The pain caused by a church is a “silent killer.” This doesn’t mean that the hurtful words and events are invisible. It is a “silent killer” because of what it does deep in the mind, heart, and soul of the wounded. If not dealt with, the wound will destroy your future happiness, joy, and well-being. And the collateral damage always negatively affects the ministry and outreach of the church; some churches never recover. Recognize that the behavior which brought such devastation to your heart is not much different than the hurt you might encounter in the workplace, marketplace, or home. The difference is that we just don’t expect God’s people to behave like those who do not have Christ in their lives. Almost everyone agrees that church is the one place that should be safe, accepting, forgiving, and free from conflict and pain; in most churches, however, elements of strife, conflict, and hatred creep in and shatter that dream.

This happens more in some churches than in others. The spiritual health of a church’s members and the strength of its leadership determine how prevalent and to what extent divisive behavior can gain control. Out of control, it has the effect of a termite infestation that slowly but surely destroys the foundation of the congregation’s spiritual life.

If you have been hurt by the church, it is important for you to turn your focus away from the people involved and away from the church itself, trying instead to identify the root cause of your pain, turmoil, and disillusionment. Honestly identify what you are feeling. If you are like most people, you will have experienced anger, sorrow, disappointment, rejection, hurt feelings, jealousy, fear, rebellion, pride, blame, loss, shame, embarrassment, and a feeling of being threatened or looking foolish. Find out what is at the core of your hurt—not what someone said or did to you, but what is causing your pain. Then search the Scriptures to discover what God says about what is hurting you. Using a Bible concordance, look up each word and read, think, pray, and apply the applicable texts to your life. For example, you may think that you are angry, but in reality you feel rejected. What does God say about rejection? He says, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Heb. 13:5); “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jer. 31:3); and “Surely I am with you always” (Matt. 28:20).

After you have identified the cause of your pain, accept that God has a balm of wisdom, compassion, and love to generously apply to your wound(s). By calling on Him, your focus quickly becomes riveted on Him rather than on the event or person that hurt you. Admittedly, you may have been harmed, injured, or offended. You certainly feel it. Those are byproducts of deeper, more important realities that have derailed your passion for God, His church, and His purpose for your life. This hurt has soured your heart, and, if left unattended, will lead to bitterness that negatively affects every fiber of your soul and robs you of the chance to find fulfillment in Christ. You do not want this to happen.

How do we keep hurtful experiences from destroying us? The Bible says to “guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (Prov. 4:23, NLT). We guard our hearts by choosing our thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and actions. Guard your heart in this situation by refusing to rehearse what happened. Do not dwell on the people who hurt you or on the weaknesses of the church. This change of focus will take humility. “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6; Prov. 3:34). It will take forgiving attitudes and actions (Matt. 18:22; Mark 11:27; Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13) with no hint of vengeance (Rom. 12:19). Above all, it will take the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through you (Eph. 3:16).

Don’t blame God for how His children behave. Don’t abandon His church either. Most church members are dedicated, grace-filled, loving, and forgiving. Seek out these people. Spend time with them. If you cannot find them (and this is rare, even in the most difficult churches), find another church. The church is God’s idea, and He protects it faithfully even though He is often pained by its behavior.

Remember that an unattended wound will penetrate deep into your soul and destroy any chance of living an abundant life in Christ (John 10:10). You can have hope because you are seeking healing. It is now up to you to do the right thing and turn your focus to the place—no, the Person—who will truly transform your life above and beyond this hurt.

Jesus calls lovingly to you, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30).

General Conference Ministerial Association