The Local Church is Not Olive Garden
"When you're here, you're family" is not the good news you think it is.
I don’t know that church hurt is the #1 issue in the evangelical world today, but I do know that among those who have suffered church hurt, it tends to be. There’s a dynamic I’ve noticed where people who have been hurt by a fellow church member, a pastor, or an Christian institution can seemingly refract all of their future experiences through that lens.
(Before anyone objects, I am not referring to people who have been sexually abused. That is not the topic of this post. The topic of this post is the more ordinary but still traumatic experience of relational rupture between a person and others connected to some kind of church unit.)
Now, here’s the thing: I feel very hesitant about analyzing this tendency because, frankly, my experience with church hurt is quite mild compared to what many others go through. But it does seem legitimate to observe that an experience of church hurt that seemingly colonizes a person’s emotions, paralyzes their ability to move forward, and undermines their faith in the gospel, is something that is so horrible that it merits careful reflection on how to prevent it. Now usually, a paragraph like that would signal a piece of writing that seeks to rebuke and correct evangelical churches for the various ways they are complicit in church hurt, whether through purity culture, political idolatry, gender insensitivity, etc etc etc. Acknowledging that such writing has a place, I would like to offer a different kind of meditation of church hurt prevention. I would like to submit instead that one thing that individual Christians and churches can do to prevent this kind of church hurt is to manage expectations.