I’m a pastor, and pastors have hurt me.
My most painful experiences came from individuals who should have been spiritual shepherds. I’ve counseled enough people to know that I’m far from alone in that scenario. Thankfully, I’m a preacher’s kid with a father who’s the real deal. He believes what he preaches and lives it too. I’ve had that consistent role model to follow when other peers and leaders let me down in dramatic ways. For that, I’m truly grateful. I’m not talking about petty grievances of the “they didn’t shake my hand” or “they didn’t appreciate my potential” variety. I’m talking about legitimate situations where a pastor (or minister) was blatantly, perhaps even chronically hurtful, sinful, or harmful. Neither am I talking about leadership differences, stylistic clashes, or minor judgment lapses; I believe in pastoral authority and apostolic boldness. I am comfortable receiving rebuke and correction from a spiritual leader. Nor am I easily offended or hard to please. I am not fazed by the reality that pastors are fallible and very human. As a preacher, I know my shortcomings all too well, so it’s easy for me to cut the preacher some slack. Regardless, real spiritual abuse does occur; good people do bad things, bad people masquerade as good people (Jesus repeatedly warned us this would be common), and everyone makes mistakes. When these things happen, it’s only natural to want to tell anyone and everyone who will listen. I know it’s tempting, but that’s precisely what you should NOT do.
I’m not advocating sticking your head in the sand. Seek godly counsel, deal with the problem, keep a good spirit, put it in the past, and keep it there. As Paul said, “…forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).” Have you been hurt, disenchanted, disappointed, or even harmed by a spiritual leader? If so, you’re in good company; Jesus was crucified because of the influence of religious leaders. And yet, it was Jesus who admonished us to forgive and move on (Matthew 5:44, Mark 11:25, Matthew 18:21-22). I want to address eight reasons why I think we should avoid reliving these experiences in our conversations.
1. It will produce, maintain, and enhance a dangerous root of bitterness in your heart.
Bitterness will destroy you and turn you into the very thing that hurt you in the first place. Hurt people do hurt people.
2. It plants unhealthy seeds of distrust in the hearts of the hearers.
Quick analogy, I respect police officers very much. I believe that most police officers are honorable people. However, I’ve had an extremely bad encounter with a police officer who was supposed to serve and protect. I don’t dwell on that one experience because I want my children to respect police officers. Will there be a day when I explain to them that there are a few bad apples out there? Yes. But that will never be my primary focus in conversation because, in the grand scheme of things, I want my children to honor and respect those who serve them. When it comes to spiritual leaders, I am even more careful. I do not want my family, unbelievers, or fragile saints to live under the impression that MOST truth preaching pastors are bad because of a FEW sinister truth preaching pastors.
3. It’s not possible to move forward safely when you are always looking backward.
As a kid, I had a weird habit of running while looking over my shoulder. Yeah, I ran into a lot of stuff and caused myself all kinds of unnecessary pain. When you frequently talk about past church hurt, you destabilize your present and endanger your future.
4. Often, and sometimes without realizing it, we talk about such things with a desire to cause harm to the perpetrator.
Understandable as that may be, regularly rehashing church hurts goes against everything Jesus teaches us about forgiveness and loving our enemies and those who spitefully use us. God does not give us the authority to exact our own brand of revenge; revenge is the Lord’s (Deuteronomy 32:35, Romans 12:19).
5. The constant rehashing of pastoral failings can create a lingering distrust towards good spiritual leaders in your heart.
Despite human flaws, everyone needs a pastor. If you’re not careful, you’ll become so distrustful that you will never allow a godly preacher to have apostolic authority in your life. If that happens, the Devil will have accomplished what he set out to accomplish.
6. Often, people who consistently dwell on ministerial failings use those failings as their primary excuse to justify their own bad decisions.
They excuse their bad behavior because of the bad behavior of a finite human being. Our relationship with God should never be destroyed because of a minister’s wrongdoing or anyone else’s wrongdoing. God does not cease to be good just because a man or woman hurt us. Wrong does not become right just because someone else goes crazy. David exampled this beautifully in the Bible. King Saul was out to kill him, and when David had the chance to take Saul’s life, he refused to touch God’s anointed (1 Samuel 24:10). Notice, David didn’t let Saul kill him, he removed himself from the situation, but he did not exact revenge or sink to Saul’s level of bad behavior.
7. It keeps the wounds fresh.
There’s no hurt like spiritual hurt. It can be devastating and earth-shattering. Talking about it over and over again keeps that pain from healing. Take it to the Lord in prayer, leave it on the altar, and let Jesus mend your broken heart.
8. It might invite the judgment of God into your life.
I know this one will rub some folks the wrong way. And I’ve wrestled with this concept myself. On the surface, it simply doesn’t seem fair that our improper reaction to someone else’s sin could bring judgment into our own lives. One of the strangest biblical accounts is the story of Noah becoming indecent and intoxicated shortly after surviving the great flood (Genesis 9:18-27). When Ham, his son, saw the situation, he cavalierly talked about it with his brothers. The text indicates a demeanor of condescension and disrespect for a man who had found grace in the eyes of the Lord. Noah was a righteous man who was in a temporary state of terrible failure. When Noah’s other sons (Shem and Japheth) realized what was happening, they took a garment and walked backwards into their father’s tent to cover his nakedness. This was not denial; they weren’t avoiding the problem or living in La-La Land. But they had enough respect for their father’s godly history that they would not approach the situation lightly or contemptuously. Ham and his descendants labored under a God-given curse from that day forward. When dealing with the spiritual failings of a genuine man of God, our demeanor matters.
A quick caveat, this article is not referring to false prophets, false teachers, or those who knowingly peddle false doctrine. Scripture clearly admonishes us to expose and rebuke them as needed (Galatians 1:6-9, Deuteronomy 13:1-4, Jeremiah 14:14-16, Titus 3:10-11, 2 Peter 3:15-18). Neither am I minimizing the pain that can come from a spiritual leader’s failings. Many people, like David, have been wronged through no fault of their own. I also realize that many people incorrectly perceive wrongdoing because they are rebellious or unteachable. That’s another issue for another day. For the record, I do not endorse allowing a minister who is in sin to remain active in ministry.Ryan French