Helping Young People Navigate Through “Church Hurt”

Rooted and the author of this article have decided to publish it anonymously in effort to protect the church and those involved.

I am a part of a church staff in a season of transition. A few months ago, we had an unexpected change of leadership after an accusation was made against one of our pastors. Our church is not the first congregation to experience a transition like this, and most likely will not be the last. Throughout this difficult season, I have had conversations with many of my young students as they navigate and process this unforeseen event as a part of the church body. Although we are still walking this road as a community, here is how we are helping students process.

Listen first. In James 1:19, we read about the importance of listening well when he writes, “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” The first few weeks after this pastor resigned, many students came to church after school and on the weekends to talk about and process the situation our church was facing. Some of what they shared was self-centered, shallow, or not Biblical. On more than one occasion, I was tempted to jump in and point them back to the truth and hope found in God’s Word. It is important for them to know that God is faithful in this and every situation. They will benefit from knowing that although this greatly surprised our congregation, it is not a surprise to God.

But when we jump right to talking instead of first listening to how students are processing, students often feel as though we are talking at them and not with them. Our students shared openly about what they were thinking and feeling because we initially gave them the space to do so.

Help students to see the difference between an individual not meeting their expectations and God not meeting their expectations. This pastor had strong relationships with our middle and high school students. Many students have known him their entire life. Some of the students shared that they felt they had been let down by God or by the church in the wake of this pastor leaving. An important conversation we had, and continue to have, is about the fallenness of man and the character of God. As youth pastors, we need to teach about the brokenness we find in the world because of sin. Congregations and church workers are not immune to this brokenness. When a student views someone in leadership as God-fearing, compassionate, and selfless, and then that image is altered or all together shattered, it is tempting for them to believe that Church has failed them. Help students recognize that the church is made up of broken people, pastors included, who worship and serve a perfect God. When the church enters a season of brokenness or hurt, we ought to encourage students to turn to the One who hears their pain and confusion, not causes it.

Speak the Gospel hope into their lives. Amid any hurt that students experience in life, we desire to point them back to the Gospel. In the Gospel story we are reminded that Jesus has experienced betrayal, abandonment, loneliness, rejection, and sadness. Jesus knows our suffering because He suffered. But as we know, the story doesn’t end there. Praise God! We have hope in the hard and messy situations because of the hope found in the resurrection! He is good to us. He is compassionate. He works all things for His good.

A final word to church workers in the midst of church hurt. While ministering to students, I was processing my own hurt as my good friend, coworker, and mentor left unexpectedly. As I continue to navigate this loss with the added workload in this pastor’s absence, it has been very helpful for me to find a Christian counselor. If you are walking through a season of church hurt, do not be afraid to seek wise counsel. Ultimately, this helped me to better understand God’s character and grace for all, and minister well to my students.