Janet Smith ©gardenministries.org, November 1, 2018
Cultivating a First Love relationship with Jesus Christ is meant to extend outward and forge deeply bonded relationships, especially with those who are in our immediate spiritual family. These relationships are meant to be vibrant, heart-knit, meaningful, and long-lasting. So how do we process the pain of close church relationships that are severed?
Our goals in processing the pain of severed church body relationships should be three-fold:
1. To define as best we can, what exactly hurt(s) so that we know what we are specifically dealing with and seeking to forgive. We may need the help of others to find this out.
2. To learn what God is after in our own hearts through the experience.
3. To keep trusting God, reject fear, and purpose not to get stuck in unresolved anger.
The pain of severed relationships should not be ignored or swept under the rug. It needs to be personally and corporately acknowledged and processed keeping the following steps in mind:
Grieve: if you feel hurt, embrace and acknowledge the pain, both personally before God, and with those who you feel can help your healing process. Don’t be shut down by the thought that in talking to others about someone else, that you are gossiping. People who knowingly or unknowingly hurt and wrong other people in the body of Christ, may not be open to processing the issues they have caused, so talking to them directly about it may not be possible. Gossip simply means that we are saying slanderously harmful or vindictive things about another person that we are unwilling to speak honestly and openly with them directly, it if were possible. It is NOT gossip when we feel the need to process our pain with others as long as our motive is to find the truth that leads toward healing and forgiveness.
Healing process: it may take time to process through all the cycles of hurt that present as we grieve. There will be up’s and down’s to this process and times of feeling more pain or less pain.
Forgive: seek to forgive. We will know that we are making progress in our process toward forgiveness when thoughts about or possible interactions with the person who hurt us feel less and less painful. If we need to say, “I’m sorry for wronging you” to someone, be sure that we do this in an honest and meaningful way.
Reconcile (if possible): consider what steps, if any, may be taken toward reconciliation. There are two kinds of reconciliation: 1.) mutual, which means that both parties find understanding and can peacefully resolve their differences, restore their friendship, and feel harmonious again. 2.) non-mutual, which means that because the relationship cannot find mutual resolve and feel harmonious again, we reconcile by submitting to the unpleasant fact that, until there is good reason to believe otherwise, nothing more can be done to save the relationship. In non-mutual cases, we need to beware of trying to repair the relationship from our side, when no good reason to move back toward relationship has yet presented from their side. If this is the case, by continuing to insert ourselves into the relationship, we are exercising self-disrespect and excusing others from their responsibility.
Restore (if wanted): if a former body member wants to reconnect and restore relationship on a corporate level, it is important that we return through the same door we closed on our way out. In other words, we need to look at our reasons for leaving in the first place and see what, if anything, has changed that would cause us to desire re-entry. We cannot expect to instantly have the same level of friendship we enjoyed before we left. Trust that has been lost can take twice as long to regain and may never be at the same level it was at before we left.
Focus: stay focused on those who are still with you as a church family and don’t project on them the fear and hurt that others who leave may cause. After someone leaves an existing body, no one can or should ever try to legislate to the other church body members, “who can talk to who,” or “who can be a friend to who.” That is everyone’s right to determine as they see fit and is a matter of conscience between themselves and God. It is important however, to be sensitive to people on both sides of outstanding issues and consider that our interactions with former body members could be painful for others in our body who are still trying to recover from the pain of the severing.
Whether people stay in or leave their church body, if we are all pursuing First Love fullness with Jesus Christ, then hopefully we are all learning more and more how to process all the way through our relationship differences until we find mutual peace. Hopefully, we won’t unnecessarily sever the relationships that we once held precious, but instead, we will purpose to show them the same respect we would like to have shown us. The cause-and-affect dynamic of relational fallout doesn’t always have a starting point. Who did what or who’s to blame isn’t always clear. We can simply start with “what’s my part in resolving this?” If we approach relationships with the presumption that we are right and they are wrong and are unwilling to look at our own doorstep and consider that there may be more to the story than we originally thought, then we have already lost the relationship.
It is hypocrisy to treat others in ways that we ourselves would not like to be treated. Hypocrisy is the fruit of a religious spirit and wounds incurred by a religious spirit are some of the deepest, most painful wounds a person in the body of Christ will experience. If you have experienced a severed church body relationship and are feeling deep pain from it, ask God to show you where the hypocrisy of their words and their actions have cut into your heart so that you can clearly define what actually happened and why it hurts so much. Ask God to show you if there is hypocrisy in your words and actions too. Ask God to show you through scriptural truth’s, where the person crossed a line(s) or where you crossed a line(s) and caused the hurt so that you have a clear understanding of where things went wrong and what needs to happen to make them right.
Romans 12:9-21 describes the process we are to follow: 9 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; 11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, 13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. 17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. 20 “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.