How to Love People Who Have Hurt You

What are the next steps for battle-weary pastors and families who serve in conflict-riddled churches?

Consider these four relationship principles:

1. Focus on being vertical rather than horizontal

Be sure your walk with the Lord becomes better, not bitter through the battle. Whether we realize it or not, being hurt is the place where bitterness takes root in an otherwise fertile heart. The writer of Hebrews warns that anyone can expect “trouble” from entrenched bitterness. Furthermore, as a result “many [will] be defiled” (Heb. 12:15).

  • Focus on the steadfastness of the Lord, not fickle people.
  • Choose to see His smiling face rather than their frowning faces.
  • Concentrate on the majesty of our God, not the messes others find themselves in.
  • Loving people flows through a loving, abiding relationship with the Lord.

2. Be the first to forgive

Loving people also means forgiving them often and infinitely. Forgiveness is not an elective in the curriculum of life. It is a required course, and the tests are always tough to pass. The term forgiveness means “to release” (see Matthew 18:21-35).

When someone hurts us, he or she owes us a debt. Forgiveness says, “I release you of this debt. You are free.” Pastor, just as God in Christ forgave us of everything, you can forgive others of anything. Why? Because Jesus taught us from this parable that failure to forgive means being “handed over to the torturers” (Matt. 18:34).

In other words, the one who refuses to forgive, the believer who harbors grudges and entertains bitter feelings toward another, will be turned over to torturous thoughts, fits of misery, and agonizing unrest within. Pastor, trust me when I tell you, it's a horrible way to live.

If your heart is saturated with anger, hatred, and bitterness, you will be a victim of your own venom. Forgiveness means to release a prisoner, and that prisoner is you!

3. Find common ground

It's a natural response for a minister in conflict to want to run and hide to get away from painful experiences. So they move their ministry to the next town or the next state in hopes that conflict would be in the rearview mirror forever. But reminders of unresolved issues in conflict would be everywhere.

For example, if you had a problem with a man named Bob in the previous church, every man named Bob in the future becomes suspect. Maybe it's not the name but actions, behaviors, lifestyle choices, and vocations. Even smells like aftershave and perfumes have their ways of reminding you of past hurts.

That's one reason working through problems is better than walking away from them. Avoiding difficult people may provide temporary relief from the stresses and pressures of ministry; but if you fail to learn from your problems, you are doomed to repeat them. A wise pastor will remain in the heat of the conflict if for no other reason than to learn how to not repeat it.

  • Find common ground with those in conflict.
  • Remind yourself of the relationship you have in Christ.
  • Determine goals and objectives for ministry.
  • Go back to the common ground called B.C. (before conflict).

You might just find why you loved these people to begin with!

4. Choose to love people despite their opinions

As Galatians 2:20 teaches, die to yourself. Die to people's criticism as well as to their praise. Loving people means just that. It's unconditional and sacrificial. It's tough during our hurts; however, what others say should not change how we feel about them. Love is a choice, so choose it!

My dear, pastor friend, I wish pain was not a part of ministry, but it is. When differences arise before you, remember these two final thoughts: if conflict is between principle or a person, choose the principle. However, if it is between a policy or a person, choose the person every time. Relationships among God's people can be the most rewarding aspect of ministry. Continue to love people the way Christ loves them.

John S. Powers is the author of Redefining Church Membership and The BodyLife Journey: Guiding Believers into Ministry. A pastor for 22 years, Dr. Powers received his master's of divinity and doctor of ministry degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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