Stephen Mansfield has given us a winner. It was with apprehension that I opened this book with the subtitle “What to do when you still love God but have been wounded by his people.” I thought, O no, a book to help people wallow in their hurts whether real or only perceived. The local church gets such bad press these days, perhaps I was preconditioned to think this way. Well, did I ever get a pleasant surprise.
Never was church itself criticized. He painted, however, the realistic portrait that the Christian life is rarely lived without some church issues. This is not broad strokes really, but, I suppose, to be expected with all those imperfect people being involved who make up every church. He admitted that some church members are truly hurt at church. We pastors like to live in the cloud that says it doesn’t really happen, but it does. With equal force he revealed that pastors, too, often get hurt by folks at church. I’m sure that was a shocking revelation to many church members. Then, with the greatest candor he confessed that many of our supposed hurts are petty and unbecoming of what we make of them. He did all this in just a few pages and I was hooked. I was ready to hear what he had to say.
Then the balance of the book is simply this–You are hurt in church. Whether it was real or imagined is not the issue. An analysis of the fiends who treated you so is pointless. What are you, the hurt one, going to do? You can’t change it. You can’t rewrite history with you being treated more justly. You really can’t give your enemies their due, especially in line with your being a Christian. So, what are we going to do?
He goes through that dark process that is so easy for any of us to go through that includes hard feelings, bitterness, and finally, even things far worse. How did Mr. Mansfield effectively show us this process? He surveyed the wreckage of his own church hurt. He was a successful pastor of a growing, thriving church and one day it all blew up in his face. When he first broached the subject, I wondered if he was going to use his position as a popular writer to get his revenge. I assure you that was not the case. He never called his enemies by name, and I felt he never told us more than was necessary about them to get the picture of what was going on in his heart. No, the one he exposed with all the gory details was himself.
He went far out on the limb and started cutting. He told us what he did, how he really felt, and the thoughts that came gushing out of his mind. They were grotesque. They overshadowed what his enemies, who I imagine truly were guilty, did. Such is the cherishing of bitterness for a Christian. Our Lord has simply not designed us to be able to function fueled by hate. It’s like trying to put milk in your car’s gas tank. You won’t be going anywhere. He risked our disliking him. He opened himself up to the critical spirit of our age. You and I have probably been here, but we haven’t told anyone like he does in this book. I think his motive was to help us.
He took us through the process of his coming out of this darkness. He gratefully acknowledged some strong friends who pushed and prodded him. He spoke of false steps and false starts and clear failures. He explained that his bitterness was a multi-layered thing where he had to dig deeper and deeper to unroot it. What he said reminded me of the oft discussed concept of “pit dwelling” that I think came from Southern Baptists and has been popularized by authors like Beth Moore. In any event, the discussion is thoroughly biblical and worthy of our consideration. In the end, he showed us that it was worth whatever it cost him to leave his unreal world of bitterness. And the answer was old–forgiveness. Real forgiveness.
I give this book the highest possible recommendation with a prayer that it help many of us with a real, yet critical issue in our lives.
I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
This book is published by Barna, an imprint of Tyndale Publishers. The publishers have kindly given me a link to share with you for more information and the ability for you to download a sample chapter to see what you think: http://www.tyndale.com/Healing-Your-Church-Hurt/9781414365602 Be sure to check it out.
Watch for a new blog post here within the next day where I will tell you how to enter a drawing for your own free copy of this book.