How to Trust the Church After You’ve Been Hurt by It

Church Steps

“How can I regain trust in the Church again?” – Lisa

Every day I meet people like Lisa; people in various stages of the collateral damage of religion. Either the wounds are fresh and they are in acute trauma, or the scars are now well-hardened by time and they’re navigating life post-injury—and often post-church. They’re not sure where to go from here, but they’re pretty sure they can’t go back: restless souls orphaned from the place they used to call home.

Maybe you’re there.

Maybe you understand the twisted irony of that spot.

After years of disappointment and bruising and heartache, you finally extracted yourself from organized religion (or were violently expelled from it) and yet you still feel yourself at times longing for it.

You’re pulled toward faith community yet equally terrified of it. You’re hurting and grieving yet still seeking, and you’re wondering how you can ever trust the Church again.

It’s quite simple: You can’t.

The Church is not to be trusted.

It is after all, formed of people who are just as flawed, failing, selfish, petty, insecure, and inconsistent as you are. Those people are prone to perpetuating gossip and to betraying confidences and to inflicting injury and to all manner of terrible things—and to claiming Christ in the process. The Church is absolutely overflowing with liars, hypocrites, frauds, and bullies.

Honestly it’s a lousy system—and yet this is the best we have.

The Church has no other choice but to be fashioned from the stunningly imperfect stuff of humanity, and so it will always be an unpredictable, painful, potentially explosive spot for our souls to stand in.

Yes, you certainly may find a local faith community that is healthier, more organizational sound, or better at caring for you than where you’d been before. You can and should look for a place where leaders lead with wisdom, humility, and accountability. You should search for a place where compassion and forgiveness and equality are championed by its people; where Christlikeness is aspired to. You can and should look for a place with a theology that is not caustic or mean-spirited. You should seek a community that in as many ways as possible, reflects what you believe to be the character of God. These things are all quite find-able.

But ultimately, that church and the Church will let you down because it is you

It is made of the same rickety, unstable material that you are, and you know how often you miss the mark and drop the ball and screw things up. You know your own tendencies toward pride and lust and vanity and greed, and so the fact that you encounter these things in the Church shouldn’t be a surprise or a deal breaker, but confirmation that perfection simply isn’t part of the deal.

People ask me why I’m still a pastor, why I stay in the Church given all the horrible stuff I’ve seen in organized Christianity and all the damage it has done to me and to people I love. Some days I’m not at all sure.

I guess I stay because I realize it would only be a myth to believe that I could actually leave.

No matter where I am geographically on a given Sunday and no matter what I call it, I will still be living while striving to hear the voice of God and to follow its lead. And I will still be trying to do that while connected in deep relationship with other flawed people who are doing the same. And this will make us the Church and we will still hurt one another, despite our greatest desire not to. So I try and make it a little less hurtful and a little more loving if I can.

If you never expect the wrong things to hold you up, they can never let you down.

No, I can’t fully trust the Church because it like me, is not fully trustworthy.

I can trust God though.

While I’m here, that will have to be enough.






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