Hurt by Church Leadership?
A person can feel hurt or disappointment by the church through the following:
--Valuing a principle or ideal that was not honoured by the church, or even dismissed or rejected by the leadership.
--Management of a conflict situation that was immature or unhelpful.
--Placing an expectation on the leadership that wasn’t met.
We said that an aspect of the hurt could come from our own inability to see the other’s perspective, or unrealistic expectations placed on the leader. We also identified that leaders can be unreasonable and make significant mistakes. This is hard to accept as church leaders are meant to represent a higher calling and be a Christian example.
This article is about forgiveness when the hurt goes deep. We begin by looking at the characteristics of significant pain.
TRAUMA IS LIKE A LIVING ORGANISM
Deep hurt can grow and fester, continuing to impact our lives. Burying hurt or treating it as an irrelevant past experience does not dull its impact over time. Unprocessed pain keeps its power and influence.
If I broke my leg yesterday it would be a past experience, but it still impacts me today and tomorrow. If I chose to treat my broken leg as un-important, then I am taking the risk that it may not heal properly, and I may always walk with a limp or have other physical complications. Instead I need to take the necessary steps to protect the leg and seek healing.
Physical trauma is no different from emotional trauma. We need to take initiative and oversee our own process of healing. Just as with a broken leg, we will need help with this through finding safe people and relying on those skilled in emotional care.
FORGIVENESS INVOLVES GRIEVING A LOSS
When we are hurt emotionally something is taken away from us. This might be a loss of trust, time, money, safety, comfort, security, innocence, convenience, status, hope—the list goes on. In order to work through this hurt to forgiveness, that loss needs to identified and the pain of that loss needs to be felt. This is personal work that we typically need to do BEFORE bringing our conflict to the person who caused the sense of hurt.
It may help to complete this sentence in order to understand for yourself the hurt and loss you experienced.
‘That hurt because...and I lost… and now I feel…’
Three example sentences may be:
-- 'That hurt because I really cared about the ministry which was taken away. I lost time, an outlet to serve, and a sense of being fulfilled in the life of the church. I feel disappointed and confused spiritually.'
-- 'That hurt because I trusted that my church was a safe place. I lost that trust and also a friendship through this experience, and I now feel sad and dismayed.'
-- 'That hurt because I believed we would be more successful and I blame the leadership for that. I lost hope and confidence in a community that I love, and I now feel angry.'
At this stage some of your feelings may not be rational or make logical sense. This doesn’t mean they are any less important, and you can think about what makes sense later on. You may also find that some of your feelings seem unfair or misdirected. That is okay too. The emotions need to be voiced and accepted as real feelings (not dismissed) in order to work with them.
There is no timeframe for grieving a loss, though one does want to have a sense of making some progress in processing the various emotions.
As you seek out help from others to express your pain and work through your hurt, choose a safe person who is unlikely to get wrapped up in the conflict. For anyone experiencing church conflict it helps to be mindful of the drama triangle and to avoid the roles that can be taken-up when processing pain with others.
I HAVE FELT THE PAIN, NOW WHAT?
Working through loss is a process, but there may be a time when true forgiveness (a letting go of the painful experience) feels like a possibility. The act of forgiving benefits the one who was hurt just as much or more than the perpetrator because it enables the hurt person to let go of pain, anger, and bitterness that they would otherwise continue to carry. The process of forgiveness (identifying the hurt, feeling the pain and grieving the loss, and releasing the experience through forgiving) can then bring someone back into a sense of community and with a more informed sense of how to think about future similar situations.
After offering forgiveness it may be useful to think about personal boundaries to keep oneself safe, and to help understand for the future what feelings, emotions and expectations are ‘ours’ and what belongs to others in areas of conflict. A helpful synopsis of the concept of 'Boundaries' can be found here.
Certainly the Christian belief that one is forgiven by Jesus can help enable the process of forgiveness from those who have been hurt in Christian circles. The Christian understanding of God’s priority for forgiveness, unity, and restoration can significantly aide someone wanting to let go of pain. Likewise the promises of comfort, peace and healing that are found in the Bible and through Christian spiritual encounter can help the process of forgiving.
The Christian ideal for forgiveness is reconciliation. This is laid out in Matthew 5:23-26 but it must be said that sometimes, for various reasons, reconciliation is simply not achievable. The end result of forgiveness is not necessarily reconciliation and that is sad, but a commitment towards forgiveness is still in the emotional interest of the person hurt, because forgiveness will lead to a fuller and less burdened life for them.
It is often taught in churches that someone must ‘just forgive’. It is my conviction that forgiveness is more a process than a singular act. However there might be something about the immediate act of saying ‘I forgive you’ which helps to keep an attitude of remaining open to the wider process of forgiveness.
Finally, it helps us to understand that the journey of forgiveness can be complicated and confusing. One can find that they end up taking some responsibility for the conflict whereas previously they were convinced it was the leadership’s fault entirely. The inverse can also happen and people who have been blaming themselves can find that they were doing so unnecessarily.
Although everyone’s process is different, one progression of thought may look something like this:
-- 'I hate this church that has rejected me'
-- 'I felt rejected because they didn’t make space for me in the groups I wanted to attend. I felt like an outsider.'
-- 'When I think about the mind of the leadership at that time, I can see that they were focused on a big project. But I still feel overlooked and hurt. I believe they failed at a basic level of welcome and inclusion, though I can see how they were overstretched at the time. I have lost trust in a community that I expected would care for me.'
-- 'I am able to let go of that pain and I see the benefits of offering forgiveness. I will contact the church to explain from my perspective what happened and how it made me feel.'
-- 'The church leader was able to listen and apologised, and that helped. They didn’t intend for me to feel that way. They will make changes and think about if they might have a culture of not-including others. I also understand how to express myself in the future when I feel that way in church settings.'
-- 'In some ways I feel I need to protect myself when that sort of thing happens again, but I also feel that I can re-connect with my community and that trust has been largely re-established.'
If you have been hurt by a church leader and are struggling to re-build trust. I would recommend the book ‘Safe People’ by Henry Cloud and John Townsend to help you think about your experience and to rebuild a sense of security within relationships.
Ron Bushyager- http://www.fftherapy.co.uk/