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So You’ve Been Hurt by the Church

We affectionately called her “The Demon Dog.” She was rescued from an abusive owner, and now her new, loving owners had brought her to our family to dog-sit for a week. But she had zero trust in us. She spent the duration of those seven days hiding behind a chair in the living room or under our bed. If we attempted to feed or pet her, she’d snarl and growl something fierce. She snapped at and even bit us. There was something in her flashing eyes that said, “I’ve been hurt by you humans one time too many, and I’m never going to allow myself to be hurt again.”

It was not just physically but emotionally painful for us, the disappointment of not being trusted by that furry “unfriend.” We wanted so badly to get Demon Dog to understand we were not that owner. We were different. We wanted to show her affection, kindness, nurture. But she would have none of it. She persistently held us up to the failures of a past owner. It was so unfair! And sad.

I’m reflecting back to those dog sitting days because recently an injustice was done by a church against someone I love. My claws came out and I bared my teeth in outrage. Eventually I calmed down and reminded myself that, thankfully, “Not all churches are like that.” Indeed, I believe most are far from it.

We pastors watch people come and go in and out of church, and we know there are wounds. Deep wounds resulting from unspeakable pain inflicted by spiritual abusers. We want to reach out, to help heal and restore, to show affection, kindness and nurture.  How we wish we could say “We’re different!” and be trusted when we say it.

I know I’m speaking for pastors of the many healthy churches out there—men and women who have allowed themselves to be softened and humbled by the ungraciousness of some of God’s people. They’ve come out better, not bitter. They know they could never find it in their hearts to reject, control or condemn others because of the suffering they themselves have endured in the church.

I know I’m speaking for many pastors when I say to those who are like abused dogs starved for a safe place to call home, please give us a chance. We know your pain–we’ve been there. As a result, we minister out of compassion, not judgment. Your fears, doubts and yes, even your failures and shortcomings are safe with us. We will not kick you to the curb or leave you out in the cold. We’re compelled by the one who calls himself The Good Shepherd to embrace those who’ve been hurt by dangerous wolves, and to love them back to wholeness, if only they will let us.

"But what about the people?" you may ask. "Just because the pastor is "safe" doesn't necessarily mean the people are.

True, there are always going to be "judgy" individuals in the church. But they are individuals. Find a church that fosters a culture of grace and give the people a chance. You'll find most of them, like you, just want to be loved and accepted, and given space to be their true selves.

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