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!
What if your pastor ignores your concerns and won’t change anything, at all, even if your concerns are legit? What if he doesn’t respond to your e-mails when you expressed concerns due to the fact that you are incapable of meeting in person?
Hi He won’t talk to me .won’t answer my texts. Itried to resolve it but he can’t seem to understand. When he does text me. ….send me bad texts.thankyou you have helped helped God bless you.Pauline
I wrote a review of my church that I never posted…basically a way t get my thoughts out. I just wish this family would try to work this out rather than just blocking. but either way you can read it give your two cents:
After being insulted directly by the pastor’s family, and being discarded and abandoned by the pastor’s family; I was told I would only be allowed main service and men’s breakfast—no bible studies. Despite this, I blamed myself thinking I did something wrong; and tried apologizing; only to be told that a). they did not feel slighted and b). my feelings aren’t their responsibility. but let’s think about that: if I ran over your dog by accident; perhaps my actions were unintentional; but your dog is now my responsibility; the damages done financially and emotionally are now my responsibility, even though the dog is not. I may not be able to bring the dog back; but I am responsible to that owner, am I not? In the same way, when you hurl insults, and abandon people without a word; are you not responsible for the damage to that person? I won’t sit here and tell you I played no part, because I did; and I tried to put myself in their shoes and sense their discomfort; but my main issue with all of this is that it doesn’t seem like they think they did anything wrong; when they clearly did. When I tried bringing my concerns to the pastor; I received blocks from the entire family on social media; another clear indicator I was not really “welcome,” though they insisted I was (mind you, I was only allowed to main worship). After a couple attempts at reconciliation, was told they were doing boundaries as a way to help me move forward. It was all very coded and lacking information and felt either more like an outing, or a way to make their lives easier. If their intention was to help me; it did no such thing as the only thing it did was cause my own family to abandon me for seeking mental help; and destroy any trust I had left in the church; it is almost as if when I walk into a church I expect to be betrayed now.
If your boundary involves not allowing someone to worship with you; I honestly question your heart. The funny thing is I know what most people are going to say: “I just need to forgive them.” And this is the crux of the problem: When Jesus talked about forgiveness, there was this little precursor: “if they come to you and repent, you must forgive them.” I went to them for anything I might have done; but have yet to hear any repentance from them. And, IF it is indeed true as the pastor said I didn’t do anything wrong; then it would follow there would be no need to punish me (even now I still feel that I did do something wrong; but even so I tried to make amends for what I believed my actions to be). To confuse things even further, the pastor said my actions have consequences, and that I have to take responsibility for my actions. But….I thought you said there’s no animosity and didn’t feel slighted? So….which is it? Because I have been very forward about my actions and tried accepting responsibility on my part, while your family has not taken any, despite calling me “barely tolerable,” shutting me out without warning, and blocking me on social media, AND one of the church’s facebook pages. (my mental health issues only took effect after the shunning, not before).. The pastor even told me to, “respect their space, and wait for them to come back, and then embrace them,” filling me with a false hope, because that day never came.
The whole issue here is I’m being told to respect boundaries. The problem is that the boundaries, and how they were implemented, were extremely disrespectful; and my feelings and concerns were not respected to begin with.
To further exacerbate this issue; I’ve heard some of the sermons…about how we should reconcile, love annoying people, if they knew this about me could they still love me…I heard it all….but unfortunately, none of it was true in my case.
I need prayer my pastor has a problem with me everything that I say or do he knocks it down but would you pray with me for God to intervene on this situation
I’m very sorry it sounds like your pastor and his family have shortcomings -as we all . We all fall short of the glory that is God. Insecurity after setting oneself-on a pedestal leaves many pastors aggressive instead of gracefully peaceful-which is the position of spiritual strength Seek in prayer perhaps a bible study in a church that is humble and accepting. Do not give rise to anger or shame. Gods love is the greatest. It doesn’t even slightly compare to a spiritually immature pastor or elitist church. You are worthy. You are seen. You are heard.
“To whom much is given, much is required “ and the Bible also says few should seek becoming teachers because teachers will be judged more strictly. What is a pastor if not a teacher? Every sermon is a lesson, or at least should be. Pastors should not preach a sermon THEY are not living themselves. There’s nothing that harms and divides a church more than a pastor who is NOT doing the very things he is teaching everyone ELSE to do. The lone church member spreading gossip, for example, can cause much damage, but often once other members catch on, they’ll start to tune that person out. It’s likely once that member is disciplined by the church, they’ll either stop what they’re doing, or they’ll leave. But a pastor who doesn’t live what he preaches, yet surrounds himself with “yes men” who never challenge him, or call him out, can cause even more damage, because he never faces disciplinary actions. Everyone is afraid to confront the pastor; they may lose their job, or their position on the board. If the board members don’t confront him, who will? The church members may try, but often that ends up with nothing being solved, so the member quietly leaves. That leaves a trail of suspicion, usually only towards the one that left. Suddenly they’re labeled “rebellious “ because they left, when that may not be the real reason, at all!! Nothing is done because the pastor is put on a pedestal he does NOT deserve. They say “he’s only human” but their unwillingness to confront him betrays that, because often he’s treated like he’s somehow better or more holy than everyone else in the church. He’s treated as “untouchable” by the staff, the board, and the church in general. When it serves him and makes his actions “excusable”, he’s “only human”, but when he does something obviously questionable, suddenly he becomes “untouchable and above reproach”. I believe in respecting the pastor, but I don’t believe they should be untouchable. If indeed they are “only human” (and they are) then they are just as capable of making mistakes, some more harmful than others, and therefore should be humble enough to receive correction without holding it against those that bring it. The Bible said a new Christian is not to be promoted too fast, else it goes to his head, and causes him to sin. If a man is promoted to become the pastor of a church, then he should have conquered most of the things he might have struggled with before. Even though he WILL make mistakes, and that’s ok if he learns from them, he should not preach on things he himself still does and hasn’t yet overcome. A lone church member can cause division amongst groups of people and should be disciplined. If they refuse to change they should be expelled from the church. But a pastor can do even more damage, especially if no one confronts him, and can cause harm to an ENTIRE
church. I know of a couple of churches like that, so I speak from experience. One pastor in particular refused to meet with me for even 15 minutes to discuss something; a very legitimate concern. I wanted to do it the way the Bible says to, first meeting in private (of course with his wife present which is appropriate), then if necessary taking a witness with me. That’s biblical! But he wouldn’t give me 15 minutes of his time. If he’s too busy for THAT, then something is wrong. But I wonder how much time he’d have given me if I was someone “important” like a local politician, or a celebrity, or the mayor…He’d have cleared his schedule of EVERYTHING else, and given me two hours! In my experience, although I’m in church somewhere else now, and I respect my pastor, I’ll NEVER put him or any church leader on a pedestal.
Thanks so much for the article. I was just stuffing the hurt and wondering how I could escape. But, I now see you that pastors and priests are vulnerable, and I like the idea of lovingly not putting myself in a position to receive put downs and being used. Prevention is so much better than receiving the hurt.
This one is really recent. I went to a vespers because I do like them and midway through my priest made a remark, giving an example of literal mindedness and everyone included him laughed at it. I have ASD, am VERY literal minded and sensitive about it.
I was hurt, mad and depressed so I have him to thank. I wrote an open letter which I know he’s read and he’s been acting like a hurt puppy.
What chaps my ass is that I gave him support via email for a health problem, no response, pretty much ignored the fact that I had surgery, never asked how I was etc. Not even a happy birthday!
Will fight indifference with indifference I guess.