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Healing Your Church Hurt: What To Do When You Still Love God But Have Been Wounded by His People

Healing Your Church Hurt: What To Do When You Still Love God But Have Been Wounded by His People

4.5 6
by Stephen Mansfield, George Barna (Foreword by)

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If you’ve been part of a church, you have probably suffered a “church hurt”—or know someone who has. Maybe the pastor had an affair or the congregation fought over money or the leaders were disguising gossip as “prayer.” Stephen Mansfield knows how it feels. Though he is now a New York Times bestselling author, he was a pastor


If you’ve been part of a church, you have probably suffered a “church hurt”—or know someone who has. Maybe the pastor had an affair or the congregation fought over money or the leaders were disguising gossip as “prayer.” Stephen Mansfield knows how it feels. Though he is now a New York Times bestselling author, he was a pastor for more than 20 years, and he loved it—until he learned how much a church can hurt. Yet he also learned how to dig out of that hurt, break through the bitterness and anger, stop making excuses, and get back to where he ought to be with God and his people. If you’re ready to choose the tough path to healing, Mansfield will walk you through it with brotherly love, showing you how you can be better than ever on the other side of this mess—if you’re willing to start Healing Your Church Hurt. Previously published as ReChurch.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“After everything that happened, I could never go back.”
Is that how you feel? Or have you heard it from others? The stories are all too familiar: The church we once loved broke up or our favorite pastor was fired or people left when the worship style changed. The former pastor had an affair or our kids didn’t fit in at youth group or we had a major life crisis and no one from the church showed up to help. And so it goes.

Stephen Mansfield has been there. Though he is now a New York Times bestselling author, a popular speaker, and a consultant who advises leaders around the world, Stephen was also a pastor for twenty years. And he loved it for most of those two decades . . . until he learned how much a church can hurt. But then he also learned how to dig out of that hurt, break through the bitterness and anger, stop making excuses, and get back to where he needed to be with God and his people.

If you’re ready to take the tough path to healing, Mansfield will walk you through it with love and understanding, showing you that something good is waiting on the other side of even the deepest church hurts.

Product Details

Tyndale House Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.50(d)

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Healing Your Church Hurt

What to do when you still love God but have been wounded by his people


Copyright © 2010 Stephen Mansfield
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4143-6560-2

Chapter One

The Image of our Folly

ONE OF THE DEFINING IMAGES OF MY LIFE first announced itself when I was twenty-two. At the time I was the director of a dormitory at a major university in the Midwest. My job was to tend the dorm life of several hundred men and to scurry about the campus in response to the many urgent messages that buzzed the pager I carried on my belt. Because this was back in the Dark Ages, the pager was the size of a small house, made a noise like a jet engine each time it went off, and seemed to dominate my life in nearly every way.

One of these urgent messages came on an April morning and sent me rushing to the university's sports complex. The message was followed by a code indicating the matter was serious—paramedics were on the way.

When I arrived, the scene was near madness. My attention was first captured by a dark-haired, attractive woman. I say she was attractive but I have to admit that this was a guess on my part, for the truth is that she was hard to see. She kept bending at the waist, covering her face with her hands, and wailing, "Oh, my God! Oh, my God!" at an ever-increasing volume, as though she had just discovered the presence of evil in the world. I had no sooner taken her in, when a short, balding man charged at me, his finger violently jabbing into my chest, while he yelled that I would suffer the tortures of the damned in court. "I will sue you, your mother, and this university for all you're worth!" the man raged. To this day I'm not sure why he threatened my dear mother, but that is exactly what he did.

Just beyond the wailing woman and the jabbing man was a university security guard. I'm fairly sure that at that moment he was quietly celebrating the university policy that prevented him from dealing with the public. He stared at me blankly, yet with one eyebrow slightly raised as though to say, "It's all yours, bubba. Let's see what you can do."

At the center of this bedlam was Timmy. I knew it was his name because his beanie baseball cap, his matching sweatshirt, and yes, even the socks that rose from his saddle shoes to just below his neatly pressed shorts all sported the word: Timmy. And Timmy was in trouble.

I knew that Timmy was in trouble because he was screaming as loudly as any child ever has. The source of his trouble seemed to be that his right arm had been swallowed by a candy machine. There was Timmy with his shoulder jammed up against a huge machine; from time to time, he would angrily try to pull his arm free but couldn't. Then, too, there were those trickles of blood that were working their way down Timmy's arm, threatening to stain the sleeve of the sweatshirt that bore his name.

It was the blood that seemed to incite the aggrieved cries of the woman, who, I soon understood, was Timmy's mother. She would point at the blood, return her hands to her face, wail with the grief of the ages, and commence bending at the waist. The man, of course, was Timmy's father, and in the time-honored manner of men, he expressed his concern for his son by finding another man and threatening him. The man he chose was me.

As a well-trained college dorm director, I had absolutely no idea what to do. Still, taking stock of the four people in front of me, I decided my best chance was with Timmy. I walked over to him, ran my hand up his arm into the candy machine to determine what was really happening, and tried to be comforting.

It was then that I noticed it. Timmy's arm was taut in a way that suggested perhaps he wasn't really stuck after all. By then the paramedics had arrived, but I waved them off.

I stepped back from the screaming boy, looked him firmly in the eye and said, "Son, let go of the candy bar." The mother stopped her wailing. The father backed away from my right ear, in which he had been screaming for several deafening minutes. The paramedics and the security guard looked at me as though I had just denied Christ on the cross. Everyone went silent, waiting to see what would happen next.

And Timmy, mercifully quiet for the first time, pulled his hand out of that machine.

I can picture an adult Timmy years later telling a crowd at a cocktail party how that machine walked across the room, sucked in his arm, and wouldn't let go. But it didn't happen that way. All of that commotion and fear, all of that screaming and rage, was because Timmy had a death grip on a Snickers bar.

I cannot tell you exactly why, but God has brought that image back to me again and again throughout my life. Maybe because that screaming boy—the one who threw everyone into turmoil because he refused to let go—has often been me. When I have had my seasons of darkness in my otherwise blessed life, God has used Timmy to remind me that nothing can keep my soul in bondage except the forbidden or unclean thing I insist on holding tight.

It is an image that has served me well. When life has bled me dry or friends have failed me or I have fouled my nest through my own folly, I remember that better days always lie ahead if only I will loosen my Timmy Death Grip on what I should have left alone in the first place: my offenses, my bitterness, my need for revenge, my anger, my self-pity, my pride.

Never was this lesson and the image of Timmy more vital to my soul than when I found myself in the middle of a good old-fashioned church fight. For nearly a decade, I had been the pastor of a growing and influential church. It had been a glorious experience and I had loved the life that we shared and the history that we made as this nearly four thousand-member congregation pursued the things of God. But then, for reasons that don't need airing here, it all came to an end amidst conflict and uproar. Oh, it was a classic—complete with a conspiring church board and gossip packaged as "sharing" in prayer meetings and accusations flying fast and loose. Demons danced and angels wept, and I should say quickly that I sinned, too. But for the record, I did not shoot John F. Kennedy, I did not create global warming, and I did not offer Adam and Eve the forbidden fruit.

Frankly, it was a soul-deforming season of hell, and it ended with me leaving the church I had led for more than a decade, suffering all the isolation and suspicion that such departures usually entail. I was stunned by the humiliation, lashed by the loss and the loneliness. Each morning when I awoke, I had to remember what was happening to me, my soul so fractured at the time. And when it was all over, it wasn't over. Though I thought I had gone through all the required horrors and had begun to move on, I soon found that those horrors kept cycling through me.

This is when the real horrors began. The sheer force of what I had experienced and my foolish habit of constantly replaying it all in my mind shoved me off balance and began squeezing me in a vise of pain and hostility. I was becoming a sour, angry, dangerous man. In my agony, I could justify almost any moral choice and in my mind somehow make that choice a jab at my enemies and, yes, at God. He, after all, had allowed all this to happen.

It got worse. I wanted them to die. All of them. The ones who had hurt me, the ones who liked the ones who had hurt me, and the ones who sat silently by while the other ones hurt me. I wanted them to die and die horribly, and I wanted to do it myself.

And when that murderous rage turned inward, I began to plan my own death. In desperation, I had gone to a monastery to pray and try to recover. It was a horrible decision. I had chosen to do this in the dead of winter. Everything was brown and frozen. And the facilities were, well, monastic. It was just after Christmas, no one was around, and since the place was run by Trappist monks bound by a vow of silence, no one would talk to me. It was a depressing experience on top of my already depressing experience. On the drive home, I imagined how peaceful it would be to let my car drift into the path of an oncoming truck.

I was a mess. It had happened not just from the bludgeoning of the initial church fight, but from my ignorant decision afterward to let my soul become a toxic bog. I was spoiled little Timmy and I had a death grip on my own version of the forbidden candy bar—a life-deforming bitterness.

It was at that moment that some men, by the grace of God, stepped forcefully into my life. They were pastors, but pastors of an exceptionally bold and unapologetic kind. I would like to tell you that they sweetly and gently led me to truth. They didn't. They nearly beat me to death. It didn't matter to them that I had pastored a church of thousands. They didn't care. They called me an idiot, told me that I'd better grow up, and then they proceeded to take me apart, one unclean piece at a time. It was torturous, unfair, embarrassing, and rude. And it set me free.

What I learned during that rough season of soul surgery is found on the pages that follow. More important for the moment is what I experienced as I emerged clean and free: adversity, endured righteously, has the power to lift a man to new heights.

Or as George Whitefield said, "A man's suffering times are his best improving times."

Or as Hebrews 12 indicates, hardship is God's discipline in preparation for a better day.

However you say it, the lesson is the same: if you do the hard thing the right way, you become a better person. And by the grace of God, I did.

Shortly after my long, dry season, God opened a new and surprising phase of life for me. He allowed me to begin speaking around the world. He made it possible for me to write books on vital topics and some of those books became international best sellers. He gave me influence in the corridors of power in our nation, and he allowed me to help shape, in very small ways, some of the major events of our time. After more than two decades of pastoring a church, God still allowed me to pastor people, only now I did so from behind the scenes.

I do not recount these opportunities to make myself seem grand. I've already admitted that I'm a knucklehead, and I realize that anything I have achieved has been due to God and others. But it is important that you know who I became so that I can describe to you what I began to see.

It is universally true that the experience of one man exerts a magnetic pull on the similar experience of another man. Pain, I assume, calls to pain. Victory calls to victory. I suppose people who have been abused in some way can sense it in others even if no words are spoken. I imagine the rejected can instantly sense rejection in others, or those who have conquered some fierce moral flaw in themselves can quickly identify those of equal character nearby.

Perhaps because of this truth about the human experience and perhaps because God wanted me to learn what will fill these pages, I began shortly after my dark season to experience what can only be called a grand tour of the religiously wounded. It was inescapable and profound.

My first book as I stepped into my new life was The Faith of George W. Bush, which was a best seller and made me welcome among some of the politically powerful in our country. Time and again, though I would say nothing about the subject, well-known men and women began talking to me about what they had suffered at the hands of their fellow believers and how it had marred their lives. Sometimes the issues were petty. One national leader told me how he had left his Episcopal church in anger over the placement of a bike path. At other times, the issues were a bit more substantial. A very powerful man I came to know well had left his church because the cross on the church wall was replaced by a video screen. The man, known for his angry approach to politics, had clearly been damaged by the experience. And then there were the tales of cruelty and spite. One of the most powerful CEOs in America wept with me in his office as he recounted how fellow church members distanced themselves from him when he was vilified in the press. Another, a handsome white man, married a beautiful black woman but then found his church home of decades alienating them because of the mixed marriage. This man was a visible national leader, but the experience of religious spite has left him distanced from his past, his God, and even parts of himself ever since.

After my book on President Bush's faith, I wrote another called The Faith of the American Soldier, which required that I go to Iraq to find out what was happening in the religious lives of the U.S. troops there. It was a glorious experience for this Army brat, but again, the theme of hurt in church emerged often. There was the brave chaplain who spent an hour telling me how the church he pastored back home had pledged to keep him as their pastor while he was at war only to remove him months later and treat his wife harshly. This chaplain planned to leave the ministry after his tour of duty was done.

There were also stories that circulated among the young soldiers, members of a generation already suspicious of "organized religion," that made them cling to God but hate the church. Again, some of it was petty: disagreements over styles of music, a favorite minister who was fired, or a bitter feud about the building fund. However, some soldiers were the children of clergy who had witnessed bloodlettings over politics in the pulpit, pastors being fired without severances, a leader's family suffering an entire community's ire over a single sermon, and incessant church infighting that ultimately led to heart attacks, divorce, crippled souls, and scuttled churches.

These were weighty matters, and their anger seemed justified. But then, even as I continued to listen compassionately, I also heard these young warriors speak with just as much heat about matters that seemed trivial. One soldier told me how he left a church when the leaders decided to pave the parking lot. An airman told me of his church splitting over the worship team's insistence on wearing jeans, and another spewed rage over his pastor's insistence on using the New International Version of the Bible rather than a version more to his liking.

In time, I became aware that what is important is not so much the cause of the offense, but rather the common characteristics of the offended soul itself. No matter the size or importance of the event that had led to the offense, I encountered a poisoned soul. In each case, a soul was distanced from God. In each case, a leaking toxic bitterness was tainting everything that soul touched. In each case, morality, vision, and love suffered.

These common characteristics of the offended soul knew no bounds. I had the privilege of going to the Vatican and ended up talking to a priest over pasta about his harsh treatment by a superior. I lectured at the United States Military Academy and found a high ranking officer who "loved God but hated his people" and planned to "do my own religious thing" for the rest of his life. While sitting in a Starbucks drinking a chai latte and reading a book, I ended up in a conversation with a young man who took certain scandals among famous preachers so hard you would have thought the wrongdoings were personally directed at him. In each case, no matter the cause, the condition of the soul was the same.

And I remembered Timmy. I remembered the candy machine that held him bound. And I remembered that Snickers bar.

I came to the conclusion that no matter how large or petty the cause, every religiously wounded soul I encountered was in danger of a tainted life of smallness and pain, of missed destinies, and the bitter downward spiral. And every soul I encountered had the power to be free, for each of them, no matter how legitimately, was clenching the very offense or rage or self-pity or vision of vengeance that was making life a microcosm of hell.

I understood. I understood it all. I knew what it was to want to serve God and to be so naive and eager that when the blows came you could not breathe for the pain. I knew what it was like to lay awake all night thinking about the good days and the tender talks and the laughter that promised friendship for a lifetime and to wonder where it all had gone. I too had thought so hard about the harm to my children and the carpet bombing of my life that I sometimes made myself ill.


Excerpted from Healing Your Church Hurt by STEPHEN MANSFIELD Copyright © 2010 by Stephen Mansfield. Excerpted by permission of BARNA. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Healing Your Church Hurt: What To Do When You Still Love God But Have Been Wounded by His People 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Daniel_Darling More than 1 year ago
It's hard to find anyone who has attended church long enough not to be hurt at some point in their journey. Churches are filled with sinners. Redeemed? Yes, but sinners nonetheless. Sometimes it's our own spiritual families who inflict the most pain. So, how does a Christian overcome their church hurt? How do they find the grace to continue to serve Jesus and His Body after being abused by people who are supposed to love? Stephen Mansfield, a pastor, author, and speaker shares a very candid, heartfelt book that addresses this important topic. What separates this book from many others is that it's not an angry screed against the church. It's not the words of a person who has given up on the church. It's not yet another anger-fueled prescription for church change. Actually this book is written as both a comfort and a challenge to those who find themselves outside the Church they love. What I particularly like about this book is that it offers both comfort and constructive rebuke. Stephen encourages victims of church abuse to forgive, to move forward, to examine their own heart and lives for the sin they so readily identify in others. I appreciate Stephen's candor and wisdom in this book. It will be a help to many who struggle after a bad church experience.
Jimmyreagan More than 1 year ago
Stephen Mansfield has given us a winner. It was with apprehension that I opened this book with the subtitle "What to do when you still love God but have been wounded by his people." I thought, O no, a book to help people wallow in their hurts whether real or only perceived. The local church gets such bad press these days, perhaps I was preconditioned to think this way. Well, did I ever get a pleasant surprise. Never was church itself criticized. He painted, however, the realistic portrait that the Christian life is rarely lived without some church issues. This is not broad strokes really, but, I suppose, to be expected with all those imperfect people being involved who make up every church. He admitted that some church members are truly hurt at church. We pastors like to live in the cloud that says it doesn't really happen, but it does. With equal force he revealed that pastors, too, often get hurt by folks at church. I'm sure that was a shocking revelation to many church members. Then, with the greatest candor he confessed that many of our supposed hurts are petty and unbecoming of what we make of them. He did all this in just a few pages and I was hooked. I was ready to hear what he had to say. Then the balance of the book is simply this--You are hurt in church. Whether it was real or imagined is not the issue. An analysis of the fiends who treated you so is pointless. What are you, the hurt one, going to do? You can't change it. You can't rewrite history with you being treated more justly. You really can't give your enemies their due, especially in line with your being a Christian. So, what are going to do? He goes through that dark process that is so easy for any of us to go through that includes hard feelings, bitterness, and finally, even things far worse. How did Mr. Mansfield effectively show us this process? He surveyed the wreckage of his own church hurt. He was a successful pastor of a growing, thriving church and one day it all blew up in his face. When he first broached the subject, I wondered if he was going to use his position as a popular writer to get his revenge. I assure you that was not the case. He never called his enemies by name, and I felt he never told us more than was necessary about them to get the picture of what was going on in his heart. No, the one he exposed with all the gory details was himself. He went far out on the limb and started cutting. He told us what he did, how he really felt, and the thoughts that came gushing out of his mind. They were grotesque. They overshadowed what his enemies, who I imagine truly were guilty, did. Such is the cherishing of bitterness for a Christian. Our Lord has simply not designed us to be able to function fueled by hate. It's like trying to put milk in your car's gas tank. You won't be going anywhere. He risked our disliking him. He opened himself up to the critical spirit of our age. You and I have probably been here, but we haven't told anyone like he does in this book. I think his motive was to help us. He took us through the process of his coming out of this darkness. He gratefully acknowledged some strong friends who pushed and prodded him. He spoke of false steps and false starts and clear failures. He explained that his bitterness was a multi-layered thing where he had to dig deeper and deeper to unroot it. I highly recommend this book.
Teresa_Konopka More than 1 year ago
This book was a very interesting read. With all of the Christian books I review, I can't say I've come across many that broach this topic. This is a real issue in Christianity. It is one that I have personally experienced. The author, who has faced his fair share of church hurt, shares some of his story. However, he keeps things generally vague and goes into more detail for helping the reader. So, this book is not just him telling his awful story. This is for those that need healing. What I liked about this book was that the author started out recalling horrific things that happened to lead pastors and theologians in the early church (think Reformation era). He also writes about how suffering may be preordained as a means for making us more Christlike. He writes about how we should listen to others' criticisms and change what we need to but not take everything they say to heart--we are first and foremost identified by who Yeshua says we are, not who others say we are. The author also writes that anger and unforgiveness and lead to sin and even demonic activity. He goes into word studies quite often and has an impeccable writing style, both of which I enjoyed. What I will say I would have liked in this book that was missing was if the author wrote more about the spirit of the antichrist or how some may not be "good shepherds." However, one could argue that one would come to this conclusion from reading between the lines. Overall, this is a very good book. It helped me deal with a lot of my issues. We don't have to go back to churches that hurt us, but we ought to forgive from our heart and move on with our lives. Phil 3:13-14
4HisGloryEM More than 1 year ago
If you are or have been an involved member in a church, you most likely have experienced "church hurt." Healing Your Church Hurt provides a way out from the hurt and bitterness in a rather direct, but loving manner. Throughout the book the author provides various exercises to work through that pave the way to the following steps and eventually to healing and finally wholeness. The sum of this book in a nutshell states that you can be free from the hurt and pain that comes through the hands of fellow Christians. The reality is we live in an imperfect world with imperfect people and attend imperfect churches. That means, there is potential for hurt and offense within the church. The entire book is a quick read. That said it is full of deeper processes that, if the reader wants to experience healing, needs to take the time to process, do some soul searching and some work, but it is guided by solid biblical principles and is explained in clear language.
Steven_Ruff More than 1 year ago
If you have ever been part of what the Greeks knew as the ecclesia, or “the called out ones”, better known today as the New Testament church, then it is likely that you have witnessed or been involved in a church hurt. As a result, either you or someone you know, made a decision to walk away from the “church”. George Barna says this “decision to permanently withdraw from a congregation” can be called “ecclesia exitus” or church dropout. In Stephen Mansfield’s new book “Healing Your Church Hurt; What To Do When You Still Love God But Have Been Wounded By His People”, he dives in to this issue and epidemic of hurt, offense, and discouragement within the body of Christ. Having been the pastor of a church who experienced a devastating church hurt himself, Mansfield is able to speak to this topic successfully. Mansfield did not write this book to simply tell the reader that people get hurt in church. Instead, he writes to assure those who were hurt that it is possible for them to reconnect with the body of Christ. Mansfield begins by giving the root of the problem of offense and hurt: human nature and sin. He then takes a look at how we tend to look at others. He believes that how we look at others may determine our willingness to mend a relationship and length of time it might take. This chapter brings out these types of questions: Have our expectations of others that didn’t prove to be true given weight to our hurt? Are we guilty of forgetting how ugly the human nature can be? Chapters four and five are the best chapters in the book and are very powerful. Chapter four entitled, “Lessons From a Season in Hell”, Mansfield asks the reader to do something. He asks, “I want you to take the most agonizing season of your life and examine it piece by piece.” He does this by asking five pointed and probing questions. They are: 1. Of the things your critics said, what do you know to be true? 2. How did you try to medicate your wounded soul? 3. Were you clinging to anything that contributed to your church hurt? 4. What did those closest to you do when you went through the fire? 5. During the bruising season, what fed your inspirations and your dreams? In Chapter five, “The Throne Room of Your Mind”, Mansfield deals with how our minds process the hurt and how we tend to play the hurtful act over and over, rehearsing all the “should-have, could-have, and would-haves”. He demonstrates this by sharing a recurring dream that he has. As he sits on a grand throne, everyone who has wounded him becomes aware of their offense and they line up and come before him to make amends and tell him how sorry they are. As he enjoys having them in the palm of his hand, he touches them with his scepter and declares them forgiven. They exit thanking him for forgiving them, promising never to offend again. Of course, this is a fantasy. He says that we all have in our own minds a similar throne-room experience. Mansfield goes on to say that being hurt is about being offended, or suffering an offense. It is in this chapter that he gives to us a piercing word study demonstrating how devastating an offense can be. He concludes the book by dealing with forgiveness and restoration. He suggests that God may have a divine purpose for our hurt. Stephen Mansfield has written a powerful book. It is efficient and to the point. His advice is practical and immediately helpful. Healing Your Church Hurt is a must read for those who have been wounded by the body of Chr
Anonymous More than 1 year ago