When I signed up to be a book review blogger last month, one of the books I was most excited to read was this week's featured title: Healing Your Church Hurt: What To Do When You Still Love God But Have Been Wounded by His People by Stephen Mansfield. (The first version of this book was titled ReChurch.) I was excited to read this book because, frankly, I needed it. I still need it. The last year of our time as pastors in North Dakota was fraught with conflict that exhausted me and wore me down. I came to Montana wanting to be very slow about getting involved in church. I would support Christopher is his role as pastor and be a positive presence at church, but I felt just very, very tired of the pain that churches cause. I was bleeding inside and I was pretty angry.
God has slowly been bringing me back from that battle-weary state. He has been so very good to me this year, surrounding me with trustworthy friends with whom I can be real and deepen my faith. He has blessed me with an incredible Bible study where I get to be a participant instead of the leader. There is still healing left to do, but I have begun to feel the cynicism and anger recede and a softness of spirit develop in me.
Healing Your Church Hurt is a book to help people whose hearts have been broken by the Church. Stephen Mansfield writes from the perspective of a man who has been deeply hurt by the Church. He writes of his experience: "For nearly a decade, I had been the pastor of a growing and influential church. It had been a glorious experience and I had loved the life that we shared and the history that we made as this nearly four thousand-member congregation pursued the things of God. But then, for reasons that don't need airing here, it all came to an end amidst conflict and uproar. Oh, it was a classic--complete with a conspiring church board and gossip packaged as 'sharing' in prayer meetings and accusations flying fast and loose. Demons danced and angels wept, and I should say quickly that I sinned too."
Sound familiar? I know that it did to me. Mansfield goes on to write that he was becoming broken and bitter, cynical and angry. He went over the whole horrible story over and over again in his mind, even after he had left the congregation where the wounding occurred. He began to develop hatred for those who had attacked and hurt him. He describes his soul as a "toxic bog" at this point.
Mansfield says that at this point in his descent, God sent him a group of "bold and unapologetic" pastors who took him to task, strongly confronted him, and forced him to face what he needed to so that he could find healing. They were his coaches, helping him to not only heal but begin to live out a hopeful future. But it was hard, strenuous emotional and spiritual work. Since that time, Mansfield found that God was constantly bringing him into contact with people who had been wounded by the Church. He began to realize that inherent in these encounters was a call. This book was written to help fulfill that call. Mansfield now writes to every Christian who is in the position he was in. He writes as if he is now one of the bold, confronting pastors, challenging us as readers to be all God calls us to be.
Throughout the course of the book, I appreciated Mansfield's direct voice. He doesn't tiptoe around the truth but states it baldly and strongly. He does so with compassion and love, but he speaks the truth that sets us free.
One of the chapters that I most appreciated in the book was "The Sea Breeze of the Centuries," in which Mansfield tells the story of several prominent Christians in church history who suffered terrible pain at the hands of other Christians. I don't know why I had never thought of this before, but it never occurred to me that some of the worst pain the heroes of the faith endured was at the hands of other Christians. Mansfield tells of how George Whitefield had rotten eggs and pieces of dead cats thrown at him when he preached, of how he had drummers try to drown out his preaching, of how he once had someone try to urinate on him while he preached. (As someone who once had a prominent congregation member stand up after a sermon I gave and publicly reprimand me for it, I began to feel, reading this, that perhaps I had not had it so bad after all!) Even worse, Whitfield was attacked on theological grounds by his good friend, John Wesley, in a very public way. This wound was perhaps the worst of all. But Mansfield shows how Whitfield worked his way through the pain and found healing. He also tells the stories of St. Patrick, Jonathan Edwards and Bono, and ways that they also encountered wounding at the hands of the Church. But of how they did not stay in that broken place, but went on to healing. These stories were powerful to me and I will likely return to them again and again.
In the remainder of the book, Mansfield continues to speak truth in a direct way to those of us who have been wounded by the Church. He reminds us that we should expect that other sinners are indeed capable of evil, though they are believers; we ought not be sentimental about the people of the Church, but should face the facts as they are. This truth resonated with the Lutheran teaching that believers are fully saint and fully sinner. This does not mean that we cannot grow in character, but it does mean that we will always be flawed and broken and sinful until God takes us home to heaven. And so, we should not be shocked when a Christian wounds us for he or she is still a person in process, a broken person, just like us.
In "The Throne Room of Your Mind," Mansfield provides a powerful image for what to do with the sins committed against us. This single image is worth the price of the book and much more besides; I think it has changed my life. This chapter helped me so much because I have always felt in attempting to forgive someone that I simply don't know what to do with the very real presence of their sin. And so I rehash it again and again. Now, I have a place to put it.
This is a deeply wise, challenging book that every Christian who has been hurt by other Christians should read. It is chock-full of truths that can change your life and transform you from a broken person to whole person. It is also immensely readable. Highly recommended.
5 out of 5 stars
To learn more about this book, visit the Tyndale website here. In addition, you can read a free excerpt by going here. To learn more about Stephen Mansfield, you can visit his personal website as well. Finally, watch this blog for your chance to enter your name in a drawing for a copy of this powerful book.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”