yourself the space you need in order to asses what really took place. It’s like a wounded soldier in a war zone; the worst thing he can do is pretend it didn’t happen and stay in the middle of the battle. That soldier needs to find a way to hide and determine where the wound is and what needs to be done. Otherwise, that soldier is risking his entire life. When you feel mistreated by a believer or a ministry, give yourself time and take a step back to have the space you need. This may mean needing to delegate your responsibilities (or stepping off of them, depending on the circumstances). I am not encouraging isolation and separation from the body, I am encouraging establishing a healthy space for assessment and healing. It will be tempting to talk negatively about that person or ministry but as hard as this could be, do whatever it takes to bridle your tongue and choose to honor in the midst of pain and chaos.

Step 3: Dialogue About The Pain With God And Yourself.

When we get hurt, especially by a believer that we look up to (or an entire ministry!), we become very vulnerable to hear and agree with the voice of the enemy. The accuser starts coming with lies and half-truths that can lead us to delusions and offense. I have known people who have blamed every problem in their life to a mistreatment by a pastor or a ministry and I can relate.  Voices in our heads start to tell us things like “Christians are hypocrites…it’s better to cut ties with all of them.” or “I have served this ministry for years and that’s what I get?! I wasted years of my life for people who don’t deserve it.” It is crucial to talk to God, listen to His voice, and open up His word to see what He tells us about responding to mistreatment. It is also vital to examine areas of weaknesses and brokenness in our hearts;  Idolizing someone or finding our identity on the praise of man are factors that cause the hurt from mistreatment to be amplified.

Some prayers and statements that can help you during the process are:

  • “God, I feel hurt and mistreated. Show me how much of that is valid and how much of it is not.”
  • “God, I am tempted to feel victimized, to be offended, to be bitter…protect me from that.”
  • “God, give me the strength to forgive (say name) and give me eyes to see (say name) the way you do.”
  • “God, Is this church/ministry a healthy place for me or do I need to find a new family that can help me grow with You?”

There is a healthy place for going to another believer to dialogue and process; especially if you are like me, a verbal processor. But there is a fine line between “processing” and “gossip”. That’s when you need to ask the Holy Spirit to guide you on who to talk to and how you can be honoring in the process. One rule that I try to walk by is contacting another mature and trusted believer who doesn’t personally know the individuals that have hurt me in order to dialogue about what I am going through. I personally found that those conversations are only fruitful and productive when they only happen after I spend personal time with God to process. Otherwise, I am usually emotional and illogical.

One of the biggest temptations you will face when you are legitimately hurt by the church is to justify walking away from the fellowship or even faith all together. Do whatever it takes to not let that happen because Jesus paid a very expensive price for you not to do that. Jesus didn’t only heal the sick and the broken, but He wanted them to be relationally restored. The whole, “I don’t need to be part of a church to be a Christian” is a deceiving trend that leads people to isolation and more pain.

Step 4: Choose To Forgive.

Choosing to forgive is often the hardest step but it is not an option for a believer, it’s a command by God; “….the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” Matthew 11:12 (ESV)

Some believers may argue that this should be “step 1” based on Matthew 5:24. I personally believe that the verse speaks of the urgency of reconciliation but I don’t believe sincere and effective reconciliation is possible if the person that is hurt did not give themselves time to walk out the three steps mentioned above.

Step 5: Pursue Reconciliation And Restoration.

Jesus taught that whether we think we were the ones at fault or the other person is, we must initiate reconciliation and not wait for the other party to approach us (Matthew 5:24 and 18:15-16). If you get a chance to meet with the other party, make sure the meeting is not about pointing fingers. Choose humility and admit any faults on your end even if you think they were a lot smaller than the other person’s own faults.

What if the other party refuses to reconcile or the attempt fails?

Jesus said, ““If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17 (ESV)

If the church leadership is the one that is at fault or if you believe that they did not walk out Jesus’ instructions, that’s when it may be time to consider whether or not you should be looking for a new spiritual family while choosing in your heart to continue keeping your tongue bridled and not gossiping about those that hurt you.

What if the other party successfully reconciles with you?

Congratulations! You have gained your brother back…However, Even though forgiveness and reconciliation should be quick, earning trust shouldn’t be rushed or it can lead to greater damage.

Final Thoughts:

I believe that when we are rejected, mistreated, or betrayed, we are getting a personal invitation from Jesus to follow His footsteps. When I feel hurt by someone in the body, it’s almost like I hear Jesus whisper, “I know how this feels…It hurts…. Peter, Judas, and many of those who I loved and impacted have betrayed me. I can actually relate because I have been there. I am choosing you to experience something so personal to me, not because I want you to suffer but because I want to refine you, teach you trust, build history with you, and make you more like me.” Think about it, heroes of the faith including Jacob, Joseph, Job, and David have one thing in common: They have been severely mistreated by those they loved the most.  However, the choices they made in their hearts didn’t only make them overcome, but those choices also made them walk out the first commandment victoriously.

Below are two of my favorite books that have personally helped me understand how to guard my emotions when I am hurt and how to walk out forgiveness and reconciliation. Click here for more of my recommended books.

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What’s your story and how were you able to rise above mistreatment?

– Johnny Youssef

 

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