She didn’t look the same.
What was once a person beaming with joy was now a shell of who she was. I was talking with a friend who had shared a very challenging time in her life where she felt that her pastor had emotionally and spiritually abused her.
What do you do when your pastor hurts you?
A pastor bears spiritual authority and a lot of times, their words, actions, or lack thereof can cause pain to people around them.
Many I feel have been in a similar situation to this young woman. Perhaps you feel alone; perhaps you feel guilty, or even ashamed. I can’t pretend to know exactly how your situation should be played out, but it seemed, based on how common this occurs, I would recommend several lifesavers to help you move to a healthier place.
Let it be said if you are being physically or sexually assaulted by someone in a position of leadership, you should stop reading this article and seek help, leave the situation, and or law enforcement immediately.
This article is aimed at more milder cases where there is, within each of you, the ability to seek peaceable resolution.
Here are my recommendations on how to proceed with these situations of when your pastor hurts you.
Lifesavers to Bring Healing
1. Journal, and seek to understand
My first recommendation is spend extensive time journaling. I find in any conflict (not just one with your pastor), that it is extremely important to first understand what is going on inside of your own heart and mind.
If you haven’t already, I recommend, checking out my resource Journaling for Spiritual Transformation as a guide to help.
But even if you don’t pick that up, here is a primer to help you you navigate through this journey.
Journal and name your feelings. Are you hurt? Are you scared? Are you embarrassed? What are the emotions you feel?
Identity the actions that caused those feelings. Was something said to you? Was something not said?
Is there a perspective that God wants you to take? Listen as your journal about things that you may not be seeing clearly from this event.
It is very important that you learn how to articulate the condition of your heart prior to doing any of the next steps. It will help you grow as a person, help you see where God is in this situation, and give you clarity about what you need to do next.
Always start with journaling when your pastor hurts you.
2. Forgive First, Reconcile Later
Forgive first, reconcile later.
Reconcile is a two way road. But forgiveness is a one way road.
What that means is that, even prior to reconciliation, you can commit to have forgiveness in your heart.
Regardless of whether you are right or wrong, having a posture of forgiveness towards anyone frees your heart to think and feel clearly.
As someone wisely said, holding bitterness is a like drinking poison wishing someone else would drink it. Bitterness only corrupts and ruins you.
Remember Hebrews 12:15:
See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;Hebrews 12:15
When your pastor hurts you, intentionally or intentionally, free yourself from the effects of bitterness by choosing to forgive. We will approach reconciliation later.
3. Set up Appropriate Boundaries.
In Henry Cloud’s iconic book Boundaries, he talks about how there are things that we can control and things that we can’t control.
If you are being mistreated, what you may not be able to control is whether that person chooses to mistreat you. But what you can control is whether you choose to accept it. You can also control whether you put yourself in positions to receive it. You also control whether you choose to say anything if and when you receive it.
When there is love flowing and no conflict, we should live every relationship with an open heart and an open hand.
However, out of loving ourselves, and honoring the temple that is our body, putting up boundaries is an appropriate response to when we the two-way bridge of reconciliation is not yet complete.
When your pastor hurts you, until you and your pastor have come to a place where you both have understanding and have achieved reconciliation, it is appropriate to set up boundaries to protect yourself and to buy you time until you’ve come to a place where you can initiate reconciliation (more on that later).
4. Seek Counsel, But Don’t Gossip
It is important to remember that this isn’t a situation you have to take on alone.
If, after spending time journaling and reflecting, you still need some resolution, it is wise to seek the counsel of someone who is wise and godly. A third party helps in several areas.
First, they serve as an unbiased feedback loop. Not saying that this is the case for you, but unfortunately, pain is blinder of seeing the truth.
We want to delivered from the situation where we see only the truth of our pain. Having a third party helps us perhaps see things in a light that we may not have seen before. They may have the benefit of just giving objective observations. A wise person will give you objective observations versus just taking sides.
Second, they can give you advice and insight you may not have. A third party, who may know the pastor, perhaps can give you insights into the meaning behind actions or words.
It is important to make a distinction between seeking counseling and gossiping.
When we are gossiping, we are seeking to be justified and to dishonor. To participate in gossip is drive you further away from your goal. You will, in fact be, as I mentioned before, drinking the poison of bitterness.
When we seek counsel, however, we are simply seeking to understand. We are seeking to understand the truth, and to understand how to proceed well. We are doing this with humility and with courage.
When your pastor hurts you, seek counsel when appropriate.
When your pastor hurts you, and you have taken he prior steps, and you have clarity that you want to move towards a place of healing and wholeness, here is some guidance on how to achieve reconciliation when your pastor hurts you.
Approaching your pastor can be daunting. I get it.
However, understand a few things:
First, if your pain is legitimate then it should be resolved. We don’t want a situation where you harbor bitterness towards your pastor unrightfully and you no longer can receive from them.
Second, your pastor is part of the body of Jesus just as much as you are. See these opportunities as a way to help your pastor learn and grow. Absolutely most pastors you will meet (except for a few) are absolutely insecure about whether they’re doing a good job. Those types relish the opportunity to hear directly from the people they are leading to hope they are doing a good job.
If you’re up for it, here is some really practical and confidence-building guidance on resolving when your pastor hurts you.
How to Approach Your Pastor
Depending on your situation, you may approach this a different way, but in general I find it helpful to approach this remembering that, even though your pastor is in a position of authority, that they are human as well.
They are humans who make mistakes, have feelings, are busy, etc. The approach I recommend is one that assumes the best about someone without compromising the legitimacy of what you’ve experienced.
Depending on your church and its size, you may not be able to get quality time with your pastor in passing.
Based on the gravity of the situation, it seems best to me to find a time to meet with your pastor in an alone setting either on the phone or in their office.
What that means is that you’ll have to pencil in a time to have that conversation somewhere. What that also means is that it would happen outside of normal ministry times where your pastor is in public-ministry mode (e.g. Sundays), thinking about many people at once.
You can however set the conversation starter on a Sunday in passing. Something like this can work:
“Hey Pastor, it’s good to see you. I was wondering if you had time sometime this week to talk about some things that I’ve been thinking about?”
What I like about this approach is that 1) it’s friendly and cordial 2) you’re asking for committed time 3) you haven’t disclosed what you want to talk about
If they press you on what you wanted to talk about, I recommend keeping it ambiguous and saying something to the effect of
“Yes that’s a good question. Is it okay if I share with you when we meet because there’s a lot of thoughts and I’m not prepared to share right now?”
At that point you should be able to pencil in a time.
What to Do When You Meet
When you actually meet with them, here’s how I recommend structuring the time:
- Say Your Intent
- Explain objectively
- Share how they impacted you
- Wait and Expect an Apology
For me, I think it’s always important to start with honor.
This isn’t flattery. If you want to read more about what I’m talking about, I recommend reading Danny Silk’s great book The Practice of Honor.
The point is that, even though people make mistakes, we want to still honor people. Even though your pastor hurts you, we want to see the gold in people despite their imperfections.
Honor speaks the truth.
“Hey pastor. First off thank you for meeting. I want to start off by saying thank you for all your hard work at our church. Thank you for the ways you serve us and the ways you’ve impacted my life.”
We should always be in the mentality of building each other up, even if we are going to give a correction next.
Say Your Intent
The next is to explain why you want to meet. This helps frame the time.
“I wanted to meet because I wanted to talk about some things in our relationship and in our interaction that have impacted me. Do you mind if I explain?”
I like this approach because it really keeps it me-centered. The thing we want to avoid is throwing arrows and casting stones. This is continuing the route of “assuming the best” and winning an ally and giving people the chance to see from your perspective.
The next step is to explain the actions objectively. We don’t want to start with how you’re feeling or how they’re wrong. Rather we want to focus on actions and or patterns.
“A month ago, when we were in a meeting. You may not remember this but you said something to the effect of [what they said]. I think what you meant was [assume the best] but I wanted to share how those words impacted me.”
This is a powerful tool to merely share an observation. Metaphorically, this is akin to you and your pastor sitting on the couch together looking at a situation in partnership together. This is better than the approach of sitting across from each other and pointing fingers.
This approach is more collaborative and can separate actions and their impact.
Share how they impacted you
Next is to share how those actions impacted you.
Do not say from a “you” perspective. But from a “me” perspective. What I mean is don’t say “you hurt me.” What I mean is say “those actions hurt me.”
Here’s an example:
“Those words made me feel really hurt because [why]. I think you probably didn’t intend it but I wanted to share how those words made me feel.”
Wait and Expect an Apology
At this point, a good pastor will not make excuses as to what they did. Good intentions are not the same as bad actions.
It’s okay if your pastor had good intentions and misfired. We are not expecting an apology for intention. We are expecting an apology for action.
Most of the times, your pastor will say sorry, and you’ll be able to walk into reconciliation.
If done well, your heart will be healed and your pastor will have grown as a pastor and a leader. If done well, you’ve taken this occasion of when your pastor hurts you and turned it into something better for everyone!
I hope this guide was helpful in navigating when you pastor hurts you.
Phil’s Encouragement: Live a Life of Peace and Love
I hope that this guide has been helpful to you in navigating what is a tricky situation.
Understand that my heart in writing this is so that you could live a life of peace and love.
I want to spare you from the trouble of having bitterness in your heart, because as Hebrews says, it is a root. And roots give life to poisonous trees.
Thankfully, Jesus armed us with the mindset and the tools to having peace in our hearts and in our relationships. It starts with understanding that we were meant to live in peace and love.
I pray that you would experience the peace and love of Jesus as you walk through life’s disappointments and pains.
My joy and the aim of this site is to help readers go deeper in their Christian faith.
In the spirit of going deeper, I mentioned a few resources in the article that I wanted to consolidate here if you were interested.
I wrote this short article as reminder that relationships take endurance.
This is a great book about being a person of honor:
This is a great book about setting up boundaries in relationships.
How was this article for you? Were there things you did to navigate when your pastor hurts you?
Leave your questions or comments in the comments below!