When the Church Hurts

Why do I share?  Why drudge up hurts of the past and let you into some of my deepest places of rejection?  Because this is a story of hope

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I was ready to walk away from the church. 

All I wanted to do on Sundays was come in, sit in the back, and leave—only talking when completely necessary.  I was wounded by the church.  And I so desperately wanted to be done with her.

Have you ever been there?

But it wasn’t always like that for me.  Rewind 18 years… walking the steep hill up to the dining hall in Glorietta, New Mexico, I remember thinking, “Tonight feels different.” I spent that whole week in late July sweating at Centrifuge Camp, like every good Baptist youth did. Something about that last evening as we made the trek to dinner, as we did each evening prior, felt strange and new.

Maybe it was the outfit; after all, I waited all week to wear it. I was sporting hot pink “swishy” pants (you know the ones that make the swish, swish, swish noise each time you take a step), a gray tank top— don’t worry, the straps were at least three fingers wide—and my hair in two buns.

My anticipation grew as we filed into the conference center for the closing worship service. It could have been due to the fact I had a huge crush on the camp worship leader, who was a good 15 years older. A girl can dream, right?! Nothing could have prepared me for what happened that night. It literally altered the trajectory of my life, as I now know it. That evening, I experienced the Holy Spirit like I’d never known in my 16 years of existence.

As soon as the lanky camp pastor asked if anyone felt the pull into ministry, before I realized what I was doing, I was on my feet, swishing my way to the stage. I didn’t even think about it. I don’t even remember thinking, “I’m going up front.” I just went. Through tears, and as honest a surrender as I can remember, with my mom by my side (she happened to be chaperoning), I told God I was giving my life to Him in full-time ministry—no matter where it led me or what it entailed. I was all in. And I meant every word.

Eighteen years later, I have to laugh at my teenage self who had no idea where that promise would lead. Some days I’ve never been more thankful for that prayer of surrender. And other days, I wish she just would have stayed in her freaking seat. I’ve laughed until I cried, and cried until there were no more tears.

Several years ago, I found myself heartbroken by the very body I’d given my life to serve—the church.  A series of crushing circumstances led to feelings of resentment toward the local church. And I finally understood why so many walked away after a long career in vocational ministry.

Maybe for you, dear brother or sister, who is on the other side of the screen, maybe you can relate to my feelings of disillusionment and disappointment in the church.  You may not have held a staff position, but you find yourself with angst and dread at the thought of returning to the crime scene.

One minute you’re filled with an inexplicable sorrow that is incapable of finding words, and the next you are overcome with rage starting at your toes—consuming your whole being.  But nothing compares to the deep loss and loneliness that accompanies an open church wound.

If you would allow me permission, with all the empathy and compassion this former church victim can muster, I would love to gently speak into the wounded part of your heart.  The part you don’t ever feel you can recover.

Why do I share?  Why drudge up hurts of the past and let you into some of my deepest places of rejection?  Because this is a story of hope, healing, redemption, and restoration.  Where our adversary once sought to destroy, I want to bring Jesus all the glory.  I share my scars, the wounds that are now healed but still remind me of the resurrecting power of Jesus, because our enemy would love nothing more than to keep me silent.

Silence and shame are not my testimony.  It grieves me more than you know as I watch the enemy use Christians to destroy fellow Christians—an age-old ploy to take down God’s plan for redemption, his Church.

John 10:10 says “The thief [Satan] comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (NIV).

I see you fellow wounded church warriors.  You are in my social media feed, in my neighborhood, at conferences, and over coffee. I hear you in the lines at the grocery store and even in the halls at church.  I see you; because I was you.  I see your fears.  I feel your hesitancy, your distrust.  I recognize your holding back and sidelining yourself—both self-preservation tactics.  And I don’t blame you because how can you possibly handle another gut-wrenching blow from the people who are supposed, no wait— called to love you the most?

I want you to know I pray for you weekly.  I may not know your name or your stories personally, but I’m on my knees on your behalf for our compassionate loving Father to make Himself known to you in the most intimate of ways.  And for Him to restore you to His beautiful bride.  Yes, I called her beautiful.

I’m writing to you on the eve of my church’s first birthday.  I must tell you, I love my church so much.  Oh, it can be messy, and complicated, and just plain hard.  But it’s one of the greatest joys and lights in my life.  I’m serving in a leadership capacity that I never would have dreamt I’d ever subject myself to again (I vowed I never wanted to see the ugly inter-workings of another church again). But where the enemy wanted me to stay licking my wounds, the Lord has brought healing, restoration, and resurrection in the deepest recesses of my heart.  The beautiful thing about my healing is that I found it in the church.  I wholeheartedly believe true healing comes in the context of biblical community.

How did I find healing? 

Here are my 3 R’s for recovery (I couldn’t resist all the alliteration, please forgive my forever communicator’s heart:).

 

1).  Rest-take some time to heal.  If you need to take a step back—do so.  But let me strongly encourage you to not give up on meeting together.  I gave myself an allotted time where I took a step back from leadership and all serving, so I could take time to get healthy.  We should never allow ourselves to get to the place where our identity is wrapped up in our serving.  However, even in my time of rest, I was still in biblical community.  Do set a time limit.  If you don’t, you’ll get too comfortable.

2).  Request– I can’t encourage you enough to seek out biblical counseling.  This is where I was able to break down walls of anger, hurt, and resentment—and truly recover my heart.

3).  Return– This is where you take steps of obedience into your local church.  It may start as baby steps, but wobble away as you find your footing.  You won’t truly discover the fullness of all God has for you outside of His bride.

“You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home” (Ephesians 2.19-22, MSG).

With the sincerest heart, I want you to know healing is possible for you.  The same God who did it for me WILL do it for you.  You belong in the Church.  Please know I’m here for anyone who needs prayer or a listening ear.  Don’t hesitate to reach out.

 

Featured Image by Annie Spratt

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About the Author

Erika Opperman is a dynamic conference speaker, empowering Bible teacher, and writer. She’s also a local church girl where she’s spent over a decade serving in leadership in the local church. As a communicator at heart, Erika loves nothing more than encouraging anyone who will listen with profound yet practical truths found in God’s Word. Whether it’s in her small group, on a conference platform, or in her local church on a Sunday morning, Erika comes alive in any opportunity she has to share the truth. In her former life she was a theatre nerd where she discovered and developed her passion to communicate. Erika is a girly-girl living in a boys’ world. Her “hubs” as she affectionally refers to her husband, Brian, is the best human she knows. They are raising their little loves, Axel and Max, in the Northland of Kansas City. The Opps are nothing short of wild, fun, and even a bit crazy. They most recently helped plant their church, Discover Church, where Brian serves on staff as the worship pastor. Erika has been known to laugh too loud, perhaps talk too much, and drink copious amounts of coffee. Erika lives life out loud! You can catch Erika in real time on Instagram, Facebook, or at www.erikaopperman.com.