In our church-planting journey, many of our early attenders identified themselves as “wounded” people. They stumbled through our doors like triage patients in need of intensive care. I recall one couple saying, “This is our last try at church.”
It seemed like our initial season of church planting focused more on getting our small team operational than reaching out to our community. We’ve learned these tasks go hand in hand.
Tending to the health of our people as we equip them for missional living is no less important than laboring to advance the gospel in our communities. This means establishing a culture where anyone can come and rest, while learning to rejoin healthy followers of Jesus sent out on mission within their networks and neighborhoods.
Church planting can be more like planting a field hospital than a forward operating base. As such, we must grow in assessing the wounded, providing them care, and courageously sending them out again.
Assessing the Wounded
Unfortunately, there’s a temptation to tell a wounded person, “I’m sorry you had such a lousy church experience before, but rest assured, you won’t experience that here.” Such a response is prideful, and will likely harm you, and your church, as a promise you can’t keep.
Addressing issues of relational brokenness with the gospel is like pouring disinfectant on an open wound—it stings like crazy but begins a healing work.
Typically, you’re tending to someone who felt overlooked by an inattentive church, or who feels wounded despite having experienced the normal pangs of church community. It’s often difficult to discern one from the other. Regardless, your responsibility is the same—to tend to the wounded.
Bitterness is something to watch for and assess closely. It’s a rancid infection of the soul and the church—grievous to the Holy Spirit and contrary to the gospel in which we’ve been saved (Eph. 4:30–32).
Harboring bitterness is like saying to Jesus, “I just don’t think your grace should cover this situation.” It grieves the Spirit because bitterness invites us to take God’s seat as judge, rejecting the Spirit’s outflow of the gospel within our lives. Such a spirit is contagious, deadly, and needs immediate care before it catches in your church.
Providing Them Care
How, then, do you treat wounded people? We’ve learned through our experience at Mission Hill Church that deep wounds, like an infection, take time and intentional treatment to heal. To a degree, addressing issues of relational brokenness with the gospel is like pouring disinfectant on an open wound—it stings like crazy but begins a healing work.
Binding up the brokenhearted includes resetting the broken pieces. Repentance can feel like re-breaking an already broken heart. I remember observing a couple’s sharp tongue that caused harm within our church. I told them, “I think the most unloving thing I could do is to leave this situation unaddressed.” However, the courage to explore the source of their behavior revealed stories of brokenness with significant hurts needing care. Their words, although harmful and needing correction, were the outflow of a wounded soul.
On a practical level, this is why I believe in the plurality of elders within the local church. A church with one physician (pastor) susceptible to the same illnesses as its people is woefully ineffective and dangerously understaffed. Consider Paul’s teaching regarding his thorn in the flesh: “I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Cor. 12:8–9). The “thorns” entrusted to us make us depend more on Jesus.
Sending Them Out
Wounded people aren’t a burden to your church. They represent a picture of God’s people continuously being transformed by the gospel. The joy of tending to such people—seeing them move from bitter and broken to whole and humble—comes when wounded people are mended in Jesus to live on mission once again.
These healed and equipped men and women are the evangelists your community needs.
Every church is a hospital. We are a community filled with sick people needing the care of a great Physician. Yes, the thought of tending to the deep wounds of others in addition to the mission of reaching those far from Jesus may be overwhelming. Even so, we must press on.
Church planter, you may be tempted to disregard hurting people as burdensome, but your ministry is only as effective as your church. Proof of wounded hearts mended by the gospel is powerful evidence to those curious about Jesus. These healed and equipped men and women are the evangelists your community needs. At our church, we look at those who’ve been battered and built-up again as our future leaders, because they’ve been uniquely equipped in experiencing the healing work of the gospel.
Consider what others said of Jesus’s followers: “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also” (Acts 17:6).
Perhaps your city needs to be turned upside down for Jesus by people who have already been turned upside by his grace.