Leaning on God when His people disappoint

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Raised to Stay is a new book by Natalie Runion exploring disappointment and hurt experienced within the Church. In the book, the worship leader shares her own personal story of how reliance on God released her from past hurt and how she found peace with the Church.

Christian Today spoke with Natalie to hear about what Christians can do to support those who have been hurt by the Church.

What can leaders and congregations do to support church members who have experienced 'church hurt'?

I always say that listening is a beautiful ministry. When we have someone come into our small group or enter our churches and they say 'I want to come to church, I want to get involved, but I have been hurt by the church' or even worse 'I've been abused by leaders, I've been abused by people,' the greatest response would be: 'I would like to take you out for a cup of coffee or tea or lunch and I want to hear your story.'

Sit with people and do not defend the Church, do not say 'they didn't mean it' or 'not all churches are bad' but truly hear their story and where they are coming from. Lean in and love them where they are. Then as they start to come into our church families we should be able to get them involved with people around the same age, around spiritual mentors and disciples, those who can really walk with them and help redeem what it looks like to be part of a church family.

This takes time, we can't rush people, we can't demand that they heal in our time frame. We just need to be willing to walk with them. From my own experience, I have learnt that the Church isn't really patient with people who are in pain. But the Lord is asking us to mourn with those who mourn, and to weep with those who weep so we can then in turn rejoice with those who rejoice. That's where I think we can start.

The book sheds light on your family's decision to leave the church you were raised in and you write that after this, you didn't know how to go to church like other people and you felt 'orphaned' by an institution that was supposed to love and shelter you. How did this event shape your view of church going forward?

They were the most formative years of my life. I was 18 and I wanted to go to a Christian university. That whole experience changed my plans, I went from wanting to go to a Christian university to going to a public university. I had a Jewish roommate, atheist professors and agnostic professors and people were not watching me as a pastor's kid, they just knew me as Natalie the freshman in her first year in college. That gave me this opportunity to become anyone I wanted to be.

I wrestled with that over the course of my college years. Nobody was looking for me in any churches, nobody cared if I went to church, and it was in that decision-making process that I realised that I did love Jesus. I missed being part of the church family because even though that church family had hurt me there were also many who loved me. I realised that there were bad people everywhere, there are bad people in the world and bad people in the church. However there were also really good people in the church and those were the people I missed.

After college I slowly made my way back into church and I was hurt again, but this time I was prepared for it, I was almost bracing myself for it. It never made it easier but I realised that I loved people more than I wanted to be away from them. It was the love for people that kept drawing me back and that's what my hope is for our generation, that we will learn to love people so much and believe that they are worth the risk of getting hurt.

Natalie Runion: "Sit with people and do not defend the Church, do not say 'they didn't mean it' or 'not all churches are bad', but truly hear their story and where they are coming from."(Photo: Natalie Runion)

You write that as you look back over the last 20 years you are 'grateful for every stop, detour and hard question'. What advice do you have for individuals who are currently in a challenging season?

God is certainly not in a hurry with our healing. I have had to sit in that healing space where things are not how I want them to be and relationships are not where I want them to be. A lot of people ask me what does the word 'stay' mean in Raised To Stay and I take them to John 15. What Jesus is telling the disciples is 'I am the vine, you are the branches and if you just stay connected to me you will produce good fruit even in barren seasons.'

When I cling to Jesus with everything that I have, even when the Church and people have betrayed me, He promises that He will never leave us or forsake us. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. Even when I feel like it is the end, what I remember is that Jesus stayed on the cross for the joy set before him and three days later there was a resurrection.

What I have learnt in these seasons of barren times is that what I think is going to be my crucifixion is actually the beginning of my resurrection. If we stay in position, and by staying in position I mean holding onto Jesus and trying my best to find trusted biblical communities to walk with me through that season, we do not have to do difficult seasons alone.

It is always encouraging to remember that Jesus went through it first.

When you look at Hebrews 12 the Message version says to watch how he did it. He could take anything, he could take the insults, he could take the betrayal. The actual translation of the message Bible says 'when we find ourselves flagging in our faith, watch how he did it.' That is the example when we do not know who else to model. Watch how Jesus did it; that is our blueprint.

In the book you write that 'going to counselling is not absence of faith.' Can you share your thoughts on Christians seeking professional help for mental health.

I grew up in a denomination that really was against counselling. The belief was that if you went to counselling then it meant that you didn't trust Jesus and there was a lot of shame and stigma around counselling. Yet suicide and depression rates are so high among evangelical Christians and pastors.

As I have grown up and matured in Christ, what I've learnt is that God will use Christian professionals to be the hands and feet of Jesus in professional environments where they can lend their expertise and their gifts to the Christian body in ways that point people to Jesus.

I believe Christian counsellors are a gift from the Lord who can help walk us through mental health scenarios, through prayer and biblical counsel and still be able to lean into intercession and fasting. In the United States in particular, we have a suicide problem amongst pastors and a lot of it is because there has been shame and fear of being fired or let go if they confess they are struggling. I believe that God is not in competition with our counsellors or our medication, rather He is offering us a partnership.

Lisa Bevere wrote in her foreword, 'I sensed this book could lead to a movement of healing and reformation.' What reception has the book received?

The book as a whole has been received with such passion and also gratitude from other believers saying 'thank you for putting into words what my heart could not say out loud.' Coming from the United States I've heard that from the American churches, but now to be in the UK what has blown my mind is that this is a global conversation. I am standing at book signing tables and people are just grabbing hold of me, sobbing and saying 'thank you for writing this book.'

This is exactly what we need to be able to give our people when they come to us, when they say they have been hurt by the Church or when they walk out of a difficult season. There is a resource out there that points people back to Jesus and still encourages people to love each other and the Church even in their pain. It is an honour to stand at signing tables, to stand at altars and pray with people and to rejoice with people. It is the highest honour that God could have possibly asked of me.

I pray the book will reach the world with the hope that God is for us. He is with us and He has given us each other as a gift. I pray that we can all find forgiveness, healing and reconciliation so we can move forward with the Great Commission of taking the gospel to a lost world.

Raised to Stay is out now priced £12.99.