Help, I've been hurt by church leadership!

sad walking

Being hurt by church leadership can be a devastating experience.  This article will examine some of the reasons why conflict and disappointment towards church leaders can feel particularly traumatic.  Here we are considering the painful kinds of ‘falling out’ that happen in churches.  If a situation is more serious than this, involving real abuse, then it is in the best interest of the church and the victim to notify the authorities. 


People can invest a lot emotionally into their church.  They can enter a church with the expectation or desire for it to be:
     --A perfect family.
     --A place to achieve growth and positively impact the wider community.
     --An environment for spiritual transformation.
     --A reliable safe space to rest in and trust upon.
     --A place that teaches and equips for daily life.
As these cherished ideals are identified with God, there can be shock and confusion when the church (seen as representing God) doesn’t meet them.
Of course the church can never fully achieve these ideals, mostly because the church is a collection of flawed individuals but also because each person will have their own expectation of how these ideals are to be fulfilled.   This is where the conflict can occur.  Outside influences and limited resources can of course be another factor that lead to disappointment.

-- Is the hurt you have experienced due to a failed expectation of what the church should be for you?
-- Did the church leadership betray one of the ideals that you held precious as a church member?
-- What motivations and core beliefs do you think the church was acting on when the hurt / conflict happened?



It is true that conflict is a sign that people care.  In church environments conflict can be deepened and further fuelled by the spiritual conviction of those involved. Leaders, (or anyone else) who have a difficult relationship with conflict, either avoiding conflict or being overly aggressive to get their way, can add further complexity and confusion to areas where there is disagreement.  This is why one conflict management tool taught by Bridge Builders  is to consider the other person’s position and why it might be important or necessary for them to hold their particular point of view.  The Organisational Consultant David Armstrong has developed a similar technique for understanding conflict called ‘The Organisation in the Mind’.  This is the idea that each person has their own image of what the organisation they belong to is actually like.  When these organisational templates are identified and worked with there can be greater clarity about why certain decisions were taken.    

How was the conflict handled that led to your pain?  Was it avoided or dismissed? 

Have you been able to address the situation and how it made you feel?  If not, what prohibited this?  


Are you able to consider the position of the others in this conflict? 

What is your ‘church in the mind’ and do you think your image might differ from others in the situation? 

I do find it interesting that the ‘Biblical Model’ is conflict.  The Bible would be lacking several chapters of the New Testament, and perhaps entire books, if the first churches managed a conflict-free existence.  Theologically, unity is a common principle encouraged in dealing with church conflict, as well as a focus on the character of the individuals feeling aggrieved (i.e. avoiding gossip and acting on the need to talk with the person who has caused the offence).  

The impression one typically has of the leader is that they ‘ought’ to manage each situation well.  Certainly they are appointed to lead faithfully and they are entrusted by the people to fulfil this task.  Church leaders are often said to be ‘called by God’.  This increases the pressure and expectation for their ministry to be perfect as God is perfect.  In reality leaders (like anyone else) will miss the mark, and they need continued resourcing and a community supporting them to enable their work. 
Leaders can ask unreasonable things of parishioners, and they won’t always make the best decisions.  They are not multi-skilled enough to tackle every challenge and they may be experiencing their own personal struggles in addition to managing their public role.  Some leaders will fail professionally or otherwise and this will have an impact on the communities they serve. It may be threatening idea to accept that leaders (along with everyone else) are flawed, but it can help when trying to understand why we feel so confused when a leader lets us down.  There are also the projections of our own emotional needs that can be placed on spiritual leaders, such as seeing them as a perfect parent or an authority figure to fight against.   

-- When you consider the hurt you experienced from the church, what expectations did you place on the leadership?
-- Were these expectations unreasonable, or was the leader incompetent or truly unkind in the situation that caused hurt?  Or is it a bit of both?
-- What is you response now to the leadership or the church?  Is there more healing to be done?

This article has suggested a few ways to consider what might be going on when someone feels hurt by a church leader.  The intention is that it might loosen the knotted feelings of hurt and pain.   If your hurt is greater, or if you feel there is still a significant piece of forgiveness to work through towards your painful experience, then please spend time reading the article on forgiveness

-Ron Bushyager-

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