Five Ways to Respond to People Angry with God or Hurt by the Church

Let me confess to a struggle I have and admit, I may be short on answers about this problem.

Still, I suspect others share my dilemma and it’s important we have this conversation.

How should those of us who thrive in relationship with Jesus and find deep community in the church respond to those who “tried Jesus” and found Him lacking or who have left the church because their experience was damaging?

I cringe when I see a news article or blog post written by someone clearly angry with God or the church who found “happiness and fulfillment” by leaving. Each situation differs, so we can’t really form blanket answers. Of course, like Christ, we need to exercise compassion, but what does that look like because Jesus also never compromised the truth?

From individuals in the LGBTQ community who found “freedom” by leaving the church or by forming churches open to their lifestyles,

to individuals who were damaged by “patriarchy,”

to children who grew up in the faith who never felt understood or in sync with the “real world,”

to those who felt disillusioned when their families faced rejection over divorce or abuse the church didn’t address,

to those who suffered under unmerciful and heartless authority, these stories are not something we should just dismiss.

Their voices carry weight because they were once “inside,” church-goers, family. As voices testifying against the faith and as souls valuable to our Father, they merit attention. Many of us simply read their stories, sort it out in our minds, and move on, but I don’t think that always serves the greater conversation.

Here are some foundational ideas for discussion:

First, do no harm. Quick answers, condemnation, and angry emotional responses serve no one. James instructs all of us: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20) Listening is not the same as approving. Compassion is not the same as compromise.

Second, refrain from fretting. The experiences of others don’t negate our experiences or the truth of Jesus Christ. Psalm 37:8 says, Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.” In my experience, this has proven true. The pain of those wounded by the church and the declarations of those who have turned their backs on Jesus do not change God, nor do they alter the greater story. So, we can listen and care without fretting or fear.

Third, exercise humility. We can freely admit that some have caused serious damage to others in the name of Jesus. There are toxic people and congregations who operate in Jesus’ name. Some are immature believers. Some are harboring sin and hardening their hearts. Some are victims of false teaching. Others are counterfeit, wolves in sheep’s clothing, sent to sow destruction amongst the faithful. We can have a ministry binding these wounds and exposing falsehoods if we acknowledge the existence of destruction done under the guise of our faith.

Fourth, ask the right questions. When listening to someone angry with the church or with God, we’re tempted to ask ourselves, “How can I defend the church, the faith, or God right now?” This is the wrong question. Our Father defends us. He doesn’t need us standing guard around His throne. Instead, ask, “How can I best serve this hurting soul? How do I best demonstrate love and communicate truth in a way that will be heard?” Rather than asking, “How do I give them the right answers?” ask, “How can I respond in a way that helps them see Jesus?”

Fifth, ask permission to tell your story. People who are wounded or in rebellion have stories to tell and they are often lurid or passionate enough to garner quick attention. But, our stories are valid and are also worth telling. The problem being too often we don’t invest the same amount of passion, creativity, or thought into ours.

We dismiss our own stories of healing, answered prayer, renewed hearts, reconciled relationships, freedom from sin, and communion with others and withhold them from those who need them most. And yet, perception becomes reality until a greater truth overrides it in a meaningful way. We need to speak the greater truth at every opportunity.

But, we don’t. Partly, that’s a sinful expression of laziness, unbelief, and doubt (“Did God really do that or am I just lucky?” “Why bother learning to tell that story – I’m not comfortable getting personal.”) Also, we have an element of survivor’s guilt. (“Why did God provide for my need and not for theirs?” “How did I gain freedom from that sin when she’s still trapped?”)

Or we nurture a fear of offending, of speaking hard truths into delusions, or of getting into the unpleasant details of our own struggles and attempts to overcome sin or work our way through wounds. And yet, we must speak faith into this fear.

If the only stories being told are those from the wounded, the angry, the rebellious, or those who have walked away, how does this light the darkness for others trying to find their way?

And some who have walked away are simply looking for an excuse to part ways with Jesus, but there are some hoping there’s a way back. We can illuminate their path by listening, loving, and sharing the stories we know to be true – ours and that of Jesus Christ.

There’s more to this conversation, but it’s not one I can have alone. You have a piece of this. What are your thoughts? How do you approach these conversations? What makes them better? What makes them worse?

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19 Comments

    The Conversation

  1. Melody says:

    There’s a man who loved and respected my husband. This man grew up in the church but had a difficult childhood and difficult parents. He and John would meet during XC practice and talk about God and the bible. John was always testifying of what God had delivered him from and speaking of God’s love. When John died unexpectedly this man walked away from the church and God. His family situation also played a large role in his decision.
    On Christmas Eve, his wife, stepson, and step daughter accepted Christ. I’ve since been meeting with her and her teenage son in discipleship study. She said that he doesn’t understand how a “loving” God could take John and leave me and my 6 kids alone. His bitterness is very deep. He struggles being in the same room with me or my kids.
    I have spoken with him but all I can do is testify of God’s goodness despite my great heart break. I guess only by our prayers and living example will he one day reconcile with God.
    His wife, a new Christian, has learned to stop talking and just pray and be patient as he works through his bitterness and hurt.

  2. Melissa Brumbaugh says:

    Thank you for bringing up the subject of hurting Christians. I am at a loss sometimes with a friend who is angry at God. I am at the point now, that instead of defending God I just listen. She does not respond well to the stories I share of God’s goodness in my life. Mostly I pray and have realized that her faith is just that her’s. I can’t fix it, that is God’s work.

    • Jan says:

      Hi Melissa
      Sometimes it is wise to let a hurting angry person off load. It is so helpful to be listened to and a privilege to be the listener.
      Through your invaluable patient friendship and prayers, you are helping your friend become more receptive to The powerful healing of The Holy Spirit. I will pray along with you.
      God bless Jan

    • Amen. Listening is loving. Sometimes the stories we tell are for the others in the conversation, not the angry person.

  3. Rob McCullough says:

    Lori, thank you for a addressing a great need in the Body. Yes, we do always need to be willing to Love and to express Love in whatever form Holy Spirit may lead. Blessings and Life!

  4. Sharmel says:

    Hiya Lori. Still here and reading your engaging blog. Love u and praying for you.

    Until we meet again,
    Sharmel.

  5. Cherrilynn says:

    “Listening is not the same as approving. Compassion is not the same as compromise.” Thank you for your poignant words.

  6. Elizabeth White says:

    This was so timely for me. Thank you.

  7. Donna Richmond says:

    Instead of shielding God I try to be a good listener.

  8. Jan Clough says:

    Hi Lori an excellent and open view of church life and all the misunderstandings we encounter in Gods house, often leaving a trail of debris.
    I believe one of the top hurts in life as a Christian is to feel betrayed, let down, misunderstood and ultimately denied a voice by fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Family Church should be just that ‘ a family ‘ and yes families fall out, however we have a Heavenly Father who leads by example calling us to forgiveness and compassion towards each other.
    Many Christians have left churches through deep hurts taking their eyes off Jesus and sadly often laying the blame at His feet.
    We are all guilty of letting others down and must seek genuine heartfelt forgiveness, in doing so we not only release others but ultimately ourselves.
    It has taken my husband and l some years to find courage to return to church, he being a former Pastor. Our healing is ongoing.
    If l can finish on a plea, it would be to ask all ( including myself ) who love The Lord Jesus with all their hearts to look afresh at their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. You see we are all flawed and fall short of the glory of God.
    We are now living in End times, therefore it is paramount for Bible believing Christians to unite in the face of the evil one because he delights in nothing more than division. There is nothing more damaging than division within the church and to see history repeating itself. Let’s strive to be wonderfully united and a witness not just to our local communities but also the wider world.
    Let us stand firm on the the solid rock of Jesus Christ in true harmony, otherwise we deny the cross and the selfless sacrifice that Jesus made for you and for me.
    John 13:34 A new command l give you: Love one another. As l have loved you, so you must love one another Amen!

  9. Kathleen says:

    Thanks for this, Lori. This has blessed me. May I add a sixth response (mentioned in a number of the other comments, as well). PRAYER. You see, I was that person, hurt and angry, feeling (falsely) that I’d been abandoned by God and His church. I wandered through a spiritual wilderness that lasted more than 20 years before heeding the Father’s call to come home. Since then, as I’ve reconnected with old friends of the Faith from my youth, I’ve learned that there were a handful who’d been praying over me those 20 years. I’m convinced those prayers played a hand in my return to fellowship, and how God is using even my wilderness sojourn for redemptive purposes.