If you join a local church, you can pretty much expect that, at some point, you’ll experience some level of hurt. The offense may be as mild as a friend neglecting to say hello on a Sunday morning or as devastating as leadership taking you out of a ministry you enjoy. A few of these hurts are intentional and malicious; most result from plain old thoughtlessness or misunderstandings. Occasionally you will experience hurt because a brother or sister has called out your sin.
I write from 48 years of personal experience.
Furthermore, if you join a church, chances are that you will hurt a few people. Usually, you won’t even realize that your actions have offended anyone. You couldn’t know that someone misinterpreted your failure to say hello as a personal rejection, for instance. Once in a while, however, you actually have deliberately done something cruel or selfish at the expense of others.
Again, I write from 48 years of personal experience.
Churches consist of redeemed sinners who continue to battle with the residue of our old natures. As a result, we can’t be in a church without receiving or inflicting emotional pain. In committing to a church, we should expect hurt sooner or later, just as we expect hurt when we get married.
Rather than allowing that knowledge to deter us from church membership, perhaps we ought to consider what the Bible says about working through church hurts.
12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. ~~Colossians 3:12-14 (ESV)
The very fact that church hurts exist necessitates that Christians learn to respond to one another in Christlike ways. Notice Paul’s progression of thought in this passage.
First of all, Paul enumerates several postures Christians should have even before offenses occur. If we treat each other with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience as we bear with each other, we automatically minimize the potential for hurting each other. These qualities, you might recognize, reflect the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. As we walk according to the Spirit, we’re less likely to either give or take offense.
Sadly, we don’t always walk according to the Spirit, do we? And in our failures, we hurt each other. Our brothers and sisters hurt us. Sometimes they do so on purpose — most of the time they do so unintentionally. Either way, God’s Word commands that we forgive them.
And it commands that we forgive them in the same way that Christ has forgiven us. In order to forgive our sins, He had to suffer. When we run from a church simply because someone has hurt us, we exhibit behavior opposite to His. We forget how gravely we’ve sinned against the Lord, and how graciously He forgives our multitude of sins against Him.
Remaining in a church that has hurt us isn’t always easy, I realize. Yet our obedience to stay and forgive gives us a wonderful opportunity to reflect Christ’s character. As I said at the start of this post, joining a church practically guarantees that you will be hurt. But those hurts offer you opportunities to be like Christ.