“Oh, I read that book, too.” The older woman we shall call, Nancy said. She talked incessantly and fast, like her words could not keep up with her thoughts. She interrupted constantly. The bitter root had taken hold of her soul. “I have all the self-help books.” Nancy added as she complained about everyone and everything. Bitterness attracts other negative people. She enjoyed a friendship with another woman who blamed the church for her own lack of boundaries. Unforgiving church members are difficult.
In, When Good Samaritans Get Mugged by David R. Stokes, it says,
“But here’s the thing to remember; unresolved anger is like a gateway drug. It opens the door to the harder stuff and deeper sins. In fact the most dangerous kind of anger is when we feel justified in how we feel, because an injustice was done. (Pg. 51)”
In our story, Nancy would eventually manipulate the other woman to the detriment of another Christian. Nancy had a library of oft read spiritual self-help books, like the one above. None helped her resolve her issues inside and outside. In fact, her bitterness was catching. In a group setting, she shared several negative stories about church. The leader struggled to control the growing wildfire of negativity in a group that was meant to help women grow in their relationship with Christ. Nancy had come to enjoy the attention from the negativity and was not stopped. How does this apply to online discipleship?
You are not the only one to share stories of church hurt online. Others, too, thought that by sharing negative stories another unchurched would resonate and they can minister to the person; perhaps change their minds, too. But if we put all the negative stories from blogs and social media together, it shouts, “I hate church, but God says I have to go.” This doesn’t convince people that church is a good environment when we ignore the positive that happens every day in church. How then can we minister to the hurting online?
Sheila Walsh once talked about how we do need to vent to let the poison out or it festers (The Heartache No One Sees). Do we vent online or do we find a trusted friend who has our best interests at heart? Does our online humor hide an angry sarcasm? Church hurt is real as Nancy’s behavior testifies. Using Scripture as a weapon or articles to pressure or force someone to attend our church is not a good solution. Instead, foster that relationship with the person through serving them online in kindness. Let them talk to you via video chat, private message, etc. Walk them through their grief. Help them trust again and guide them to better boundaries. When they are ready, invite them to church or help them find one in their area through online research. This is not easy.
You have heard the phrase, “Hurt people hurt people.” This is true. When you read some of the Bible stories like David’s life and relationships in the Old Testament, you will see stories that reflect this. Love is counter cultural though and asks us to make different choices. While Nancy was toxic and destroyed relationships, her friend could have been guided with time and patience. As a church body, it will take all of us to minister to the unbeliever and the unchurched. Personalities clash so you do the hand off and pray as another ministers to the difficult person. This is the church in action. These are the stories you don’t hear behind the shout of, “I hate church.” While we are not a building, but a global body, we are, or should be, united in similar theology to help those who have wandered and direct the lost.
But none of this is possible without first praying. Are you doing ministry without prayer? God’s work is about building His kingdom. We must do the hard work of prayer together before we follow the calling.