Compass Resources for Church Hurt and Abuse

For believers, few things hit home as deeply as our relationship with faith and community. For many, the church stands as a beacon of hope, a literal and metaphorical sanctuary that provides comfort and community. Yet, regrettably, it’s also a realm where hurt and abuse can sneak in so subtly and leave scars that take a lifetime to heal.

A few years back, after leaving full-time church work with our own story of wounding, my family visited a church in our area trying to find a place to heal. We attended a “get to know the church” meeting after the service and one of the pastors candidly shared that a significant portion of the congregation had arrived from other churches, bearing the weight of past hurts. Moreover, he owned that even this church has likely caused pain and will unintentionally cause hurt to the people that pass through its doors each week. His takeaway was that no church was perfect and if you’ve been hurt by one, you’re in good company because it’s a pervasive issue.

The raw honesty of that revelation struck a chord within me. It echoed the sentiments of countless individuals who’ve found themselves lost without community or safety after experiencing church hurt or abuse.

Church hurt or abuse comes in multiple forms. For my family, it was wounding from leaders who made short-sided decisions with long-last consequences. For others, it’s trauma from emotional, spiritual, or sexual abuse. The stories of survivors like Matt and Beth Redman or Crucible leader Deb Gustafson serve as poignant reminders of the urgent need for systemic change within religious communities. These courageous testimonies underscore the devastating consequences of unchecked abuse and the corrosive influence of celebrity culture within the church. Yet, amidst the darkness, their voices resonate as beacons of hope, illuminating the path toward a more just and compassionate future.

If you have experienced church hurt, here are some practical steps to consider:

  1. Separate God and the Church: God didn’t hurt you. People hurt you. Jesus experienced religious leaders who were abusive, too. He knows more than anyone what you are going through. He is still with you and His promises are still real. Don’t let your anger at the church keep you from your relationship with Jesus.
  2. Seek Professional Help: Consider reaching out to a therapist or counselor who specializes in trauma recovery. Professional guidance can provide valuable support and tools for processing emotions and navigating complex feelings associated with church-related trauma.
  3. Join a Group: Connect with others who have experienced similar challenges by joining a support group specifically geared toward survivors of church hurt and abuse. Sharing experiences in a safe and empathetic environment can foster a sense of solidarity and validation, while also providing practical coping strategies and resources.
  4. Set Boundaries: Establishing healthy boundaries is essential for protecting oneself from further harm and promoting emotional well-being. Identify specific triggers or situations that exacerbate distress, and develop strategies for asserting boundaries and advocating for your needs within interpersonal relationships and community settings.
  5. Engage in Self-Care: Prioritize self-care practices that nurture your physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. This may include activities such as mindfulness meditation, journaling, spending time in nature, engaging in creative outlets, attending a Crucible retreat, or participating in activities that bring joy and relaxation.
  6. Educate Yourself: Take the initiative to educate yourself about the dynamics of abuse, trauma recovery, and healthy relationship dynamics. Empower yourself with knowledge and resources that can help you understand your experiences within the context of broader social and psychological frameworks.
  7. Practice Forgiveness (if and when ready): Forgiveness can be a powerful tool for releasing pent-up resentment and anger, but it’s essential to approach this process with compassion and self-awareness. Recognize that forgiveness is a personal journey that unfolds at its own pace, and prioritize your own healing and well-being above external pressures or expectations.
  8. Advocate for Change: Consider channeling your experiences into advocacy efforts aimed at promoting accountability, transparency, and systemic change within religious institutions. Whether through speaking out publicly, supporting survivor-led initiatives, or participating in grassroots activism, your voice has the power to effect meaningful change and prevent future harm.

Healing is a nonlinear process, and it’s okay to seek support and guidance along the way. By taking proactive steps to prioritize your healing journey, you can reclaim your narrative and cultivate a future defined by resilience, empowerment, and wholeness.

If you have experienced wounding from a church and are ready to take a step toward healing, consider attending a Men’s or Women’s retreat with The Crucible Project or reach out to a certified Crucible coach to discover if a one-on-one approach would be beneficial for your journey. Whether stemming from misguided theology, unchecked power dynamics, or the insidious shadow side of leadership, the wounds inflicted in the name of Christ are far too often silenced, dismissed, or diminished, overshadowed by a culture of misplaced forgiveness and victim-blaming.

Crucible stands committed to creating spaces where survivors are not only heard but believed. As we confront the harsh realities of church hurt and abuse, stand in solidarity with survivors, bearing witness to their pain and holding space for their healing. Together, we can forge a future where the wounds of the past are transformed into sources of strength and resilience—a future where the church truly becomes a sanctuary of grace and compassion for all.

Listen to the Crucible podcast with Deb Gustafson for a personal story of abuse, healing, and hope: