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I Was Betrayed By the Church and Here’s What I Learned

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I always read contracts before I sign them. I’ve read my employment contracts, and nowhere in the fine print did it mention that betrayal would be part of the deal.

Yet almost every person I know who has worked in some form of pastoral ministry has experienced betrayal in one way or another. And despite its prevalence, it continually seems to catch pastors and ministers by surprise. When you are eyebrow deep in the work of loving the Bride of Christ, you aren’t necessarily expecting to be blindsided by betrayal.

But why are we surprised?

How many different ways did God show us in Scripture that we are fickle? How many times did God show us that betrayal is part of the story?

Let’s recap…

From the disobedience in the garden, to king David being hunted like an animal by the man who had mentored and loved him, betrayal is there from the beginning.

The entire book of Hosea depicts the betrayal of Israel turning to other gods, and Yahweh’s broken heart.

The story of the sacred romance between God and God’s people is a roller coaster of ups and downs. God’s people frequently believe their best interest lies in promises other than the God who delivered them from slavery and fed them in the wilderness. Instead they desire cucumbers, and wine, and comforts of the world. They look for advice from pieces of wood, and direction from divining rods (Hosea 4:12).

Betrayal pulses through scripture from the beginning. It’s the dark catalyst for the entire story of God’s redemption that unfolds throughout the pages from Genesis to Revelation. It’s cruel, it injures, it breaks relationships, it tears down love, and it seems to be always lurking.

Betrayal is cruel, and it seems to be always lurking. Click To Tweet

It should be no surprise to us that betrayal lurks in churches. If God’s people betray God, why would we not betray each other? I’ve known many pastors and ministers who have experienced different kinds of betrayals, each one a wound to their souls. Some have been able to restore relationships, some have moved on to other ministry positions, and yet others have left ministry because the wounds were too deep, and their souls were too dry.

Dealing with the devastation of betrayal

Betrayal violates trust. It breaks something sacred, a promise spoken or unspoken to protect the other, to support the other, to love and uplift the other. This trust can be violated in both big and small ways. But it always leaves the betrayed feeling vulnerable, raw, exposed. And often the hurt is deep because the relationship is not what we believed it to be. We may have been investing all of ourselves, only to discover that a relationship we believed to be reciprocal, really wasn’t.

We may discover a relationship we believed to be reciprocal really wasn’t. Click To Tweet

I once discovered that a senior pastor for whom I was working had lied to me. Not only did I find out about the lie, but I found out that others knew about the lie, knew I believed the lie, and didn’t tell me.

The pain came from a number of hits–the sting of the lie, the burn of betrayal, the awful feeling that I had been fooled, the realization that I couldn’t trust people I had relied on, wave after wave of pain was inflicted by this lie that seemed to have stinging nettles like a jellyfish that kept wrapping around me. As the toxins stung through my skin, I could feel the betrayal pulsing through my body. The lie was ringing in my ears, and the sting was throbbing. And the consequences were far reaching.

I know pastors who have experienced their greatest supporters becoming their harshest critics. The church members, staff, and volunteers who bolstered them, and gave them strength, have been the same people who have attempted to run them out when no longer happy with the music, the carpet, the Sunday school, the latest sermon series, the dates of the mission trip, the new coffee at fellowship, you name it.

As pastors, ministers, church leaders, it will happen. Sometimes the stings will be small, and sometimes they will be crippling. Sometimes we will brush them off, and sometimes they will knock the air out of our lungs.

What we do with these betrayals may vary widely, depending on the situation. There are times when it is right to walk away. Spiritual abuse should not be tolerated. Abuse by the church, by those in leadership, those with authority is not okay. Sometimes it is right and healthy to leave or to get help. But in every case, betrayal will leave scars, whether large or small.

We carry these scars of betrayal with us into other churches and ministries. I admit to approaching churches with caution, and trusting slowly. After betrayal has caught you by surprise and knocked the wind out of you once, you brace yourself for another hit. I still love Jesus, and his Bride, but I’m afraid. I don’t want to get hurt.

In every case, betrayal will leave scars, whether large or small. Click To Tweet

Turning back to the truth

I sat in a worship service recently, surrounded by the people that Jesus loves. Every seat was filled with someone for whom Jesus gave his life, someone for whom he laid down everything. We were invited up front for communion, and I heard the words that I’ve heard thousands of times before.

“On the night he was betrayed…”

I’ve read those words. I’ve heard those words. I’ve spoken those words over the communion table. I’ve shared those words with congregations. But for the first time, those words screamed in my ears like a trumpet blast.

“On the night he was betrayed…”

God in the flesh, the Word incarnate, suffered betrayal at the hands of one of his closest companions – one who was supposed to support him, stand up for him, love him, but sold him out for profit. The consequences were real. It caused great suffering.

His own mother watched in despair as he was tortured and executed. And the betrayer himself was so overcome with grief that he took his own life. His other friends abandoned him as well, and betrayed him further, denying even knowing him. Betrayal left a wake of destruction. More than a sting, it cut like a sword to the soul, ultimately separating him from the very heart of God.

“On the night he was betrayed…” the pastor says, “Jesus took the bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, this is my body, broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” On the night he was betrayed, Jesus did something for me.

And he gave me a command to do something for him. And so I keep meeting with the Bride, and breaking bread with the Bride, and loving the Bride. And when I remember the sting of betrayal, I remember that Jesus felt the sting infinitely more than I ever will, because of what he did for me, on the night he was betrayed.

And so I keep serving, and loving the Bride of Christ. Click To Tweet
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4 responses to “I Was Betrayed By the Church and Here’s What I Learned

  1. Kelly – great article! Betrayal is in some ways, part of the training all Christ-followers must go through to become more like Jesus. My first church went from great to good to bad to worse. Even after many years, several former members never moved on in their walk with God. I wrote http://amzn.to/2oSbw51 ostensibly to try to assist people in returning to the passion of their faith. As you noted, the heroes of our faith would never have become all we know without passing through betrayal.

    1. Hi Casey, thanks, and thanks for sharing that link. I think the church would benefit from more discussion around spiritual abuse. In some ways, betrayal can be like training – although I caution people experiencing actual abuse not to simply take it as part of their training. But betrayal certainly happens, and how we move through it matters! I look forward to checking out your book.

  2. Kelly thank you for writing this. I’m glad you included a caveat about not tolerating abuse–we might choose to continue to serve in spite of betrayal, but I don’t think that God asks us to tolerate abuse. Boundaries are essential. I wonder if this phenomenon of betrayal, and not knowing how to handle it, contributes to pastor and leader burn out? Thoughts?

    1. I agree. We are never called to tolerate abuse. Burn out in ministry is very real! I’m sure it is caused by a number of factors. I’ve seen people burn out because they were taking too much on themselves, not finding time for rest, serving but not being fed, etc. And that often happens in an environment where the leader or minister doesn’t have a strong support system to begin with. I would say that dealing with betrayal can definitely be a contributing factor, especially if your support system is already lacking! I wonder how we could train our church leaders to better deal with betrayal, and build more protections against burn out at the same time.

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