These kind of painful church experiences take quite a lot of debriefing and processing to try to understand. I hope people in that situation can be surrounded by good friends who they can share with. I would also recommend seeing a counselor because counselors are accustomed to seeing people struggle with pain, bitterness and anger. Whenever any of us have experienced deep hurt from people in the church, it is usually very difficult to trust church leaders and enjoy worship for a long time. It helps to find a new Christian community where they can experience healing. Sometimes this healing begins to take place at a huge anonymous church where you can go and just let the music flow over you and you can focus on God. Other times healing begins in a small group or a little church plant where "what you see is what you get" and there is no power or money to complicate decision-making. (I like large and small churches by the way).
It can be particularly difficult for worship leaders or those who were involved in church leadership. There are definite occupational hazards for all of us involved in church ministry. We can’t help but enjoy the applause of people. We may love doing the ministry. A worship leader loves singing. I love making insightful contributions in an important leadership meeting. We may be doing these things out of joy and a heart to serve the Lord. And yet we also enjoy it when people say, "Great singing" or "What would we do without you Andy?" God help us all.
We will always have mixed motives. But this is not a license to revel in the adulation without reflection. We must also always check our motives against the Scriptures and hear truthful even painful feedback from other wise people.
I feel for worship leaders who end up leaving churches in frustration. I worked with worship leaders for the last five years and every week we talked about these sort of issues. Our constant prayer was: "Lord, I confess that I want to look good but most of all I want you to look good. Lord, we want the music to go well and the sound to go smoothly but most of all we want you to be glorified and for your people to be built up in you.”
These sorts of experiences can happen at the best churches.
When a person feels deeply hurt by a church, I often hear the elders and pastors express deep sincere regret about the situation. They say things like "We totally admit that we didn't handle that situation as well as we could have. We are sorry for your hurt. You asked some questions and we were busy and didn't take the time to sit down and have a good chat about things. Since we didn't sit down and chat at the beginning when the concerns were small, our miscommunication deteriorated into this painful situation. Motives got misconstrued. Stress grew. People chose sides. People gossiped. We're sorry it turned out so painful for you. We would love to go back to the beginning and handle it differently. We are thankful that you were involved serving at our church. Right now, communication and trust has broken down between us so it is probably good you are taking a break from your leadership position but we hope that trusting communication can be restored and you can continue to be involved in leadership here or at another church. We want you to know that we have learned from this experience. In the future, we are committed to trying to debrief more regularly with others in similar situations. We want to listen well to everyone on the front lines so no one else has a similar experience."
I can write the above very quickly because I have had to apologize many times for my insensitivity and lack of courage. I have too often let issues go too long without addressing them and the situation has turned sour because I did not address it early by saying: “Are you doing ok? Can we talk for a few minutes? Perhaps it’s nothing but I noticed this little thing and just wanted to know if everything is going ok.” Or other times I have determined to "address the situation" and done so in such a way that the person was hurt and the situation turned sour. May God give us grace with one another.
I edited this post on September 14, 2006.