Surviving Church Burn Out: Handling Hurt and Disappointment
Sending an angry e-mail to a close friend about my disappointment with both serving and attending church marked the low point of my own struggles with church burn out. At my most pessimistic, I saw the church as this monstrous machine that consumed people as its fuel, and I blasted off a series of stinging bullet points to make my case.
When anyone rants about the church or questions the wisdom of the current Sunday system, the typical defensive response from those in the church is a paraphrase of something from an epistle about not forsaking the gathering of believers. That completely misses the point of most critiques of the church, but it’s sufficient to ensure we’ll have two opposing sides using scripture to hammer away at each other.
I had scripture for my anti-church system attacks.
Others had scripture for their pro-church defensive measures and counterattacks.
Lost in this is any kind of redemptive movement or conversation. Those hurt by the church are not addressing their hurts, concerns, and legitimate critiques, while those in the church feel attacked and only add to the problems felt by those who are burned out by church.
When You Are Hurt or Disappointed…
The worst thing to do when hurt or disappointed by church, whether it’s the overall church system or specific issues in ministry, is to lash out. I have wearied of the angry church posts, of which I myself have been guilty at times. I have repented and continue to repent.
By denouncing, criticizing, or speaking out of our unresolved hurt we’re only creating an atmosphere where those heavily invested in the church will feel threatened and may attack us more. This creates an ugly, non-redemptive circle where those who are wounded hurt others and are consequently wounded more by counterattacks.
We need individuals and groups who can help us process what has happened, but private attacks and public renunciations of the church aren’t helping anyone. That kind of “authenticity” isn’t helping anyone. Perhaps there will come a day when we can speak openly and honestly about our questions, doubts, and concerns about the church and ministry, but we won’t help anyone, especially ourselves, by striking out against the perceived sources of our pain and frustration.
Waiting and Processing
I know it’s natural to take proactive steps against anything or anyone causing us pain, and that’s why the processing of this stage is so critical. There was one pastor who set aside all of his own investments in the church to hear me out.
I mean, to really hear me, and to honestly tell me what he heard without injecting his own opinions or pushing me toward the pat answers that good Christians are supposed to spout. He said, “You’ve really been hurt by the church.”
At first I thought, “No, I’m not hurting. I’m just ditching a broken system that chews people up.”
The more I processed his compassionate, but confident assessment, I realized that he’d nailed me. I’d been hurt. It was hard to admit that.
I’d been hurt by the secret schemes and machinations some leaders took to replace me from a ministry where I was struggling to lead effectively, without sufficient support as a new leader in my opinion, instead of plainly explaining the situation to me. I’d watched it happen slowly, and yet no one spoke to me directly about it while in the process. In addition, I’d attended services dutifully and served in just about every area, and yet I was still struggling to live a faithful Christian life.
I was attending seminary for crying out loud. If knowing the Bible was the game, then I needed to know why I was failing so regularly at Christianity. Something about church wasn’t cutting it, and showing up each morning to get happy and sing only punctuated the hollow disappointment in my soul.
In my eyes, the church had failed me. It was something that no program or book could fix. I didn’t want to hear one other person tell me to get to church and not forsake the body of believers. THEY were not helping things, and in fact, they were sometimes the cause of my problems.
Thankfully I didn’t forsake the body of believers completely, but more importantly, several believers didn’t forsake me. That pastor and several friends walked with me in that time of hurting. Some of them were hurting for the same reasons.
Over time the more I shut up and learned from mature Christians and minimized my criticism, I began to heal, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves with thoughts on how to heal from church burn out and move on…
Next Week’s Post: Seeking the Rest You Need After Burning Out