The Grief of Church Hurt

Mar 15, 2024Archive, blog

“Great is the art of the beginning, but greater is the art of ending. “—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

You may or may not know, but we are walking through a season of transition as we’ve left our church of 23 years and are looking for a new church home. All that to say, the pain took me by surprise.

We took a year to make the decision; it wasn’t rash or emotional. And we weren’t maligned or harmed directly.

Yet, still the pain persists months later.

I underestimated church hurt, friends. I naively thought that if a decision was logical and followed the clear leading of the Lord, that we’d somehow escape the grief.

But grief always comes when an ending happens, doesn’t it? Even if that ending is necessary for new growth, new opportunities.

“Without the ability to end things, people stay stuck, never becoming who they are meant to be, never accomplishing all that their talents and abilities should afford them.” ― Henry Cloud

I’m writing this to give you permission to grieve the ministry or church you’ve had to walk away from. To name what happened. To talk it through with trusted confidants, to holler at God about the nuance of pain and the sting of misunderstanding.

Even if an ending is necessary and God-led, lament is in order. Because we can’t move on from what we don’t grieve, or better said, we best move on when we walk through the grief process rather than stuffing it way down deep.

Church and ministry hurt is a reality. Spiritual abuse has wreaked havoc on many, many friends. It’s not disloyal to share what happened to you–it may just be a necessary corrective and a preventative measure for others. We need more discipleship-bent believers willing to speak up prophetically about abusive practices, celebrity-driven outcomes, money-obsessed leaders, or narcissistic ministry systems. We are doing no one any favors by staying silent.

Silence allows predatory people and groups to flourish.

Let me say it again: speaking up is not gossip. If done with winsome self-introspection and humility, speaking up (once you’ve experienced some healing from the pain) is a gift to the body of Christ. And it has a twofold benefit: your pain takes on meaning, and you possibly bring rescue to others who are hurting.

I’m not at the place yet to speak up. I’m still grieving. But there will come a time, if the Lord so directs, when I may be able to. Until then, I grieve. And pray. And find Jesus in the margins of this new, seeking place.

14 Comments

  1. Mary DeMuth

    DiAnn, This is one of those times you need the clear guidance of the Holy Spirit.

    Reply
  2. Andrea Johnson

    Yes thank you. Speaking up is necessary to healing. My husband and I have been called slanderous liars with evil hearts for telling our church abuse story. But I won’t stop telling it if I can spare one family the hurt many have endured over the course of the history of our old “church”

    Reply
    • Mary DeMuth

      You are not slanderous liars. You are winsomely telling the truth BECAUSE you love the church.

      Reply
  3. Mindy

    I’m so sorry for your grief. But, I know you will seek the Lord and help us all through the murky path.

    Husband and I got saved as teens, met married young, had six kids. Unfortunately, all of our formative years were in a church it took us years to identify as spiritually abusive. We were relentlessly hounded about every decision we made and set apart for ridicule if we didn’t align with their beliefs and looks. Even if you did something right, you were accused of being proud or serving with the wrong motive.

    We are still reeling, our children have been profoundly impacted and are struggling with their own faith. We have pretty severe PTSD around Christians, so church shopping was painful. We found a church, covid hit, then our daughter died unexpectedly. People didn’t understand it wasn’t only her death, it was the spiritual abuse that left us unable to cope with it.

    We moved to take care of elderly parents and began “shopping.” After many years, we thought we’d found a place, but realized people we’d get to know would leave. An unruly elder told us it was gossip to ask why. We are now back at a church where I attended AWANAS and heard the Gospel as a young child. We are so hopeful that this might be home.

    Reply
    • Mary DeMuth

      Wow, Mindy. That sounds so so hard!

      I do so hope you found a home. I’m very sorry for all the trauma you’ve endured.

      Reply
  4. Kathy Carlton Willis

    Mary, I’m processing decades of church hurt and spiritual abuse. I’m allowing this year to be a “gap year” so that I can grieve and untangle the knotted up experiences and beliefs. I actually have been shedding off aspects of this for quite a few years. But like an onion, each time a layer is removed, another is revealed. I’m reading books and listening to podcasts to help. I’m surprised by memories that are surfacing that I had previously dealt with but now I’m seeing them through a new lens. When you start asking different questions you start discovering new things. And it’s not the fun Easter egg hunt type discovery! I’ve been praying for you. There’s nothing predictable about grief, is there? As you grace your grief, you assist the healing process. We’re making a big denominational switch. Finding a new faith family is a family decision, but the processing of church hurt grief happens at an individual pace. So, it’s extra hard when one spouse is at a different place with it all. That’s why taking time for both is so important. I’m sure you’re experiencing that too. Praying for you both!

    Reply
    • Mary DeMuth

      I hear you, Kathy, and I’m so sorry you’re walking through this. Thank you for praying.

      Reply
  5. Missy Buchanan

    Mary, I so admire your courage, grace, authenticity and discernment. Praying for you in this journey through grief.

    Reply
    • Mary DeMuth

      Thank you, dear Missy.

      Reply
  6. Faye Raines

    Mary, I have always respected you so much. I supported you through the Pollock Life Group when you were in France. I hate you have left Lake Pointe but have complete confidence you were under God’s direction. I’m there because of my Life Group, friends I’ve worshiped with for over 25 years. I’m 81 and these friends are precious. I’m anxious to her your story.

    Reply
    • Mary

      Faye, you are pure delight. I LOVED your life group, and they have been so precious to us.

      Reply
      • Phyllis Yount

        Mary, thanks for your honesty and for your steadfast and thoughtful search for the church that will meet your needs and allow you to serve. God will bless that and help heal you in the process.

        Reply
        • Mary DeMuth

          Thank you, Phyllis.

          Reply
          • DiAnn Brown

            Mary, I enjoyed hearing you speak at the Faith and Writing conference. I have experienced verbal abuse through bullying, manipulation, and aggression by my pastor/boss. After 6 years, I couldn’t take it anymore and quit my job as a discipleship pastor. My pastor apologized, but later, when we met again, he seemed more defensive than repentant. I wrote a piece (3 years later) to address the church universal but those who know my story will know I’m referring to my pastor indirectly. I struggle with publishing this on substack when he did apologize (or at least said the words). What should I do?

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *