By Kevin McDonald

I had been a Christian about six months in 2009. I was on fire for the Lord and couldn’t wait to spend the rest of my life serving and following Christ. God had begun the process of restoration in my life, and I was feeling the prompting of the Holy Spirit to enter into the calling of full-time ministry. After many hours of prayer, long conversations with my wife, and examining the process of becoming ordained, I was ready to tell my pastor that I felt like God was calling me into service and full-time ministry. I will never forget what happened next.

I called him to tell him that God was calling me into ministry. But as soon as I spoke these words to my pastor, the phone went silent. I said, “Are you there?” The voice on the other end of the line finally said, “Kevin, God is not calling you into ministry. I don’t think God has given you the gifts needed to be a pastor.” I started to cry. I was so certain that God was calling me. The rest of the conversation was filled with hurt and anger. For days, months and even years, I wrestled with what this pastor said to me. To this day I am still sometimes haunted by his words.

I am 33 years old now and have experienced more hurt in the church than I even care to write about. I was incredibly hurt by my pastor as a child, I was hurt by the pastor in the above story, and I have even been hurt by other pastors and church leaders since I became a pastor.

Maybe you have been hurt by the church or someone in the church. Maybe someone in the church has said some hurtful words to you, or you’ve been the victim of gossip, neglect, backstabbing, unfaithfulness, etc. I believe most people have been hurt by the church at some point in their lives. This is just a reality that we don’t like to talk about.

I want to share with you how I believe God wants you to respond:

Pray First
When you experience hurt, remember that the church is sometimes not the best at imitating Christ. We’re not always good at love. When we’re hurt, however, we should always go to the source of love. God Himself is faithful. Spend time with Him just resting in His love. 1 Peter 5:7 says “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Confront the Offender
Matthew 18:15 says, “If your brother or sister sins go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.” Many times hurts can be resolved by just confronting the person. This isn’t easy, but it is necessary. A wise man once told me that the only thing worse than confronting the person is what could happen if we don’t deal with the confrontation. We need to address the issue head on. Jesus knows best, so let’s follow His way in doing this.

Forgiveness isn’t easy. In fact, I think it’s the hardest thing to do as a Christian. I had to learn to forgive one day at a time. For instance, I would wake up on Monday and have to forgive, but then Tuesday would roll around and I was still wrestling with the hurt. I had to learn to forgive day by day until I had completely forgiven the wrong. Forgiving is difficult but it’s not optional for Christians. Matthew 6:15 says, “But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” This is hard Scripture. Remember all the wrong that you have committed against God, and remember that you have been forgiven. Forgiven people forgive.

Find a Faithful Partner
If the situation isn’t resolved, then confide in a faithful partner. I love friends who have my back no matter what comes my way. In the midst of hurt, remember that there are others who are still loyal to me. Confide in these people privately, not as a point of gossip but to help you and to boost your confidence. When you have confided in a partner, then take him or her with you to resolve the issue. Matthew 18:16 says, “But if they (the offender) will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”

Resolve Your Own Past
When you’re addressing your pain, it also might be a good time to address those you have hurt. Maybe there are some in the church whom you have hurt, and you need to get it cleared up. I had to do this myself. While I was hurt in the church, I also hurt others as well. I had to get this cleared up. Matthew 7 says, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Review your past. Has there been anyone that you have hurt? If so, take care of it.

Commit to Always Act in Love
One of my driving factors in ministry is love. I have been wounded by the church, so I am committed to helping the church be more loving. I want to be more like 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, which says, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” I need to act in complete love moving forward.

Repeat the Process
No matter how many times you’ve been hurt in the church, you’ll probably get hurt again. We’re human and we make mistakes. When hurt happens, don’t flee. Walk through the above process and then repeat it again. One day soon, there will be a place of no more pain. Until then, however, let’s commit to keep moving forward in forgiveness.

Kevin McDonald is a lead pastor Gateway Church of the Nazarene, Murrieta, Calif. He has planted 15 new churches and travels the country speaking and teaching on church planting and church renewal.