During a recent gathering, a friend dropped a bomb on us. What made this gathering so unique was that every person was employed at some level as a pastor in a church. From Youth Pastor to Senior Pastor, a large spectrum of clergy was represented among just a few individuals.
While socializing, a question was posed to an individual who recently resigned from the pastorate. After thirty years of pastoral ministry, "He threw in the towel." He was finished. He would never pastor again. A friend asked, “Why did you resign your church?” A startling answer shot back, “Because I hate Christians. I honestly hate those Christians! That’s WHY!” The painful sober look on his face gave witness to a severely wounded individual; a bit angry too.
Over the course of an hour, this “I Will Never Return to the Church Again!” pastor, lamented his treatment at the hands of "Christians." Towards the end of the hour, I remember thinking, “If only half of what he said is accurate, I don’t blame him for feeling the way he does. I’d quit too!”
Deep down inside I had to admit that his story and feelings resonated with me at times too over the years. “I really hate Christians” is a phrase heard repeated many times over my forty years of ministry by many people. Oh, perhaps people softened it down a bit; removing the hideous word “hate.” The meaning was still the same. “The church hurt me, Christians hurt me, and I will never go to church again because of those people. I hate those people. I hate the Church!"
During the conversation, similarities of other people leaving the Church over the years for similar reasons resounded. There is a commonality among many hurt people when arriving at such a strong personal conclusion to "leave the church." At least that's what it looks like to me. Just a few thoughts.
We Tend To Generalize
When one says, “The Church hurt me.” What does "church" actually mean? I've asked people storming out of a church, “Which church hurt you?” Often the reply is hurled back, “Your church hurt me!” Well, since I've never owned a church, only pastored a few, my reply usually is, “Who is the Church?”
A close friend recently made the statement, “I hate those people! That’s the church!” So, I asked my close friend, “Everyone in the church hurt you?” When you boiled it down, it’s usually just unfavorable interactions with a handful of people that drive most people to leave their church, a church, thee Church. For the wounded, the few truly offensive people in a church generally wear the entire face of Church.
We Tend To Speak From Our Hurt
OK, you've been hurt. I've been hurt in the church by church people too. And, I think I've hurt people in church too. At least that is what I've been told by the "Hurt." If your around the church long enough, you will get hurt. The church is made up of people. And, like in every organization, people tend to hurt other people. Yet, when people leave the church, they tend to do it in haste and in their hurt.
Hurt rarely is an accurate complete reflection of reality. When something hurts, say a broken foot for example, almost all concentration is focused on the injured part of the body. A hurt person speaking from their pain often reflects just their woundedness.
We Tend To Retreat Behind Walls of Self-Protection
When people experience fallout from conflict in church, they tend to retreat behind the walls of their homes and private lives. This offers a level of self-protection. What it does not allow is for confession, maturity, reconciliation, and resilience. Bitter, many never rise again to a level of service, spiritual health, and community in the church.
We Tend to Interpret Offenses by Individuals Corporately
Let’s say a particular church has 500 members. And, in the church, during the course of time you are unappreciated by 5 people. I mean these five individuals are totally oblivious of your service and sacrifice. Another 5 people are snobs refusing to socialize. Another 5 people speak unkindly towards you. Still another 1 person says, “We really don’t want your kind of people around here!” And, let’s say 5 more people are part of the Self-Righteous Better Than Everyone Else crowd.
Finally, after receiving the last insult, or unfavorable outcome, or stupid oversimplified Bible answer to a personal life crisis, or seeing personal hypocrisy, or hearing something you don’t like, you leave the “church.”
But, what that person really means is, “I am fed up with 21 unfavorable people in that church of 500.” Or, less than 5% of the church membership is unfavorable. That’s a 95.5% favorability rating. Any politician would take that percentage in a poll!
We Tend To Think Everyone Should Know Our Plight
Fact of the matter is, most people in church don’t know why you left. They might not even notice that you're gone! They are so overly committed in their life’s busyness they never even think about it. They probably never think about you. Six months to a year can roll by before someone asks, “Whatever happened to so and so?” So when you sit at home waiting for a phone call, "Please come back." It is a call never to come. This tends to embolden people in their "offendedness". Yep, I know I made up a word there.
“Offense” is Often Just a Difference of Position on an Issue or Dispute
Once a woman left a church I was pastoring because she didn’t get to sing on a Sunday morning. The Worship pastor had sound reasons for refusing to allow her to sing. Conjuring up all kinds of nonexistent offenses, she hurled slurs and insults making quite a wave leaving the church she belonged to her entire life. She spoke horribly of the church she claimed to love.
It all boiled down to just one thing – she didn't get her own way on a single issue. And, it’s often that way when folks leave. There is no actual offense. There’s just a strong difference of opinion. The Christian landscape is strewn with self-wounded people living in self-imposed exile from the church over a single non-consequential issue.
What To Do When Offended
Hey! People are people. I've seen some pretty ugly stuff go down in the church by “Christians” over the years. Some stuff is beyond description; bizarre actually. When genuinely offended, consider the following. It's where I'm at with this kind of stuff these days:
Only through spiritual maturity, forgiveness, and Christ-honoring love can offenses be overcome and covered. Without a willingness to forgive, an offense gains power and grows. Forgiveness helps prune back the branches of offense.
And, in the end, if there is no other way, just go your way asking God’s richest blessing upon your adversary; the offender. It’s God job to sort it all out anyways.
Just My Thoughts,
Don was born in North Minneapolis, Minnesota. Having served twenty-two years in South Africa as missionaries with his wife Kathy, and eight years pastoring in the United States, he shares unique perspectives about life, family, relationships, and ministry.