A number of years ago my wife and I were caught in the collateral damage of one of the most unnecessary and unfortunate episodes that I have ever seen or heard of in a local church. I was the Executive Pastor in a prominent Southern Baptist Church with a long time senior pastor who was in the middle of transitioning into retirement. The long and the short was that the process turned into an unmitigated disaster that had a shelf life of a couple years. As the pastor unceremoniously left, battle lines were drawn and as Executive Pastor, I was left holding the bag trying to steer a divided church that was heading into a unavoidable Cat 5 hurricane. Long story short, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time trying to do the right thing. This leads me to my first survival tip.
Survival Tip #1 – Wrong Place, Wrong Time
It’s a common phrase that we use frequently and I have used it many times to describe many things and especially my unfortunate story. But the truth is, my situation was not an, “oops, I missed that one! on God’s part.” Yes it was unfortunate, unnecessary and quite frankly sinful in many ways, but to call it, wrong place at the wrong time, would suggest that somehow God accidentally had a momentary lapse of attention. He doesn’t and never does. It is a hard thing to reconcile that the Lord would let any of His children get caught in such an event, but on occasion He does. And, if He does, then He must allow it for a reason. There are too many biblical examples of just such things that we would have to ignore to think that He could not or would not allow the same kind of things today. Let’s face it, as pastors we have all taught about Joseph, Potipher’s wife and prison, but surely nothing like that would ever happen to us, right? Here is the survival tip, just like Joseph, God allowed it for a reason, His reason. In Joseph’s life, we have the luxury of seeing exactly how God used it and we celebrate it. For us, He may be using it, but we may not see the reason this side of heaven. But, that doesn’t mean it was the wrong place or the wrong time. To move forward after hurtful church events, we must acknowledge that as crazy as it sounds we were there for a reason. God allowed it, and in a very real and spiritual sense, we were in the right place at the right time. To admit that doesn’t mean that you have to have pleasant thoughts about the situation or even like it. But you must stand on the truth that He had you where He wanted you. As hard as it is, you must come to that conclusion to survive and thrive going forward.
Survival Tip #2 – Right Thing
If you have been through a deeply hurtful church situation where you did your best to do the right thing but to no avail, your inclination can easily be to never stick your neck out like that again. You saw how that ended and self protection says, never again. This is where Tip #1 is so important. If we can acknowledge that God actually had us in the Right Place at the Right time, then if we did the Right Thing, you need to know that Jesus is pleased. That is not a conciliation price, it is First Place, the Grand Prize! Your situation may have cost you emotionally and mentally, or it may have cost you far more. For my wife and I we experienced all of the above and much more. We have been out of ministry for the past few years, mainly because of the event’s collateral damage and churches unwillingness to hire because of it. It has hopefully only temporarily cost us our calling, but it has certainly cost us financially. To be truthful, I’m more than ready for the Lord to restore and redeem somehow in our situation. But here is the thing, we did the right thing and because we know that we were in the right place at the right time, we will do the right thing again going forward however that looks. You see, I know and am convinced that the Lord was pleased with us trying to do the right thing. Know this, yes, you have been hurt, but the Lord knows it, He empathizes with you, He loves you, and He still smiles over you. To survive and thrive going forward, commit to never stop doing the right thing.
Survival Tip #3 – Resist Bitterness
Anger naturally comes along with hurt. If you have been wronged, anger will come and you must deal with it. Certainly scripture is clear about not letting the sun go down on our anger. You can interpret that many ways, but the truth is that you can’t stay in anger, you can’t park there and you certainly can’t live there. Please hear me on this. I probably, like you, read through the Psalms on a daily basis and there is example after example where the Psalmist explicitly expressed his anger at his awful situation. He took it the Lord and he dealt with it. He didn’t live in a perpetual day of anger, he moved on and through it. If we don’t deal with our feelings of anger, bitterness will take root and we will be the loser. That is a fact! It really wasn’t the situation that hurt you, it was the people in the situation. For the sake of argument, let’s say that they were absolutely wrong in their behavior toward you and you were absolutely right in how you handled it. If that were the case, you might think that you have a right to stay angry, but you don’t. We must acknowledge that even if we did everything right and they did everything wrong, you and I have no righteousness apart from that of Christ. Without Him, we are still a wretch with no hope. Forgive them, for even in our rightness of the situation, you must acknowledge that you are not perfect and only Christ is. After wrestling with God over my situation, I finally came to a point where I forgave those that hurt my family and now I have pity for them, as to my knowledge, they are still right where they were. That has freed me up and it will for you as well! To survive and thrive going forward, so no to bitterness and live in the freedom of forgiveness.
Survival Tip #4 – Learn and forgive yourself if needed
My situation was one with many tentacles which resulted in many critical decisions along the way that affected many people. Without going into detail, in principle, the overall large decisions that I was a part of, I felt and still feel that we were right in making them. With that said, there were still smaller decisions that we made along the way that I would have done differently. You see, when we are hurt and we think that we are principally in the right, it is not our natural inclination to be introspective to discern if there was possibly anything that we got wrong. The prideful person says I did nothing wrong, but the humble person says that there is always room for improvement. Part of the reason for the Lord letting you go through the hurtful situation was to grow you. That my friend is a certainty, as we know that the Lord is always working towards our sanctification. Ask the hard questions of the Holy Spirit and others. What could you have done differently that might have led to a better outcome. Learn from it and then move on. I say move on, because if you do engage in the process of introspection, you might actually get a little down on yourself. Don’t! Survival Tip #4, If you come to the conclusion that you possibly handled parts of the situation in the wrong way, get over it and do it differently next time. Learn and forgive yourself if needed and move forward.
My hope is that this article may in some way be a help to others. Obviously there is more to say about surviving deep hurt when the church blows up around us and I want you to know that if you have gone through something like me, you are not alone. You will get through the situation, you will survive and yes, you will thrive again!