How Do I Get Past My Disappointments and Hurts From Church?

Written By Karen Kwek, Singapore

A lifelong scribbler, Karen enjoys the company of friends, a great cup of tea and seeing the gospel transform hearts and lives. She worked as a book editor until she and her husband traded peace and quiet for parenthood. It seemed a good idea at the time.

My friend came to our breakfast meeting downcast. “I’m having a hard time,” she said. “How long does it take you to forgive someone?”

I stirred my tea and thought about it. “It might depend on the offence…and on my relationship with the person. I could probably forgive a small insult faster than a huge betrayal. And the more I trust the person, the easier it is for me to forgive him or her.”

My friend, frowning, shook her head. “Okay, I can understand the point about how big or small the wrong is, but the more you trust someone, the more it hurts if they fail or disappoint you, right?”

I acknowledged that this could be true. “But if I really trust them, I’d also know they have my welfare at heart and wouldn’t hurt me intentionally.”

“Sometimes that’s not much comfort,” she said candidly. “It’s not that I’m out to blame anyone. I get that Christians aren’t perfect, but when someone you trusted isn’t who you believed them to be, you’re still left to deal with the pain. I’m not sure I want to see the person every week, let alone trust them again.” She suddenly looked like she’d lost her appetite. And I knew how she felt.

 

What the world says

When I thought more about our conversation, I realized my replies had been somewhat superficial. There is something hollow, something like positive self-talk or pop psychology, about merely excusing the fault (“It was only a small thing”), the intention (“I didn’t mean it; don’t take it personally”) or human limitations (“Nobody’s perfect”). Some other common ways of dealing with hurtful situations are reflected in sayings like “Don’t sweat the small stuff”, “Time heals all wounds” or “Manage your expectations”. Perhaps you have come across more.

I’m not saying that all positive self-talk is uselessit has probably given me perspective that I lacked at the timebut if we had only the world’s wisdom, our focus would remain on analyzing our disappointments and getting by on our own strength. While we might brush off the “small stuff”, deep and damaging wrongs that happen even in Christian communities might scar us permanently: neglect, bullying, gossip, malicious attacks, jealous competition, racial or class prejudice, emotional abuse, sexual harassment or abuse, adultery…the list goes on.

Sin hurts people, and there really isn’t any excuse for causing pain in that way, especially to the people we’re supposed to love and protect, like our brothers or sisters in Christ.

 

It’s not okay

The most helpful conversation I’ve ever had about a deep hurt was when my wise friend Sarah listened to my experience and then said, “Wow, I’m sorry you had to go through that. It’s not okay for someone to do that.” Sarah knew that I knew the Bible verses about forgiveness and that I would try to let my hurts go. But in caring for me and acknowledging that wrong had been done, she helped reflect to me the fact that we have a God who upholds justice, hates sin, and defends the weak and defenseless.

Why was it so important for me to see these aspects of God’s character clearly? Well, my knee-jerk reaction to feeling hurt is getting defensive, severing the hurtful relationship, retaliating, or taking matters into my own hands despite my limited knowledge and ability. Hurt people, so the saying goes, hurt people. What hurt people need first is a refuge, a safe place.

Although Sarah had no power or authority to “fix things”, her standing up for justice“It’s not okaypointed me to the One who does right wrongs, and does so with perfect knowledge and ability. I remembered then that God, the Creator, whose power and understanding is limitless, “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds”. The wicked will suffer His punishment some day, but as for me, I am safe with God! (Psalm 147:2–6)

 

Where does my hope come from?

Being honest with a trustworthy listener about my hurts and taking refuge and comfort in God’s righteousness were the first steps for me in letting go of disappointment. It is natural, even commendable, to admire Christian brothers and sisters who are role models of faith and love—Paul encourages the Corinthian Christians to follow his example, as he follows the example of Christ. But we sometimes forget that our human heroes make mistakes and inevitably let us down. When Sarah helped point me back to God, I was able to ask myself if I was putting my hope in people more than in God.

The church exists to bring God’s love to His people, but the church should never replace God as our sure foundation. In fact, it is God who makes our church relationships more than just social friendships. Jesus died for each of us, making every believer a part of His church. This means that every believer’s worth is in Jesusno less, and no more. Learning to see past even the strengths of our mentors and role models, and see the work of God’s Holy Spirit in them, frees us from idolising them. It also frees us to recognize their weaknesses and forgive them when they fail us.

 

Freedom in Christ

How is it humanly possible to forgive great wrongs? Well, it isn’t! Justice would demand the payment of a suitably great price, such as the penalty of death for our rebellion against God. Yet our Father did the unthinkable:

For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.  (Romans 8:3-4)

Jesus’ death in our place perfectly satisfied the demands of justice, releasing us from condemnation (Romans 8:1-2). But even more than that, this has been done for us so that we can now live according to the Spirit!

Paul goes on to share the awesome truth that our very nature has been changed. We are now God’s children, no longer governed by the need to sin but destined for eternal glory with Jesus. This transformationa self renewed as I know God and become more like Himis what enables us to forgive. We may not always feel enabled, but Christ in us is the reason that Paul can say, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:10, 13).

Our Lord on the cross did the most humanly impossible thing ever: he pleaded the cause of his killers. He was not simply excusing them on grounds of diminished responsibility. In their rejection of him, he did not nurse his own hurts but lifted his eyes to the only One who could grant their greatest needGod’s forgiveness.

 

What about the wrongdoer?

Are there situations in which the wrongdoer should be confronted? Absolutely. Where God’s people sin in a Christian community, Jesus Himself commands that the wrong be addressed, first in private, but if the wrongdoer does not change, before one or more people to witness the confrontation.

Recently, a number of high-profile scandals surfaced, showing that as God’s church we have not done enough to protect the vulnerable and ensure that people are not repeatedly allowed to fall back into sinful ways. Church leaders must be prepared to step in and take action to stop sin (Matthew 18:15-17).

This action could take the form of treating the offender as an unbeliever. In treating him or her “as you would a pagan or a tax collector”, we are not necessarily to cut off all contact with the person. Instead, considering someone an unbeliever is to recognize and keep on offering the person their greatest needthe gospel and a relationship with God through Jesus.

In Eugene Peterson’s rendition of verse 17, “If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love”. That is, grace is not the covering up of wrongdoing but the revealing of sin, so that the sinner might one day repent and be reconciled to God.  

But it may be that most of our disappointments in the church are not as clear-cut as to require the discipline of authorities. Maybe someone brushed aside your opinion, or a clique made you feel unwelcome, or a cutting remark showed snobbery. As we deal with strained or broken relationships, seeing Christ brings freedom from knee-jerk reactions.

In practice, this freedom could take a variety of paths. For example, getting together to explain your position (gently!) and restore friendship; maintaining different opinions on matters of style and preference but working together for the gospel’s sake; finding godly support (para-church or in the same church); and so on. These are not mutually exclusive paths; all are humanly difficultwe may never hear a longed-for apology or get complete closure, but we depend on the Spirit of God to keep on relating to and serving others.

What or who in the church has hurt or disappointed you? As followers of Jesus, we will certainly experience some of His suffering, perhaps even the pain of being betrayed or attacked by someone trusted. But we are those who have known God’s forgiveness and continue to experience it on a daily basis. Because we are being renewed as we know God and become more like Him, we can ask God to free us from bitterness, grudge-bearing and score-keeping, to love Him and His people as He has loved us.

 

To answer my friend’s question again, in a different way, how long I take to forgive someone depends on how long it takes me to see Him clearly. Sometimes it is a long journey. If you are struggling, may you be assured of your safety and worth, demonstrated to you on the cross. May you be strengthened by God’s Spirit, to show previously unthinkable love for your brothers and sisters in Christ. As His people we can do much to helpfully point one another back to the God who deals with our hurts with righteousness as well as tender compassion, and who will one day right all wrongs.

Can We Love Jesus Without Loving the Church?

I have always been a regular church attender, and am typically involved in one ministry or another. But there have been times when I wondered if being a part of a local church body is really all that important. I never actually stopped attending, but I have wondered at times, “What’s the point?”

However, I recently started reading and studying what the Bible has to say about the church, and am learning about Jesus’ immense and everlasting love for it (Ephesians 5:25, Ephesians 5:29). As a result, I’m beginning to see things a lot differently.

Despite the deep love Jesus proclaimed and showed for His church in Scripture, Christians are leaving it today in record numbers. Many of these people wouldn’t say that they’ve stopped believing in God or that they’ve given up on Jesus. They would probably just say that they’ve become frustrated with the church.  

Maybe they’ve become saddened by the church’s perceived stagnation or it’s unwillingness to change old traditions. Maybe they feel like today’s church is no longer relevant and doesn’t try hard enough to engage with today’s culture. Or on the flip side, maybe they believe the church is trying too hard to fit in with today’s world. Maybe they are disappointed with the hypocrisy and hateful rhetoric spewed by some of its members.

Sadly, I can sympathize with many of these frustrations. The people in the church of Christ often don’t display the loving characteristics of the One they claim to be following. I am certain that Jesus is saddened by the behaviors and attitudes displayed in a lot of today’s churches. But I think Jesus might also be saddened when people give up on the church and abandon it altogether.

Often we hear, “I still love Jesus, but I just don’t want to deal with church anymore.” Perhaps it would be wise to remember that Jesus called the church His bride (Ephesians 5:25-27). Imagine for a moment that someone wanted to be your friend, but wanted nothing to do with your wife. How would you feel? I know I would have a hard time having a relationship with that person. When we say that we want Jesus, but want no part of His church and its people, we are basically doing the same thing to Him.

The church is not a perfect community. I know as well as you do how far from perfection we are. But really, shouldn’t this be expected? The church is made up of a whole bunch of imperfect and sinful people. I once heard someone say, “If you find a perfect church, don’t go there because you’ll ruin it!”

Despite all the imperfections in the church, God is still madly in love with it. So if we truly love God, then we should love His church and be willing to work on the issues it faces. If we see a need, then we should try to meet it. If we see a problem, then we should try to come up with a solution. Too often, church is like so many other things in today’s culture—a place where people are experts at pointing out the problems, but aren’t willing to do anything to help solve them. We expect someone else to fix the problems in church. But we all can, and must, do better!

The Christian church is a vital part of God’s great plan to find and save the lost and to restore this broken world. Yes, He could have done all this without our help. He has all power and authority to do it on His own. But for some reason, God chose to include us. He chose to allow His bride to be a part of His work. He chose to use His church.

God has equipped every member of His church for a specific purpose. Each of us is empowered by the same Holy Spirit to glorify Jesus and make His church loving, beautiful, captivating, intriguing, and inviting. Let’s try to find our place in it, and let’s all do our part!

As someone once said, it’s impossible to love Jesus but hate the church. When we give up on the church, we give up on that which Jesus died for.

4 Things To Consider Before Leaving Your Church

Written By Tay Boon Jin

Boon Jin has been a staff with Singapore Youth for Christ for the past 15 years. She now serves in Malaysia—reaching children through the teaching of English.

I was a young Christian when I witnessed my first church split. There was an exodus of members from the congregation I worshipped with. I had no clue how to make sense of what was happening. I don’t really remember who was in the right or the wrong; I simply remember the sadness that lingered when brothers and sisters in Christ part ways under unpleasant circumstances.

Some years later, I faced the prospect of leaving the very same congregation. It was a tough decision. By then I had grown to know some of the brothers and sisters well, and had become co-workers with them in ministry. Now I felt not only sadness, but also the pain of parting and the hurt of misunderstanding.

I have since joined a new congregation. Here also, brothers and sisters in Christ come and go from our midst for various reasons, and I would be lying if I said I have never thought about leaving this church too. But God has been teaching me to grow in love for the community He has placed me in. Loving people is a very difficult thing. Yet though I am difficult to love, my friends in this church have shown me much grace.

As I look back on each time someone leaves a congregation, I thank God for lessons learned. Some, I rejoice with them as the Lord beckons them to places where their presence with us would be impossible, and some, I continue to pray that God may see them well-placed in another community. Whether we are watching someone leave or leaving ourselves, I pray that the following pointers may help us continue to witness to the Lord’s headship over us—we who are the body of Christ.

 

1. Are you honoring Christ as head of the church?

Passages like Colossians 1 and Ephesians 2 clearly speak to Christ’s headship over the church. Some argue that when a Christian leaves a local congregation, he still remains a part of the body of Christ. Of course the body of Christ is greater than just the local church! But just as Christ is the head of the universal church, so is He the head of each local congregation.

When issues arise in a church, we often decide whether to leave or stay based on our emotions. I urge that we not be hasty, but carefully consider whether our response honors Christ’s headship. And this is not just about whether we stay or leave, but how do we respond to the initial issue that sparked such a question? Are we complaining loudly and adding to the division in the church? Or are we building up the body of Christ?

 

2. Are you living out the new commandment?

Speaking to a group of followers who did not always get along, Jesus commanded them to love one another (John 13:34-35). And He explained why: that the world may know that we are Jesus’ disciples.

We were commanded to love. The command still stands even when we are the hurting party, or when we are bystanders watching the drama unfold. As difficult as it can be, we need to put aside our hurts and grievances so that we can act according to this love. Are we praying for the other party? Are we coming together (even though we might disagree on different issues) to pray for one another—for the grace of God to be shown in these circumstances?

Whether we choose to leave or stay, whether to bless another’s departure or retain them, we need to consider if we are acting in love. Loving others will be difficult and draining, but that is what Jesus commanded.

 

3. Are you seeking the unity of the Spirit?

Sometimes when we fight over who is in the right, we become hostile to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Scriptures urges us otherwise:

I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6)

In hostility, there is only pride, retaliation, and impatience. These are hardly ingredients for the unity of the Spirit. Even when justifying to third parties or questioning the reasons for someone’s departure, we often seek subtly to undermine the people involved. Wisdom can hardly do its work to help us make good decisions when we indulge our resentful spirits.

In making such difficult decisions, we need to pray that the Lord will guard our minds and hearts. Do we seek mediation from people who may see the issues more clearly than we do? Do we adopt an attitude of humility in seeking counsel from wise members of the church, or do we merely want an affirmation of our decision?

 

4. Are you actively building up the church?

Sometimes people leave a particular church because they feel like they are not experiencing spiritual growth, or that the preaching is not solid enough. This can be a subjective judgement. Spiritual growth is inevitable, since the Spirit is given to every believer. So perhaps our expectations need to be re-considered. Perhaps our over-reliance on a Sunday sermon is the problem. Spiritual growth should be an everyday experience!

Some of us might be spiritually mature, and find the current church lacking in the same maturity. If so, we have a responsibility to build up the body of Christ. We may have to find different resources to bring the Word to people around us so that they may grow too. If mature believers leave a congregation which lacks growth, then we leave behind a group of brothers and sisters poorer in their understanding of the Word of God. Good sermons and even good online theological courses are now prolific; as others build us up, let’s pray that God may use us to build others up.

Another common reason people give for leaving is that the church is “cold”. The thing is, relationships take time to grow. When I first stepped into the current church that I worship with, I felt out of place for a couple of years. If anyone had asked me to describe my church in a word, I would have said “cold”. However, I knew that my lack of effort in getting to know people played a large part in it.

I was serving in the youth group and spent all my time and energy with the youth. As years went by, I learned to broaden my circle of meaningful interaction by attending church prayer meetings or finding other ways of meeting people. And now I would describe the very same group of people as genuinely concerned for God’s work and His people. If anyone is contemplating leaving their church because it is cold, I would really ask you to consider not leaving, but being more involved!

 

We are not simply bound socially because we come to “do” something together every Sunday. We are all mysteriously bound—in love and peace—by God’s redeeming work. I cannot explain the sadness and pain experienced when people leave the congregation.

When we were redeemed by Christ, God called us His children and made us family! When there is love and peace among us, we reflect the very character of our Father, who demonstrated His great love in sending Christ and reconciled hostile sinners to Himself. We must then ask, do we respond to one another as a family member would?

Paul writes, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). So whether we choose to leave or to stay, let us bear witness to the love and peace Christ bought for us with His precious blood.

My Loneliness Drew Me Closer to Christ

Written By River T, Malaysia

I’ve been mediocre my entire life. Coming from a family of high achievers, my achievements have always paled in comparison. And as an introverted middle child in a rather huge family, I have always struggled to voice out my feelings or opinions. Being invisible is what best describes me.

After graduating from secondary school, I came to Christ when my eldest sister brought me to church. However, the church that I attended was not able to provide me with the support I needed to grow as a new believer.

However, things changed when I went to Brisbane to study. Over there, I found a supportive community of leaders and fellow believers who helped me grow deeper in my walk with God. Their passion and commitment to the Lord and for the lost was so evident in their actions that it really inspired me to pursue God more.

While I may have been neglected or even forgotten by my community back home, the people I met in Brisbane cared for and loved me. Under their mentorship, I gradually learned to open up to and love the people around me. That was when I experienced the joy of belonging to a community of believers.

My time in Brisbane was so impactful that when I returned to Malaysia after graduation, it was difficult to adjust back to the life I had left behind. For one, I struggled to reconnect with my old friends upon returning home. While I was in Brisbane, I seldom contacted my friends back home. Furthermore, we share different interests and religious beliefs. As a result, we had drifted apart and I found it difficult to connect and share with them my struggles, especially those related to my spiritual walk.

I also felt out of place in my home church in Malaysia as I was now used to a different kind of church community and worship style—one that was warm, supportive, and passionate about discipleship. As a result, I retreated further into my shell and began to feel even lonelier.

Life back home became even more difficult when I started my first job. During my first rotation, the team that I was assigned to work in was extremely stressful. My superior was a perfectionist and had very high expectations of me. Whenever I failed to meet them, she would chastise me harshly in the presence of many. My self-confidence plummeted and I often felt incompetent at work. I would also have nightmares about my work when I realized that I had made mistakes.

I became very unhappy with my life, and my anxieties and frustrations paved the way to depression. I would experience breathing difficulties and had to frequent the toilet many times to calm myself down. Each day was agonizing and I began developing suicidal thoughts.

I couldn’t share my condition with my family because I have not been close to them since young. Neither could I seek help from my friends, colleagues, or church leaders. I resented that I had to leave behind the supportive community I had in Brisbane and yet not been able to find such support back home.

Being adrift from any form of community and support meant I had no choice but to turn to God. So I poured out my heart to God every night, spending more time with Him in prayer and in His Word. As it says in Psalm 119:92, “If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.”

While my circumstances did not turn around immediately, I experienced God’s comfort through His Word in my distress. His Word gave me the courage and strength to live on when I wanted to end my life—and I learned to rely only on Him.

When no one was there for me, God held me close. He was my source of strength and comfort during the most difficult and painful season of my life.

I recall having lunch alone one day and I was swarmed with endless self-deprecating thoughts.

Why did I not excel in my studies or make a name for myself in society as my family members have? As an overseas graduate, I should be excelling at my workplace but why am I failing to perform at work? Why is it so difficult for me to make friends?

I felt utterly useless and worthless but in that moment, God spoke to me through Romans 8:38-39:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I had nothing to be proud of at that time. But God assured me that I am still loved by Him, and nothing can separate me from His love.

After some time, God turned things around when I was assigned to a different team at work.

My new superior is nurturing and patient, and I have benefited greatly under her leadership. My self-confidence grew and I began to love my work rather than feeling fearful of being reprimanded as I had been under my previous supervisor. I am also closer to my new colleagues and they have been a great help to me when I meet with challenges in my work.

However, I still struggle with depression today, and I still do not have many close friends—whether at church or within my social circle. While I hope that I can one day experience the vibrant community life I had in Brisbane again, for now I’m thankful that I’m still alive and I have God’s Word to guide my life. He knows me full well and will be with me as I go through the high mountains and low valleys in my life. He is sufficient for me.