Forgiving People In The Church - Jake Smith, Jr.

Church was God’s idea for the wellbeing of his kids. It is a vital and important component in our spiritual lives. Unfortunately, though, sometimes some of us get hurt by people in the church or those in ministry. Much of the time, these hurts were unintended. Regardless it is important for us to experience the freedom of forgiveness related to things that happen even from those in ministry.

Podcast host, Kim Mitchell, had a good experience with the church during her solo parent journey but as a preacher’s kid she understands and have seen the hurt that can happen. “People are people, and human” but as a single mom she received love and support from those in her church. No church is perfect though and inevitably many of us have experienced hurt from people in the church.

Jake Smith, Jr., founder of Plumline, an organization focused on wholeness and growing healthy relationships joined the podcast to talk further about this very topic. As a former pastor and church planter he helped build thriving ministries but like many of us, he too has experienced his share of hurt and the journey of forgiveness as a result.

As someone who has been both a church member and a church leader, Jake has a perspective from both positions. Jake shares that hurt is the feeling when we have been harmed emotionally, spiritually, mentally, or physically. Harm results in feeling hurt. Another feeling follows us afterward – fear. We feel at risk of being harmed again in one or more of those ways. Whether the risk is legitimate or not, fear becomes part of our experience after we’ve been hurt.

Forgiveness is needed after we’ve been harmed. Jake grew up in the church and served as a pastor for twenty-one years. Not only has he been hurt and harmed within the church, but Jake admits that he has also been the one who has caused hurt and harm, not intentionally, but in his own imperfection and woundedness. Jake shares that we must understand this dynamic because it reveals an important truth. Our wounds, when denied and ignored and not addressed intentionally, are the very reason we end up harming others unconsciously today.

Being honest about the ways we have been hurt and the ways we have caused hurt is an important part of the healing journey. Robert shares that just hearing a pastor acknowledge they have caused harm is healing in some way, “When we face our own humanity and when someone in authority that we have elevated says, “I am equal. I am capable of [causing hurt].”

What does forgiveness look like and why is it important?
Jake works daily with people on deep heart issues. He asks, “Where are we left when we have been wounded and feel hurt?” Jake says if we believe in church as “important” it’s this idea that, “It’s important to practice my faith alongside others. It’s essential for my own growth, healing, and transformation that I can’t get outside of a body of believers practicing faith together.” When we have that belief and have been hurt by people in the church that leaves us with three steps that are essential.
Step 1: The work of forgiveness
Step 2: The work of healing
Step 3: The work of trying again

“These are not linear steps”, Jake continues, but they are an essential process when we’ve been hurt by the church.

And it matters, because “Forgiveness is an essential part of our personal growth and development.” When we don’t address our hurt, we limit our ability to heal from it. Healing requires us to “go back and look it in the eye.” When we aren’t willing to do that, and ignore our hurt, the hurt doesn’t go away. “It slinks into the shadows and devolves and morphs into this hideous monster called resentment.” If we continue to ignore it, “It keeps devolving and becomes this ugly thing called revenge. Revenge says, “I’m going to make you hurt like you hurt. I’m going to make you feel the same wounds…that I was caused.” Jake says, “This will torpedo your life and it will steal what Jesus longs for us to have – “life abundantly” and healthy relationships with others.” He says, “It is critical that we not ignore, numb out, or just move on from our hurt. We must be intentional about forgiveness, we must be intentional about healing, and we must be courageous enough to try again.”

Robert has seen a friend go through the process of ignoring hurt and he has watched it turn into resentment and then revenge and it is just causing turmoil. Forgiveness matters.

Robert shares that a recent study shows that 67% of single parents don’t attend church anymore because they feel like they don’t belong, or they feel judged. As a single dad, he felt lonelier attending church than ever before. Sometimes it is hard to pin down the source of hurt. Why don’t single parents feel like they don’t belong? How can they “forgive” when the source of that discomfort is hidden?

Jake says feeling work is important because it represents a need that our hearts have. The only way we can ensure that the needs of our hearts are met in a healthy way (which is our responsibility) is to know what we feel. “The need of hurt is attention. As we are stumbling back into church, limping back into church…that’s what we are looking for. We are seeking out that need to be attended to.” When our children fall of their back and scrape their knee. They come to us, upset, maybe crying. They need our attention. They need us to see that they have been hurt. They need us to say, “That looks like that hurts”. They need us to clean it and doctor it and then sit in our laps as we acknowledge their pain.
This is the same thing that we need when we’ve been wounded inside the church. We need to be attended to and nurtured by someone who is safe and can show empathy. We need someone to hold that space for us. The encouraging thing is that it doesn’t take that long. It takes more intentionality than it takes time.

So how do we forgive a church that hasn’t been attentive?
Jake shares there are two parts to forgiveness. There is the internal part that only we can do. There is an external part of engagement that we need others to help me with. The internal part is resisting the resentment and staying in the hurt. No one else can do that for us. We must do that for ourselves. When we have been harmed in the church, and I notice the hurt is going toward resentment, pointing a finger at the person, blaming, being vengeful. The work of forgiveness is not letting resentment take hold of me. It’s “backing up” and staying in the hurt by honoring what happened. Acknowledge what was done and what was said. Acknowledge what it cost you and what you lost.  If we do that alone, that often doesn’t lead to a good place. We need our hurt to be attended to.

So how do we find our way forward when church doesn’t feel comfortable or safe?
We may find that as we go into church, we are triggered and afraid. If the wound is fresh or it’s never been addressed, we will find ourselves entering church feeling tense and telling ourselves false narratives. We may be defensive, projecting untruths unto everyone there. We may feel like people are out to get us. We start making universal statements about “all” churches or “everybody”, assuming nobody cares about us and our pain. It can be difficult. There is only one way healing can happen. We have to be willing to sit with other people and talk out loud about our hurt and experience their response. We get to choose who those people are. They don’t have to be people at church. It can be those we know in our social circles who are Christ followers that are trusted and have my interests in mind. As part of our healing, we may need to take a break from an organized, brick and mortar experience on Sundays, or small groups on Wednesdays. We may have to self-select safe people we know and take a “where two or three are gathered, I am with you” approach to church for a while.

This approach allows us to take responsibility of having our needs met. Forgiveness can start with internal work. There may be a specific person who we feel hurt by. We may need to ask ourselves, what type of relationship, if any, we want with that person. That answer will help inform how we move ahead. But we can still do our own work of forgiveness apart from them. And, if there isn’t a specific person involved but rather, we have a generalized sense of not belonging at church, we can take steps to find out what is going on inside of us to address the hurt we feel and seek the attention we need in our own community. “If we are at war and you get shot, it doesn’t matter who pulled the trigger, you still need your wound to be attended to”, says Jake. You need to retreat from the front lines so you can get the help and healing you need.

An important part of forgiveness is being willing to seek out help. If we remain hidden and silent, we end up giving other people more power than is theirs to own. Jake shares that often the soil for when a wound is formed is when we give other people responsibility for our wants and needs to be met and they don’t respond the way we want. But it’s not up to them. As adults it is our responsibility to be sure our wants and needs are met in a healthy way. That means we must be willing to ask, and when we ask, we have to be willing to hear no and continue to seek out other avenues.

What about when we feel judged by the church?
Some single parents have been told, whether directly or by inference, that they need to wait before they can serve. Some feel less than welcome or dismissed. Maybe we feel defective and unwanted. Sometimes, as single parents, we are the ones misjudging others. We may be assuming things that aren’t accurate.

Jake shares that we can’t control if other people judge us, but we can control who we choose to be in relationship and community with. Sometimes we assign power outside of us to people or an organization or church that feels like they are “the end all, be all.” If they don’t validate or receive us, it can feel like such deep rejection but that is not true. Part of the work of forgiveness and healing is negotiating relationships in new ways. We may choose not to have any relationship anymore. It may change. You may choose to play a different role in the relationship. These changed boundaries and renegotiated relationships are one of the growth points of working through our hurt. We may need to ask ourselves, “Why am I staying in a place where I am being judged?” If you truly are being judged, that isn’t a safe place for us as we recover. We can choose differently. As we step into forgiveness and healing, step three is trying again. We may need to try again somewhere different.

Jake says, “My heart will seek to have my needs met with or without me.” The prophet Jeremiah says the heart is deceitful above all things. And that is what happens when we aren’t in tune with how we feel. When we aren’t considering what our heart needs, it starts to slink around seeking to have those needs met in unhealthy ways. Unattended hurt goes to resentment and then to revenge. We act impulsively or compulsively trying to have our needs met. We have to honor our hurt and be intentional about forgiveness and healing.

How can we forgive people in the church?
We must recognize our hurt and notice when it slides toward resentment. We must manage our heart and stay in the hurt. That is step one. Step two is the work of healing. Therapist Adam Young says that healing happens when you remember what happened through both the heart and the mind. The mind remembers facts. Start there. Then remember through the heart. Remember how it felt. Then share that with other safe people and experience their response, not with advice or reasoning, but from their heart.  When we can do that, healing happens.
1. Resist resentment and stay in the hurt.
2. Remember what happened through the mind and heart.
3. Talk out loud about it with a group of safe people.
4. Ask them to respond from their heart.
Sitting in a circle of safe human beings that we choose to share our story with is powerful.  The gifts we receive when we do that are courage and healing.

But what about times when we feel as if we shouldn’t speak up about hurts within the church because it is the body of Christ? We can choose the circles we heal in. We can be careful, controlled, and selective in who we share our stories with. These circles should be confidential, not offer advice and not try to fix us. This is very different than venting to anybody who will listen to your hurts. It can be very damaging if we run around and share from a place of resentment or revenge seeking. That kind of sharing is not the path to forgiveness or healing. We need to choose wisely those you can share and process with safely.

 As single parents, how can we safely process our hurts without it negatively impacting our kids?
Jake shares the number one way it can affect our kids is if we start projecting our hurt and protecting them from being hurt. Kids are perceptive. If you don’t talk to them about it, they will start to tell themselves a story about what happened, and they will form their own beliefs apart from the facts. If our kids sense our hurt but we don’t talk about it, they may begin to see the church as the enemy. Jake says talk to your kids about it but do it in age appropriate ways. They don’t need to know details or specifics. You can authentically say to them, “I still believe deeply in God, has a relationship with Him. I still think it’s important to have community with other Christians, but I feel called to find that in a different place so I’m searching for that.” We can let our kids see us practicing our faith in an intentional way, through a small group of believers, as we are seeking the next right step. We can also let our kids continue to participate in ways that are good and healthy for them. Maybe they can go with another family, or we may still drop them off for youth group. Our journey doesn’t necessarily have to be theirs. We can choose what is best for us as we heal and help them with what is best for them.

Forgiving people in the church is vital because hurts will happen. It’s how we handle them that determines our path of healing. There is no such thing as a functional family, whether nuclear or spiritual. There are only healthy or unhealthy families. Healthy families talk about things. Unhealthy families will not. Seek out communities where you can be authentic and talk through things from your heart and your mind. There is no perfect church. Don’t be surprised if your hurts are still present. Forgiveness and healing are processes. Dietrich Bonhoeffer warns us to be careful that we don’t put too many expectations and ideals on any community of believers. We must accept that our toes will get stepped on and you will step on others’ toes. The key is finding a community where people will talk about it and allow you to as well.


Every month we focus on a theme important to single parents and this month our focus is on Forgiveness. Each week in our online Solo Parent Society groups, we talk further about these topics.
Single parents, we invite you to join the discussion in any one of our groups, meeting 6 days a week. Check out our game nights too for laughter and connection.
As you walk the journey of single parenting, we want you to know you are not alone! Solo Parent Society’s mission is to offer encouragement and hope through our weekly groups,  our communities on Facebook and Instagram (@soloparentsociety), and our weekly podcast. Subscribe here on AccessMore or wherever you get your podcasts. You can access all of this and more using the free Solo Parent app.

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