When Church Hurts

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Church isn’t supposed to hurt. But it can. Sometimes it does. People hurt people. It’s unfortunate.

It’s supposed to be a fellowship. One that draws people together, welcomes everyone in, and lifts up the soul. So what do we do when the bottom falls out and our expectation of safe shatters into a million little heart pieces? What do we do when church hurts?

My family has experienced a very difficult time feeling connected in the new city we moved to nearly 2 years ago. We have moved a lot over the last decade. That never helped us feel connected. But we take every move, every step with serious prayer and giant faith. Choosing a church is extremely important to us because we always go where we believe God is leading us. We look for community.

We have experienced it. We know what it looks like. It looks like this:

Sharing.
Doing life together.
Connecting because your hearts want to find Jesus in everything.
Volunteering together.
Serving together.
Loving God and loving others… together.

But sometimes there’s a disconnect.

I’m not referring to the times when the pastor teaches on a subject that even we Christians don’t want to hear about, don’t agree with, or don’t want to admit we have a problem with. I’m not talking about not quite connecting with a certain worship style or song. {These are probably all times we need to plug ourselves in deeper. There’s likely a lesson for us in these times.}

I’m talking about loving church and still not wanting to go because you feel invisible… disconnected.

The disconnect hurts the heart when you feel like you aren’t a part. We all want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves and most Christians look to their church family for that. When you don’t feel that then you feel disconnect. We know how that feels. We are still waiting to connect here.

You try to meet people. You try to connect. You volunteer. You never put any of this above the main reason you go … to worship corporately and to hear Biblically sound teaching… but you want to experience fellowship too.

You make a few friends, but really nothing lasts in the fellowship category. You don’t need it; you just want it … to connect. You find lovely people to smile at and chat with, but that full on church community you look for just isn’t happening.

When that connection doesn’t happen you feel invisible. You feel un-fellowshipped if I can coin a word.

Where is the community?

I believe in community. A pure, authentic, “if you say you’re going to pray then pray and follow up”, take initiative kind of community.

Sure, sign up sheets for volunteering, the occasional church wide picnic, and focused group events and studies are nice. But are they really producing a growing, genuine community? I’m not convinced they are for everyone all the time or everyone would be doing it.

Sometimes these things are surely helping in some way. And they might be growing the church roll {which really shouldn’t be the goal}. But when these things see the same people showing up and doing the same thing every time … and others who are gifted to serve are left out, the older generation doesn’t participate, and new members are only paid attention to while they are new and fresh faces … then connection tends to suffer because the focus is not targeted to the people. It’s targeted to the task. Unorganized and stressful are usually the outcomes.

CHURCH:
Focus on the people always and connection happens. Make sure everyone can use their gifts to serve.

But that is rare in churches, even with classes in how to find your gifting and small groups devoted to this and that and the other but not getting to the meat of learning.

So you don’t know what to do? How to be a part? Or you’ve tried and were met with adversity. You feel… Invisible.

So what do you do when you feel invisible and un-fellowshipped?

You do what God tells you to do. Have you asked? I know sometimes it takes Him a while to show us and we get impatient. But we must be patient. He never does anything in vain.

You are seeking His direction. You are asking Him to show you how you could be a better connector yourself. You are seeking His plan for your life. Just continue to listen.

It may be that He is calling you out to a new worship experience, a different church, or maybe He wants you to stay put so He can work through you right there. You might be there for just one.

Don’t move … don’t take a step … until you are certain – as a single or as a family – God says move.

What I’m getting this pinpointed down to is this:

Hurt happens in the church just like it happens outside the church. If you are forgiving others as you need to and trying to live in a way that glorifies God through your gifts and talents and everyday life, then you’ll see exactly where He wants you.

And the hurt? Talk to Him about it. He was hurt a *few* times by the church too. And His church friends… betrayed Him. He knows what you are feeling.

We can’t expect perfect from ourselves or others. We shouldn’t even be trying to be perfect. God doesn’t expect us to get perfect. He expects us to love. Him. Others. Everyone. And He expects us to live that love out to be more like Christ.

And if you’ve been so hurt by people who represented a church, that you’ve stopped going altogether, I understand. I really understand. But remember…

Christians aren’t perfect. We aren’t always right. We don’t understand everything.

Christians are hypocrites. Said that before? Heard that before?

My response: Some are. All people are likely hypocrites about something. Please look to Christ for answers and examples instead. His love is always perfect.

If we continually look to Him, He will see us and we won’t be invisible.

Live Blessed,

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Would you walk the journey with us? Let’s love the world together! That would be such a blessing.

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30 thoughts on “When Church Hurts

  1. Susan Irene Fox says:

    It does hurt. Especially on Sundays. I still, after nearly 5 years find myself sitting by myself on Sunday morning. The thing that always helps me is to remember that Jesus said he came to heal the sick, To bind up the brokenhearted. We’re all healing from something. So I go. And I worship Him. And I volunteer where I can. And I find my community in the other place He sends me to build His kingdom..

    Like

    • Heather Mertens @ 40YearWanderer says:

      Susan,
      It really breaks my heart – and I don’t ever say that lightly – that you have felt this disconnect for so very long. I actually empathize with you greatly. Not just because we moved several times either. Christians can be so hurtful and that is why I feel the world sees the whole of us as hypocrites. I have the hardest time placing myself in places where I feel unloved or unwanted, even if is only because so many don’t notice those around them. I feel like the church as a whole is very much like a high school clique. To gain entrance you must DO something instead of just BE yourself. I hate that. It hurts so many. If I were in your church, you’d have a soul to sit by every Sunday. Me. :)
      Much love,
      Heather

      Like

  2. imconfident says:

    It is very true. In many churches you can feel totally alone and disconnected. This is why many people, including many of my own family members and friends, don’t want to be involved with anything Christian because they haven’t been made to feel welcome and they don’t see anything positive about going to church.

    I never really felt connected to a church until just a few years ago, when a friend invited me to visit a different church and it really opened my eyes as to what Christians should be like. Even with its large and growing congregation, I’ve almost always felt very welcome and part of their community. Yes, of course there are always some hypocrites no matter what church we attend, but we just have to keep our minds and hearts turned to God.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Heather Mertens @ 40YearWanderer says:

      I always love your thoughtful, insightful comments! :)
      Oh, how I hate the pain of disconnect. I have known it most of my life for various reasons. We will keep looking to God for direction to find the “connect”.
      I love that you hang out here with me
      That is a “connection” I cherish!
      Much love,
      Heather

      Like

  3. bunnyb1802 says:

    I’ve been here a year and am still without a church to call home. I don’t seem to fit in anywhere. Whilst it hasn’t stopped me serving (volunteer at a food pantry), I don’t belong anywhere and! after coming from a church where I had and was able to give support, thriving prayer ministry, worship, fellowship, it’s hard to be in this “desert”. Good post.

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    • Heather Mertens @ 40YearWanderer says:

      I am right there with you, my friend. Once you feel that community and sense of belonging you want it everywhere! I too served in a food pantry before and many other areas, but now God has me serving here. It is never easy, but we forge ahead.
      I am thankful for our connections here.
      :)
      I hope you find community soon too, dear. I certainly do.
      Hugs,
      Heather

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  4. Valerie Rutledge says:

    Heather, this breaks my heart. Our church is currently growing at a rapid pace, which I am thankful for. Your post has brought to my attention that we need to be mindful that newbies may feel left out if we veterans don’t make a point to welcome them in and help them get plugged in where they can be used by God and at the same time, making sure our spiritual grandparents aren’t left in the dust while us youngins get caught up in doing something new. Important things to remember” eyes & ears open, heart in tune with the Holy Spirit and a willingness to reach out. No one should feel like a stranger in a foreign land when they enter in to God’s sanctuary.

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    • Heather Mertens @ 40YearWanderer says:

      Valerie
      I just love your heart and I appreciate your comment and encouragement. Things have been very, very hard for me and my family lately. We have been abandoned so speak but NOT by God. Hallelujah!
      The weirdest part of the whole church thing is that a year and a half ago when we started there, we were welcomed in like family. The newness wears off and then… well, everything I referenced in this post happened to us. It was so painful. Btu we are praying about where to go where we feel a part. Even if it is just in worship and learning, but not serving right away. It is hard to trust people.

      Honestly, I have been burned badly by a few who claim Christianity since my ministry has grown and that hurts even more. Why can’t people just be happy for others and support them?

      I will focus on Him going forward, but not without the tears unfortunately.
      I do have a great deal of support and online friends.
      YOU are one!!
      I love that we met.
      Hugs,
      Heather

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  5. S. Keith Barnes says:

    Thanks Heather. A minister and pastor I know says all Christians are hypocrites. Only Jesus was perfect and the rest of us fall short. That makes us hypocrites to the world driven by evil. That same man pastored a church I attended for over five years where nearly no one knew each other. There was fellowship around church services. There were various groups and programs, yet hardly no one had a close relationship. I determined to introduce myself to someone different each week…even that didn’t work long term. People seem to be too busy to make long, lasting friendships.
    Where I attend now is in the church I grew up in where I have many life-long relationships and acquaintances. Connecting is easy when I am known already. Yet I would love to return to that other body and try to connect myself and the many families that truly want that connection…it’s the challenge. Blessings!

    Like

    • Heather Mertens @ 40YearWanderer says:

      It is a challenge, Keith. And the world we live in is a challenge enough as it is that we should be able to feel safe and trust our Christian family – small and large. But sadly we can’t always.
      I appreciate the connections I have made here on my blog. You and the others have blessed my heart so much that I don’t feel so alone.
      Bless you my friend.

      Like

  6. Mary Adrienne says:

    Hi Heather,
    Good post on an issue that many of us struggle with, I think. I sure do.

    I’ve been doing a lot of Ignatian study over the last year and have been helped (positively) with my particular struggle by two of his most notable concepts: detachment and presupposition.

    Detachment captures much of what you describe in your post – a grace where we surrender everything to Him and trust that He is acting in our best interests no matter what the outcome.

    Presupposition — basically giving everyone the benefit of the doubt — means we don’t presuppose the intent of their action or inaction towards us.

    This is one I most often have to remember and then re-remember! I’ve been a much happier person since I started doing this more actively. It’s even likely that if I just always assume that everyone likes me and wants me to be happy and successful that they will, in fact, follow suit. It might not mean they’ll ask me over for dinner (or return one of my invitations to them), but I just try to assume that they have a reason that has nothing to do with me (presupposition) and that if God thought a closer relationship with them was a good idea He’d make it happen (detachment).

    The reaction I most have to strengthen myself against is (what has been) an all-consuming sense of alienation from my community…tell tale sign of depression. I finally prayed to God that He send me some friends in my community (feeling quite lonely and pathetic at the time, as I remember) and within the month, there they were…new friends, along with the rest of their family and a bunch of new friends of theirs. WOW! He is very, very good.

    Anyway, this is all to say that I have felt your hurt and understand. Your faith is so evident in your writing. I pray His goodness shines down on you and your family today and everyday.

    Blessings,

    Mary

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    • Heather Mertens @ 40YearWanderer says:

      Mary, what a wonderful thing you have shared with us there! Your heart and encouragement through what you have learned sheds some light on this.
      Even in the midst of my pain- and it has been extremely hard since my ministry has grown… attack after attack… – I trust in God to put me where He wants me to do what He wants me to do.
      I genuinely am touched by you and your comments and support.
      Much love,
      Heather

      Like

  7. Preeti Rachel Rajkumar says:

    Dear Heather,
    I was very encouraged and blessed reading your article ! We are currently in the ‘wilderness’ experience ourselves after many years of attending a ‘church’ that ‘hurt’ – all because of the lack of connection so vital in a local expression of the Body of Christ! There was sound teaching and the usual sunday exchange but nothing much above that. Cold indifference and lack of love can be real killers. We were very disheartened and cried about this to The Lord in prayer. What followed was phenomenal..in just a few months, we had to move away from the city due to work related reasons. We were sure that God had ordered our move as things quickly fell in place with regard to schools for children and accommodation ..we waited on The Lord for months before beginning to meet in our drawing room as a church. Now it’s a little over six months and we have a couple more people who have joined our little group. The connection, concern and love are present and carried into the week, and not just confined to Sundays :-)) ..I’ve mentioned our experience in my blog under an article titled “that they all may be one”! I’m so thankful that I’m being connected to others in the Body of Christ who’ve been through this experience, who can relate and empathize, and encourage. May our Lord bless you and your ministry of writing abundantly !!
    Much Love,
    in Him,
    Preeti

    Like

    • Heather Mertens @ 40YearWanderer says:

      Dear Preeti,
      I’m so grateful you shared your story. It is sad that so many go through this, but as you said we can use those times and experiences to encourage others and lift each other to our loving Saviour and Father!
      I appreciate your kind words and your prayer of blessing in my ministry. That alone encourages me greatly. I call these my God-hugs.
      I will visit your blog soon!
      Let’s stay in touch and encourage each other in The Lord.
      Lived blessed,
      Heather

      Like

  8. seespeakhearmama says:

    This is good stuff Heather and it is sad that so many can relate to the confusion and hurt over lack of connection – in the church. I’ve only been a member of 2 churches in my adult life. the first for 16 years and the most recent for 9. The churches differ only in size. One maxed out at approx 100 members, the other has thousands. Maybe it’s the season of life I’m in but the smaller, more intimate church had it together where community was concerned. You felt connected..like family. To be fair, I realize it must be partly a logistics thing.servicing so many might be the challenge. But there I’ve struggled to find it. Joining the dance ministry and bonding with a small group has helped tremendously. I’m sorry you haven’t clicked yet in your current church. You’re right to go with God. Only God.

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    • Heather Mertens @ 40YearWanderer says:

      Thanks, Lisha. So much thanks. And thank you for sharing your experience. There are so many different but similar experiences as to people not connecting. Your sharing helps.

      I understand what you mentioned about the logistics. We were part of a 15000 member church when we lived in KY for a year. We volunteered and loved it. My husband was baptized there after years of being saved. Our daughter began her dance ministry there. We connected with people quickly on a personal level. But the size of it did keep that to a minimum unfortunately. Kind of funny though now that I think about it how we actually felt more connected in that huge church then we have in some significantly smaller churches including now. But we have moved a lot and connecting is hard to do anyway when you are the new kids in school so to speak.
      I think you are right, the smaller the church the more opportunity to connect, but only if the effort is fully realized we are realizing.

      I know you all will go with Him as He leads. That is our plan too.

      Thanks for the conversation. Just that alone helps me find community here. :)

      Like

  9. StephenWhoElse says:

    I feel your hurt. It is a terrible thing to feel disconnected from the body of Christ.

    Yet we are still part of the body – nothing changes that. And as a part of the body, we have to play the role we were created to. But a little friendship won’t hurt either. We are called to uphold and encourage each other after all.

    Keep pressing on! (Phil 2:14)

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  10. Ruth says:

    I’ve found these comments so helpful and encouraging – I also know that sense of horrible disconnect… sometimes it’s a precursor to God definitely and clearly moving me on to something new, sometimes it’s not so clear. But it’s a wilderness place to learn to know and trust in the Lord’s presence, and to wrestle against becoming jaded and disappointed in either him or his people. I don’t always win that battle. I’m seeking out friends and fellowship in a new church right now, but rather cautiously if I’m honest. The inspiring comments about asking the Lord for provision are a helpful reminder so that ‘I have learned to be content whether I am in plenty or in want’ – this could apply to ‘plenty of fellowship’ or not as well!

    Like

    • Heather Mertens @ 40YearWanderer says:

      Ruth,
      I appreciate your kind sweet words. I am so thankful you found my words encouraging and helpful. I empathize with you greatly. We are trying a new church now and are stepping out on faith, but very cautiously with people. I do believe the Lord understands that caution, don’t you? I know He is aware of the hurts we have experienced. And He always is there to be our truest friend.
      I am so thankful you commented. Your words are a true encouragement to us all.
      Please drop by again!
      ~ Heather

      Liked by 1 person

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