When Churches Hurt


“I’m in a different stage of my life right now,” said the young man across the counter as I asked him if he went to church. “I don’t like what organized religion has become,” he continued. I hear a variation of that reasoning quite often. But as I probed and asked about his church background, I was not expecting his answer.

As he told me his story, he mentioned growing up in a church I know well in another city. Years ago, it was one of the most dynamic evangelical churches in that metropolitan area. It grew to mega church status and one day the fighting began. First it was over church governance, and then over musical styles, and then over whatever else people could find polarizing.  it grew ugly until the inevitable split. It was a mess. No one won. No one. Some have claimed victory, however. But the greatest loss to me was the disillusionment of young men and women who watched their parents, grandparents, mentors, heroes of the faith engage in a selfish, unforgiving, ugly battle over mere preferences.

church fight

I know the story well. There was no just cause there. No one was fighting heresy or a scandalous financial or moral cover up. They fought hard over preferences, the trivial. It broke my heart to heart to hear that this 26 year old who grew up in what once was a great church now is questioning his entire belief foundation. I don’t blame him. I have been around enough church fights that I can see how someone would be willing to walk away and never come back. I even considered doing it myself.

I’m sure there are many victims of ugly church splits wandering outside any faith community because those who should have known better, the supposedly spiritually mature, failed them miserably. I don’t have a solution for this problem. The human condition is never going to get better. Righteous indignation will rise up when someone decides to mess with the color of the church carpet, and people will need to be mobilize to stop the travesty from happening.

The one thing I can do is to keep my own heart in check and to save that righteous indignation for the things that really matter such as those facing a Christ-less eternity, human trafficking, hunger, child abuse. I pray for a proper perspective on what’s important and what’s trivial, and if I ever confuse them, may God take me home before I cause people like my young friend to wander from their faith.

Have you see The Church at its worst? How has that impacted your life?

  • Tina Levorse

    I have seen all kinds of things at the churches in which I have owned “membership.” Gratefully I have also seen my current church learn from its history. People who were disruptive to the faith life of the congregation have gradually been removed from “power.” Issues that could have been ugly and devisive have been met head on and behavioral guidelines given by leadership from the onset. I’m proud of the way we’ve handled several potentially inflamatory situations. I think we try to always keep foremost in our minds what we are called to be and do. And THAT is not always easy to do when emotions run high.

    • I’m glad your church has survived disruption. Some types of church governance, i.e. congregational, it’s difficult to manage since it becomes more about popularity and majority vote than what’s Biblically sound.

  • Jana Renfrow

    As a college student, I experienced a very ugly denominational fight in my school. It shook me up to see leaders behaving so ugly towards each other. I almost walked away from it all because of that.

    • Sounds like you and I went to the same school. I witnessed such a thing as well.

  • Anonymous

    I have seen it at it’s worst, and it broke my heart, all because something was being called sin that isn’t sin (ie – occasional drinking of alcohol – like in communion or having one beer). Staff were fired, I was told I could no longer be a leader (after being a leader for 8 years and an elder for 1 during the time of pastoral transition) because I was willing to take communion in Europe where they use real wine. Caused a lot of people to leave, I became disillusioned with the church as a whole for a while (just now getting to the place where I am willing to get involved in a church again). nnIt’s ugly when people take preferences and try to make them a sin issue.

    • You’re right Jason. I’m glad you’re finding your way back. Thanks for your transparency.

  • I’ve seen way too many times the church has been at it’s worst. I’ve seen a church that found out how much members made and sent them “bills” for what they should be tithing each month. Another had a pastor who kept files on members with dirt he could dig up in case that member wanted to stand up to him or leave the church. But I’ve seen some of the really good as well like my current church home. So I try not to dwell on the negatives.

  • I have been in it. I have watched it. It’s sad, and it’s tragic when it so adversely affects other people.nnBut having watched my parents go through it and stay connected to church (not the same church but finding a new church) I know it’s possible to overcome.nnJust because one well is poisoned doesn’t mean they all are. And just because we got sick doesn’t mean we don’t need water anymore (not a perfect analogy, but off the top of my head.)

    • I’m glad your parents fared well and overcame it. Yes a lot of people do. I just hurt for those who are not strong enough to process all that’s going on. While you should never allow others to be the gauge for your spiritual well being, the young in the faith can walk away after watching those they trusted act so badly.

  • As someone who has served on staff with multiple churches for the better part of the last two decades, I can safely say I HAVE seen the church at its worst. Sad, but true. On more than one occasion politics have trumped everything else. I’ve seen too many staff members lose their jobs, families, and faith over it. I’ve also watched way too many people leave the church never to come back.nnI also find myself in the middle of such a circumstance now as I am in between ministry positions — also at the hands of the church.nnI continually pray that God will once again be God of the church.

  • Lindsay (not2lindsay)

    Yes, I have seen two churches at their worst. In the wake of the tragedy, I saw the first (my childhood church) at its best. My parents are still there, and the church is thiriving. The second didn’t fare as well…and neither did we. Our family no longer goes to church. We are focusing our time, energy, and resources on being the church in our community…and seeing more fruit than we’ve ever seen before in our 20+ years as Christians.

  • This hurts me and yet I know it is not an isolated story, there are more, many more. As a pastor’s wife, I am troubled by the impotence of the church and the lack of the transformation taking place. God help us. God help me to live a life that reflects the true character of Christ so that I can lead effectively and inspire those around me. I want to go after those who are hurt and wounded by the church, recover them, and demonstrate the love of God. I will pursue!

  • What a sad, but true reality! It was this same mentality that I used to justify a hatred for the church and Christians for several years. Thankfully the grace of God is bigger than preference and the Holy Spirit prompts louder than selfishness.

  • Baseball

    Hi, I have been hurt by my church. Had a disagreement with a member. He swore his head off at me in the small group. He was the leader. He later apologized to me in front of the pastors. Things were ok. He later, while I was talking to a girl, yelled at the top his lungs, almost right behind where I was sitting. I couldn’t handle it anymore. I left. Told the pastor about it. He didn’t do anything. What should I do? Basically my heartt is still at that church.

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