July 31, 2017

Painful Church Moments: 6 Ways to Begin the Healing Process


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Church hurts are the worst hurts.  

At first, this sounded like a gross overstatement. But as I thought about this sentiment, I realized it expressed serious truth that is often ignored.

Churches experience terribly painful moments: scandal, loss, division, family tragedy. These identify just a few of the rough waters that church leaders must traverse.

As I work with more and more churches, I’m realizing two things. First, painful moments are unavoidable. No church is immune. And second, a church cannot heal from something it doesn’t acknowledge. Responding well in these moments is the difference between getting stuck or moving forward together.

Recently, I spent time discussing church hurts with a professional counselor who has walked alongside churches that are struggling through difficult and unforeseen circumstances. He shared with me six keys a church cannot afford to ignore when leading through a pain-filled season.  

Don’t ignore:

1) That your situation really is unique.

Yes, other churches have had similar scenarios to battle. But your specific season, church culture, community context, relational dynamics, etc. affect the situation. It is often a short-sighted shortcut to imitate what another church did and hope everything will be fine.

2) That people need to know.  

It’s true that everyone doesn’t need to know everything, but under-communicating builds distrust.  In moments like these, taking time to define the communication circles (crowd, congregation, community, core) helps shape the appropriate information necessary for each group. Do not believe the lie that the platform is the only place to communicate. Consider leveraging other forms of communication (email, phone, meetings, etc.) to provide additional, less public spaces for processing.

3) That you need professional help.  

Engaging a professional who is trained and skilled at helping identify the complex layers of emotion, expectation, and fear that accompany a hurtful moment will better inform and shape the appropriate response that your church needs to heal.

4) That the Lead Pastor also needs to heal.

Too often the senior leader is so busy helping others heal that their own well-being is not considered. But there is a terrible cost to this decision. Unaddressed pain and loss eat away at things like calling, confidence, energy and passion. Eventually everyone involved in the church will pay the cost if their needs aren’t acknowledged. 

5) That authenticity really matters.  

Telling the truth eliminates many questions and future suspicions. People desire human leaders who behave with integrity. Clever public-relation spins develop a culture of cover-up that opposes the biblical values of confession, unity and, most of all, truth-in-love communication.  

6) That reactions are not limited by time.  

Do not believe that your church is on the other side of this moment just because it was communicated publicly. Our strongest emotional responses often take time to be acknowledged and expressed. Employing a culture of “once it’s over we never speak of this” is simply not healthy. Making a topic completely off limits breeds a toxic culture of guilt and shame.

As your church works its way through these painful moments, don’t forget that perfection is not the horizon to navigate toward. Sustained health is.  

Remember, what we hide in the dark cannot be impacted by the light.  

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Founder and Lead Strategist of The Unstuck Group. Started in 2009, The Unstuck Group has served 500 churches throughout the United States and several countries around the world. Previously, Tony served on the senior leadership teams of three rapidly growing churches including NewSpring Church in South Carolina. He has five published books including, The Unstuck Church, and, with Amy Anderson, he hosts The Unstuck Church Podcast which has thousands of listeners each month.

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