Dear Person who has Been Hurt by the Church (An Open Letter)

Dear Person who has Been Hurt by the Church,

I am sorry.

I am sorry that as a church we have become more concerned with beautiful buildings than bleeding hearts. That we have spent more time developing economically sufficient social clubs instead of reaching out to our communities and the people who need us most.

I am sorry that each time you have walked into the doors, we ask you for money and tell you what an awful human you have been instead of learning more about you and finding out what made you come in the first place. That we most often times will ignore you after we publicly applaud you for showing up and ask you to raise your hand so we can shove our Information Cards in your hands and get your demographic information in exchange for a coffee cup, water bottle, or bag of candy from our greeting team.

I am sorry that it is more important that you are dressed right and look like you’d fit in with us than that we see your brokenness and share with you that we were once just like you: walking into church for the first time, confused about life, searching out faith, wondering if anyone would be willing to love us, looking for friends and family in the place where we find God, wanting to find a safe place for our family to learn and grow.

I am sorry that each time we walk through the doors of the church, we all become plastic, shiny people who forgot that just before we exited our cars to enter the building, we too were hurting, scared, lonely, and fighting for our lives. That we act like we don’t have imperfect families, broken marriages, addictions, and desires we don’t know how to control at times. I am sorry that we fail to let you see our hurts and scars and instead cover them up with Jesus tattoos to ensure you know how holy we are.

I am sorry that as we lift up our hands high and stand on our stages singing to you, we look down on you for not knowing the words or being able to keep the beat. That we ensure you feel out of place if you come from a church background different from ours and love to worship freely in our congregations that confine the Holy Spirit. That we judge you for not singing like us, worshiping like us, praying like us, or being like us.

I am sorry that instead of willing hearts and listening ears, we welcome you with fake smiles and put a program in your hands and direct you to the next set of ushers. That instead of truly extending a heart-to-heart plea of humanity uniting, we rush you to be seated before service starts because it would work better for our schedules than actually ministering to you through conversation and proximity.

I am sorry that as you sit next to us, covered in the filth of last night’s cutting sessions, stained with the tears you’ve cried wanting out but not knowing how to stop what drives you to hurt yourself, we ignore the slashes because its easier to think you have someone else to talk to. That if we do talk to you, we give you scriptures and pretend that knowing scripture will make the pain go away. That we forget when you are hurting in such deep pain, sometimes Scripture isn’t enough and act like we weren’t well aware of that at several points in our own lives, even right then as we spit the scripture at you in hopes it will make you stop telling us your problems.

I am sorry that we have overlooked that you’ve sat in that same seat all year, with your heart breaking because you crave human touch and interaction. That as we plan where we will go to eat after church, we ignore you standing there wishing for once someone would ask you to join them for a meal. That we tell you to “suck it up” and “reach out” and “get over it” as if it were that easy, instead of inviting you into our circles to see if may we can create ovals that envelope the very people Jesus told us to reach.

I am sorry that as you looked around wanting someone to hug you, we walked right by you looking for our friends and familiar faces. That because you didn’t look like you wanted anyone around you we chose to let you stay in that condition instead of asking if maybe you didn’t really want to stand there alone but didn’t know how to reach out for help because of how much you’ve been hurt already. That instead of reaching out to you we expect you to ask for what you need from us.

I am sorry that as you walked into church each week with your family member, we didn’t see you because your healing story was internal and wouldn’t bring as much press to our church as your loved one being delivered from drug use or healed from cancer. That as you cried tears each week, needing a hug and prayer, we looked right past you to grab your loved one from their seats and pray prayers that had already been answered, leaving the two of you more confused about God and His Word than ever before. That we made you feel you that your pain didn’t matter because the world couldn’t see it.

I am sorry that we say things in the name of God that He never cosigned or delivered. That we say He leads us to do things that we know are from our own human needs and desires. That we don’t live out what we preach each week from the pulpits or across the seats. That we hurt you with our continued desire to be perfect and then cover up when we fall short with our anger, control, fear, and other sins that we exhibit daily and think we are better than you for dealing with because we don’t wear them as boldly as others wear their outward sins.

I am sorry that as a body of believers, we spend more time divided than standing united to show you what this Love we believe we’ve have found looks like when lived out. That we spend more time arguing over gun control, same-sex marriages,  whether the church should be part of the social justice movement, or whether woman should be allowed in ministry than looking into your heart and finding out how we can meet the needs of the people sitting in the seats. That we tell you through our actions and political stances that if you don’t believe like us then you aren’t good enough and are standing on the wrong side of the aisle. That we overlook the real issues while arguing about things the media feeds us to fight about.

I am sorry we are more concerned with whether tongues is real and where it should be used than talking with you and praying for you with the same authority we argue tongues brings. That we argue over doctrinal things and titles people use instead of reaching out to you who don’t care whether we call ourselves Apostles or Pastors, Teachers or Evangelists. That we confuse you by arguing over the things that Jesus never cared about and not delivering on the things He made evident He did.

I am sorry that instead of experiencing Christ’s love when you walk into today’s churches you learn the rules we have placed on His love and the boxes we have put Him in. That instead of being like Jesus, and following the very book we say we contains God’s heart, we instead follow our own man-made rules of what you can wear, where you can sit, and how you can worship.

I am sorry, person hurt by the church, that we have failed you in being what you need because we have been so hurt that we are barely keeping it together in many congregations and we wonder where God is. That we don’t let you see our questions because that would mean being real with you and being real would hurt. That we focus on time constraints instead of delivering messages and we focus on orders of service instead of what the Spirit wants to do.

I am sorry that when you see us, you want to scream, “DO YOU KNOW HOW YOU ARE HURTING PEOPLE” because you stepped foot into the church so you can learn more about the Jesus someone told you about or that you read in the Bible. That instead of seeing that Jesus, you saw people more concerned with appearance than touch, schedules than relationships, and what happens after service than what is going on around them.

I am sorry.

I can’t heal it and I can’t make it better by myself, but I can tell you I am sorry and do my best to not be plastic and not stand there and tell you one thing while I live another. I can commit to walking up to the you and wrapping my arms around you to embrace you in a Shell hug, which I have been told is pretty amazing when I allow myself to be vulnerable and open to leaning in. I can open myself to look you in the eyes and wipe away your tears instead of being focused on when service starts and whether I have enough time to truly care how you are doing.

I can’t make the pain go away, but I can become part of the solution and stand in a hallway talking with you and opening up to you instead of being concerned with being somewhere else when it’s clear God wants us to talk. I can offer a listening ear and be there for all night phone calls and text sessions when your heart is bleeding and show you the love Jesus would show you if only you could feel Him in that moment.

I can look at your scars and show you mine and we can talk about how love and trust and commitment are so hard but by putting on foot in front of the other each day, I got to a place where a knife in my skin is no longer a thought when feeling pain. How instead of drinking to release myself from my prisons, I now talk about my feelings and pain, even when it makes others uncomfortable or provides fuel for them to judge me. That I found other outlets for expressing fear and pain. How opening myself up to love allowed me to fall in love after giving up on it ever happening again and how trusting others allowed me to find friendships I wouldn’t trade for the world. I can walk with you through taking these steps yourself so you can find freedom too.

I can commit to feeling the human experience instead of trying to run from it because it hurts too much to feel pain with others. I can hold your hand as you miscarry your baby, slipping away from your body like the love you thought he was giving you, and I can be by your side when you make the very hard choice to end your babies’ lives when the doctors give you devastating news that it’s your life or theirs. I can be there to tell you I will not judge you because I too have sat in those situations. I can be there to tell you I honestly don’t understand why God takes babies and why there is cancer. I can tell you I still hurt from these losses and decisions but I also know that those babies who didn’t make it to this earth feel as real to me as the two children who stand in front of me looking for me to lead them through this life.

I can tell you that I fall and I want to give up from time to time. That I am tired of all the masks and plastic faces, that I want more from the church because when I read my Bible I see a God who loved His people so much He came to earth and walked WITH them and touched them and had deep connections with even the most casual passerby. I can tell you that I shake my head at my actions and at the church’s actions, but that I also believe we can be better and that is why I stay: to be part of the solution.

Person who has been hurt by the church, I am sorry for the part I played in that hurt. For the times I walked by you or didn’t listen to you when you needed me to. For the times you simply wanted me to extend an invitation or look at you and give you a hug when I hugged everyone else around you.

Please don’t judge Jesus based upon my actions or our faults as a body, rather get to know HIM and we all will rise together. Don’t let where I have failed cause you to walk away from the chance of knowing Him. Instead, tell me how I have hurt you so we can heal together. Talk to me and let me know where I can make it better.

Know that if you choose not to believe He exists, I will still love and walk with you. I still want to speak and enjoy these moments together – the beautiful and sloppy ones, the messy ones and the triumphant ones. I want to rise up with you and see you succeed in the same way I want myself to succeed. I am here for who you are not what you believe, not for who you serve.

With all my heart and all my belief that we can do better,

~Shell

11 Comments on “Dear Person who has Been Hurt by the Church (An Open Letter)

    • Thanks, I just saw it! Ugh… We can all agree there is good reason I stopped editing full time. The eyes just aren’t what they used to be!

      Like

    • Interestingly, the reason I missed it (just saw this as I corrected it) is that my header is now all in caps. Are you on the new editor? Is yours doing that too? That will be interesting to catch in the future. Thanks again!

      Like

  1. Dear Shell,
    When I read your title I had a sense of deja vu! Years ago when I felt impressed by the Lord to write a book, I procrastinated so long, I felt utterly shocked when I walked into a Christian bookshop and saw a book with the same concept and exact title.

    Today when I read the title of your post I felt a similar shock. Because I felt God had impressed me to write a similar post and I had intended to upload it on Valentine’s Day. I neglected to get it done in time and only this weekend I was looking at editing it so I could upload now, rather than keep it as a Valentine post and wait for next year. In each instance I’ve felt as if God had reprimanded me for delaying to obey.

    Thank you for your obedience Shell Vera. Obviously timing is of the essence.

    I am still going to upload mine as it deals with the subject differently and it can’t harm to have more than one open letter reaching out to those who’ve been hurt by the church.

    Have a blessed week!

    Liked by 2 people

    • That has happened to me twice! Once with Holly Furtick and a study she wrote and did with Elevation Church and once with a book released by Lysa TerKeurst. If it makes you feel better, I originally wrote this and posted it to a former blog I wrote many years back – 2017. I was talking with someone today and instead of sharing it from the old post, wanted to be sure it pointed here to the blog I currently write on. 😉

      I look forward to reading yours. And no…it doesn’t hurt for more than one person to apologize for how we’ve represented Jesus improperly.

      Off to fix that typo in my title!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh Shell, I am SO proud of you for writing this! Wow, wow, wow. I am just about speechless. Shared on social media. This message NEEDS to be heard by everyone.

    You have written this so perfectly and powerfully that I can’t add a thing. We, as the Church, need to be people. REAL PEOPLE. We bleed, we hurt, we feel, we fall, we don’t always do what we know we ought to do. People deserve our transparency, our true hearts and our desire to serve those who have been through or are going through the very same things. How can we expect to help anyone if we’re not willing to show our own battle wounds and say, “I understand.”

    I am SICK of phoniness, fake hallelujahs and the religious mentality that is so prevalent in the church today. We can’t help a single soul carrying on like we have. We must have the power of Holy Spirit breaking chains, tearing down walls and healing hearts. Without HIM and His power, we are reduced to nothing.

    THANK YOU THANK YOU for sharing this post. I can’t say enough good about what you’ve just done. God bless you dearest Shell. You are making a difference that counts!!

    Liked by 2 people

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