Leading Wounded: Dealing with Church Hurt, Disappointment, and Despair as a Leader

I’m sure you’ve heard it said, “Ministry would be great if it weren’t for the people.”
It is a pithy statement loaded with stories of wounds, conflict, and misunderstandings to try to rationalize the reality of church hurt.

Church hurt happens all across the board between staff, pastors and members, and within small groups. As you read this you probably have a handful of faces that are coming to mind where something was said, a decision was made, or the neglect or lack of response to a situation resulted in a broken relationship, awkward stare, or maybe even the decision to leave a church all together.

With statistics growing larger for those who are leaving the Church and leaders who are quitting the ministry due to burn out and exhaustion we have to ask the questions: “How do we deal with church hurt?” and “In what ways can we make sure that we as leaders are processing our own hurt?”

A 3-point blog is in no way going to heal the losses and pains that you have endured, but I hope that in acknowledging and recognizing what so many leaders are carrying right now, we can begin to take steps toward health and healing. 

Grieve What Is Broken

Pete Scazzero says that “Good leaders are good grievers.” This concept was revolutionary to me as a leader several years ago. I often approached my disappointment in church like I did in my softball days where I would get hit by a ball, and though painful and sudden, I would walk it off and keep pressing on for the sake of the game. I was doing the same in my ministry. I would avoid, act like the words or situation wouldn’t phase me, and keep doing the next thing. What I didn’t realize was how much hurt, pain, and rejection I was carrying around in ministry and perspective toward God and His church. The staff departures, the gossip and betrayal, the isolation and the crushing feeling of members leaving the church were all wounds that I had endured but not grieved. 

I love the example David gives us in the Psalms of wrestling out all of the injustices, hurt, and emotion that come with leading. As leaders we often have a tendency to brush it off and rationalize it as “part of the job” but if we don’t humbly and transparently take all our disappointments, failures, and injustices to the God who sees, knows, and cares, we run the risk of leading out of our hurt.

Pray and Reflect

One of my consistent prayers as a leader is, “God keep my heart tender and my skin thick.” The hard parts of ministry and life usually are used by God to unearth the false identities and comforts that I tend to cling to other than God himself. The temptation for a wounded leader is to puff up in self reliance and protection, but it is through the work of the Spirit that we are shown where our blind spots are revealed, compassion is birthed, and dependence is deepened.

Psalm 23 is a picture of God as our Great Shepherd who leads us, cares for us, and restores our soul. If we aren’t willing to trust God for His work in our own lives we can not lead people to Him in their times of struggle and brokenness. The same God you teach and preach about who restores is the same God who desires the same for you. Not so that you can lead better or wiser, but because you are His child and He wants you to know and experience Him.

Fight for The Bride

Jackie Hill Perry once said, “What healed my church hurt, was the Church.” 

When I am facing hard seasons I think of these words often. I believe in the Church because it is God’s mission to be a light in the midst of darkness and hope in the midst of despair. I believe in the Church not because of what I think I can accomplish or how I can fix her, but because it has been God’s plan from the very beginning of time to image His love, justice, and redemption to all people. The privilege of watching Him work, move, and redeem what is broken in me and in those I lead and minister to is the primary motivation of my ministry. With this truth we have to choose to fight for the Church – for her purity, her righteousness, her love, and for a focused mission.

My heart breaks and goes out to so many leaders in this season. I have heard story after story of leaders feeling disposable, division ripping apart faith families, and the deep despair of depression and hopelessness. So many of us are leading from empty souls wondering if we will make it through this season, and my hope and encouragement for all of us is that we recognize our deep need for our Father in these moments. 

I’m praying for all of you wounded leaders right now. Though like Jacob you may walk with a limp, you are a physical reminder to those around you of seeing God face-to-face. I’m praying for you to sit and wrestle out your grief, that you drink deeply of His goodness and righteousness, and that you are able to stand firmly in grace.

Posted on November 4, 2022

Jacki C. King is a respected and beloved Bible teacher, author, and dedicated ministry leader. Her passion involves guiding women toward a deep love for Jesus and His Word, encouraging them to embrace their mission in their homes, workplaces, and communities. She is the author of "The Calling of Eve: How Women of the Bible Inspire the Women of the Church" (Tyndale 2022). A proud native Texan, Jacki serves alongside her husband Josh, who serves as Lead Pastor of their local church, and their three boys. She holds a bachelor's degree in Biblical Studies and Ministry to Women from Criswell College, and a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Connect with Jacki on Twitter and Instagram at @JackiCKing
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1 Comment

  • I’m lost for the words to say how much I needed these words at this particular season of my ministry. Worn out, exhausted, confused, and yes, troubled about many things describes me perfectly.
    Thank you for sharing your heart and wisdom.