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Christians say that being part of the church is a gift, but what happens when it feels like a curse? Stories of congregations and pastors being betrayed by their family of faith.



#76: Where the Gospel Meets Church Hurt

Note: The Love Thy Neighborhood podcast is made for the ear, and not the eye. We would encourage you to listen to the audio for the full emotional emphasis of this episode. The following transcription may contain errors. Please refer to the audio before quoting any content from this episode. 

AUDIO CLIPS: Love Thy Neighborhood… Discipleship and missions for modern times.

ANNA TRAN: Hey guys, a quick note – today’s episode contains references to spiritual and sexual abuse. If you are sensitive to these things or have sensitive young ears around, you can skip or save this episode for another time. Okay, onto the episode. 


ANNA TRAN: Okay, Jesse, so the other day I went around and asked people two questions.

JESSE EUBANKS: Oh, okay. What two questions?

ANNA TRAN: The first one – what is a memory where you felt most loved by the church? 

AUDIO CLIPS: When I was in college and my school was hit by a tornado, I lost everything that was in my dorm room and the church that I’d actually grown up in threw me a surprise “getting back on my feet” shower and just replenished everything that I’d lost in the tornado… When people are just walking together in life. It could be sharing a meal in someone’s home, especially if like you’ve had a stressful week or a hard week. It could be going on a walk in a forest with someone as well… When I was really sick, I was having surgery, and most people from the church were the only people that showed up. They came and brought me food, sending text messages, sending prayers, which is, uh, the epitome of love to me… 

JESSE EUBANKS: I love those stories. It’s like the church at its best. 

ANNA TRAN: Yeah. But then I asked people a second question – what’s a memory where you felt the most hurt by the church? 

AUDIO CLIPS: I would go to church, and, you know, I felt so left out of community there. I was surrounded by people, and I still felt really lonely… Had scheduled a meeting with the preaching pastor, sent him a text, and he quickly responded, “No, not available anymore. We’ll meet back later down the road when I have time.” And that same preaching pastor who had canceled the meeting called me, spoke for 20 minutes about how I was living in sin for leaving… Just moments of being raw and vulnerable with people and, you know, maybe just a quick, like, “I’ll pray for you” and then no follow up… I was pretty involved in my youth group, and my junior year we all found out that the youth pastor had an affair. He was kind of a father figure for a lot of people.

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, gosh, hearing that – anybody who’s ever been a part of a church has probably experienced some of those things. The church is, like, capable of being so beautiful and so horrible at the same time. I don’t know, it just leaves us with this question – what do we do with the church when it’s supposed to love us but it ends up hurting us?


JESSE EUBANKS: You’re listening to the Love Thy Neighborhood podcast. I’m Jesse Eubanks. 

ANNA TRAN: And I’m Anna Tran. Today’s episode – “Where the Gospel Meets Church Hurt.” We’ll be looking at the questions – Where does church hurt come from? 

JESSE EUBANKS: What do we do when the people we trust betray us? 

ANNA TRAN: What do we do when we’re trying to help others but we actually are hurting them?

JESSE EUBANKS: What do we do when we feel like the church no longer deserves our trust? 

ANNA TRAN: And how can that lack of trust be repaired? 

JESSE EUBANKS: Welcome to our corner of the urban universe.


ANNA TRAN: A couple months ago, FX released the documentary, The Secrets of Hillsong. Jesse, you’ve heard of that, right? 

JESSE EUBANKS: Oh, yeah, totally. And I’m thinking about even like in the last few years – not just The Secrets of Hillsong, I’m thinking about all these different, like, spiritual scandal shows that have come out – Shiny Happy People about the Duggar family, God Forbid about the Jerry Falwell scandals, The Way Down about Gwen Shamblin, and of course like The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill

ANNA TRAN: Right. 

JESSE EUBANKS: And, and here’s the thing – like, sadly, like, the news of people being hurt and abused and manipulated by the church – that is sadly not hard to find these days. 

ANNA TRAN: Yeah, and all of those examples you just mentioned are all really well documented. Even on a smaller scale, all you have to do is search “church hurt” on YouTube or TikTok or Instagram and there’s no lack of stories of pain and anger towards the church. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, and I think that that’s understandable. You know, you look at all of these stories, and we see today, like, there are just so many people who call themselves Christians who turn out to be liars, they turn out to be cheaters, they turn out to be people that cover things up, and, worst of all, they don’t own up to any of the harm that they’ve caused other people.

ANNA TRAN: Exactly. But I do feel like a lot of tension with this because God calls us to love the church. He calls the church the body of Christ. We’re supposed to be supporting and caring for one another. It’s a really beautiful thing that I’ve experienced, that many people have experienced. But a lot of times it’s not beautiful because we see people who call themselves Christians really hurting other people.

JESSE EUBANKS: Right. It is a really hard thing to hold side by side because we’re called to love the church but we also are called to call out the hypocrisy that we see. But, I do wanna point out that this is not a new thing. From the very beginning, we see that the Bible does not hold back in showing the hypocrisy of God’s people. Okay, let’s do a quick run through of just some key stories from the Scriptures that showcase all of this. So Genesis 37: 23 and 24 says, “When Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped off Joseph’s robe, the long sleeve robe that he had on. Then they took him and threw him into the pit.”

ANNA TRAN: And later on in the story, his brothers would go on to sell him into slavery. And these were the sons of Jacob, people that God had chosen to represent himself.

JESSE EUBANKS: In Second Samuel 11, we see David use his authority and power to abuse Bathsheba and then give orders to kill her husband so that he could marry her.

ANNA TRAN: Gosh. Come to the New Testament. We have Acts six. The widows of the Greek-speaking Jews were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food by the Hebrew Jews. Both parties were followers of Jesus, but one group in the early church was being neglected by the other.

JESSE EUBANKS: You know, and after hearing all these stories, you’d like to think that God’s people have learned their lesson, but sadly that is not the case.

ANNA TRAN: Exactly. Today we find story after story of Christians who sin and hurt others, and this is something a woman named Espy Mendez has definitely experienced. 

ESPY MENDEZ: My name is Espy. I’m 37.

ANNA TRAN: Espy and her siblings – they grew up in an unhealthy and harmful environment. Her father was an alcoholic, was abusive, and while her mom did her best, Espy still grew up with a lot of instability. And because of this –

ESPY MENDEZ: I kind of picked up on everything that I saw. I started drinking. By the age of 13, I was already taking pills and smoking every day, getting high. My life was just very chaotic.

ANNA TRAN: So, by the time she was 19, she was already in and out of abusive relationships and she had two children. Okay, so, fast forward to 2016 – she’s 30 years old, married, has more kids, and Espy is just repeating the same patterns that she saw in her childhood. 

ESPY MENDEZ: There was a lot of infidelity. There was a lot of, uh, money issues. We were both very abusive, so, um, we would get into like physical altercations often. 

ANNA TRAN: And Espy is getting really tired of all of this. One day, this all comes to a breaking point. She gets so upset that she prints out divorce papers, but, you know, her husband doesn’t want a divorce, so he thinks to himself – “What’s something that helps people when they’re in a bad spot? What’s going to give our family stability?” So, the very next day, he says, “Hey, let’s take the family to church.” Neither Espy or her husband are Christians, but the idea of going to church really does sound like a good idea.

ESPY MENDEZ: I just thought, “Oh, good, you know, we get to, to experience something healthy,” because we really needed that at the time. 

ANNA TRAN: So the church that they went to was called Present Truth Mission. A lot of times people just called it PTM. The church building was part of a strip mall. Inside was very modern looking. You know, think more of, like, an auditorium seating, rows and chairs instead of pews. There were colored lights for mood lighting, and there were a lot of young adults and teenagers. 

ESPY MENDEZ: You would see people serving and worshiping, and there were full of tattoos.

ANNA TRAN: That Sunday when she and her whole family walk in, Espy – she remembers this woman coming up to her. 

ESPY MENDEZ: She hugged me, and she was like, “I’m so glad that you’re here. Welcome.” And, like, everyone was just so, um, welcoming. 

ANNA TRAN: She and her family, they found some seats. And when one of the pastors was preaching, he said something that really broke through to her. He said –

ESPY MENDEZ: “Give God three months. And if nothing changes in three months, then you can take your sin back, you can take your life back, and then, you know, go back to where you came from.” And I remember thinking, “There is literally nothing I have to lose. Like, I’m losing my family. I’m a mess.” So I, I said okay.

ANNA TRAN: So that day she prayed and asked Jesus into her heart. And what’s wild is that the very next day when she went home –

ESPY MENDEZ: I couldn’t smoke. It made me nauseous. And ever since I was delivered, I’ve, I’ve never really had, uh, an issue with smoking weed anymore. It was God’s way to, to let me know “I’m real. I’m here.”

JESSE EUBANKS: Oh my gosh, that’s awesome. 

ANNA TRAN: Yeah, she was, like, immediately delivered. And here’s the thing – at PTM, the church was full of people just like Espy. There were a lot of troubled teens –

ESPY MENDEZ: Troubled adults, like just people that grew up basically the same way that I did, like no parents or very absent parents or they were struggling with, like, drug addiction.

ANNA TRAN: And so Espy remembers the pastor’s challenge. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, so his challenge – “For three months, go all the way in, try this thing for real, see what happens.” 

ANNA TRAN: And what’s wild is that after those three months were over things did change. Their lives were so much better. They found a place that offered care and stability for their family. They lifestyle started to change. The friends who they used to get drunk with and smoked with – they stopped hanging out with them. Instead of hosting smoke parties, now they were hosting meals with their new friends from the church. 

ESPY MENDEZ: I would cook, and, uh, everyone would just kind of come over and get together and just hang out. We would hang out and do puzzles and play games. Like we stayed busy. We stayed busy with the church. 

ANNA TRAN: The marriage problems that Espy and her husband were having – they got a lot better. They fought less. They were attentive to each other’s needs. They were more open and honest with each other. 

ESPY MENDEZ: The kids really liked it because they saw the change that was kind of going on in our family and stuff, and they also noticed that we were sober. We were reading our Bible every day. I had a prayer closet. 

ANNA TRAN: And just a heads up – some of the clips that you’ll be hearing, just like the last one, is from a different conversation, so they’re just gonna sound a little bit different.


ANNA TRAN: So, Jesse, what’s something that we talk about here at LTN when it comes to how lives are transformed?

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, we say all the time, “Relationships change lives.”

ANNA TRAN: Exactly. Relationships change lives. And so one of the key relationships Espy had was with a married couple named David and Carol. David was a lead pastor. He and Carol – they had the most authority at the church.

ESPY MENDEZ: I really felt like David and Carol were my parents.

ANNA TRAN: David and Carol – they gave marriage counseling, they walked with Espy and her husband, they spent a lot of time together sharing life, and Espy became pretty close with Carol. Carol was older than her, had a lot of wisdom, and she was just really easy to talk to and someone that Espy could really open up with.

ESPY MENDEZ: Kind of share my frustration and, and vent with her. I really felt like I had a mom. She was a safe place, and I, and I never really felt like I had that. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, I mean, I just think about, you know, having mentors in your life really gives you like a vision and a model for life. Like, these are people that can guide me through all these confusing things that I’m going through.

ANNA TRAN: Yeah, these are people who’ve figured it out already. You know – trouble with the kids? Ask David and Carol. Have another disagreement? Ask David and Carol. Questions about God? Ask David and Carol. 

ESPY MENDEZ: Go to them, and they will help us fix whatever we need to fix. 

ANNA TRAN: And this is like a beautiful thing with how chaotic their lives were. This was something new and life-giving for them, but sadly this didn’t last. Okay, so right now Espy and her husband are in this whole new world, and over the next 18 months they are really engaged at the church. They’re serving on the welcome team. They greet people and give announcements. But then a couple things started to happen. Carol got really sick, and she wasn’t really available for Espy anymore. At the same time, Espy and her husband were starting to have a lot of marriage issues again. In fact, it got so bad that Espy’s husband actually moved out of the house. And it’s about at that time that Espy starts receiving a lot of texts from David. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Uh, like what kind of texts? Like about her marriage, about like how can the church help her?

ANNA TRAN: Not exactly. He’s asking her things like why she wasn’t in church on certain days, why she was visiting other churches. He’d ask her to do just like random admin tasks for the church.

JESSE EUBANKS: Oh, that, that is weird. That does not feel like the relevant subject considering everything going on in her life. 

ANNA TRAN: Exactly. And to make things worse, she actually starts getting a whole other type of text from David. He actually started to grab photos of Espy from her Facebook page, send them to her, and then comment –

ESPY MENDEZ: “You look good in this picture.”

ANNA TRAN: Or when referencing a different photo, he would say –

ESPY MENDEZ: “This is why you’re having issues in your marriage. You need to start, you know, dressing up again.”

JESSE EUBANKS: Oh my gosh, this is so inappropriate. This is not okay. 

ANNA TRAN: Right. And at one point, Espy’s husband had came by to talk and she was telling him about these interactions that she’s been having with David and her husband said –

ESPY MENDEZ: “Hold on. That’s not what he told me.” We like sat there and compared our messages.

ANNA TRAN: And it was at this point that they realized that David’s quote unquote “counseling” was very different from when he would talk to Espy versus when he would talk to her husband. David told Espy that her husband was being selfish, that he didn’t care about their kids. At the same time, David told him

ESPY MENDEZ: How I was not a good woman, that I was probably out here going backwards and doing drugs again.

JESSE EUBANKS: Oh my gosh, that is horrible. 

ANNA TRAN: Yeah, it’s, it’s pretty messed up. And this is a really confusing place to be in. Remember – Espy’s only been a Christian for about two years, and to try to figure out, you know, how to feel about this, she decides to ask a friend for a second opinion. So, she shows her friend the messages and asks her –

ESPY MENDEZ: “Is this normal?” And she told me, “Girl, run. He’s not okay. He’s not a good pastor. Run.” And I was like, “Run? Like (laughs) I can’t run. It’s my church home. You know, like, I can’t do that.”

ANNA TRAN: And soon after Espy and her husband compared those messages, they reached out to their denomination’s leadership about David. We don’t know exactly what happened, but what we do know is that the denomination met with David or they contacted him somehow and in that meeting David somehow figures out that Espy and her husband were the ones who made the accusation. David is, like, super angry about this. So one day he actually shows up to Espy’s house, Espy’s husband’s there, and David begins crying and yelling at them. 

ESPY MENDEZ: “How dare you. Like, how could you put me in that situation? I would never disrespect you or your wife. We’ve helped you, and you betrayed me after everything I’ve done for your kids.” And I felt so bad because again I felt like, “Dang, what if it is really is our heart?”

JESSE EUBANKS: Gosh. And I think Espy’s, you know, reaction, this notion of like questioning yourself – it’s so understandable. “Maybe I’m the one that’s in the wrong. Maybe I misunderstood. Maybe I’m the one that’s being ungracious here.” 

ANNA TRAN: Right. And combine that self-doubt with the community that Espy had found at her church – and even though her pastor had behaved in ways that were super troubling to her, Espy still wasn’t sure that that was reason enough to totally leave the church.

ESPY MENDEZ: I just felt like my family’s still gonna be okay. Like, I don’t know. I, I still didn’t want to leave. 

ANNA TRAN: So week after week, Espy continued to go to church where she saw David and listened to his sermons. It was like hard, but she didn’t wanna abandon her church. But at the same time, she can’t ignore the reality that something is totally off. Something is wrong. Her pastor is using and abusing her. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, okay, so let, let’s talk about that for a second. What do we do when we feel our pastors are using us? 

JEROME GAY: Alright, I’m Jerome Gay Jr., originally from Washington, D.C., and I pastor Vision Church in Raleigh, North Carolina.

JESSE EUBANKS: So this is Pastor Jerome. He’s written a lot of books, but one that he wrote recently is specifically addressing church hurt. And while he saw that there were books addressing things like spiritual toxicity, narcissistic leadership in the church, he didn’t see something that covered this topic holistically.

JEROME GAY: And so I wanted to do something that was more comprehensive, that addressed it from all angles. Being a pastor, I’ve unfortunately had to see both sides to where I’ve witnessed it and have experienced it but I’ve also caused it. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Okay, now a formal definition that Pastor Jerome gives is that church hurt should be understood as pain inflicted by religious institutions, their members, or their leadership.

ANNA TRAN: Okay, got it. 

JEROME GAY: And this type of pain can distance the sufferers of victims from their community where they distance themselves from the people of God, but in some cases they feel a distance from God himself. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Okay, but here’s the thing – there’s actually more to this. Jerome says that there are actually three different types of church hurt, and those three are structural, cultural, and personal. When we think about Espy’s story, it’s actually an example of structural church hurt. 

ANNA TRAN: Okay, so structural church hurt. What is that exactly? 

JEROME GAY: Structural church hurt is when the leadership uses the church to build their own personal platform and they see the people as a means to an end and not image bearers of Christ.

ANNA TRAN: Yeah, this is exactly what Espy experienced. She felt she was used by her pastor. And also, here’s the thing – she thought she was the only one. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Oh my gosh. So she wasn’t. 

ANNA TRAN: No. It turns out a few months after the argument in her yard with her pastor, Espy discovered that she wasn’t the only woman her pastor had been doing inappropriate things with. There were more inappropriate phone calls, text messages, and even house visits. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Oh, so it was a pattern. 

ANNA TRAN: Totally. And this pushed Espy over the line. She stopped going to her church. She couldn’t be a part of a church where a pastor treated her like David did. And so Espy and her husband – they officially left PTM. And of course, this comes with a lot of mixed emotions.

ESPY MENDEZ: And I felt like abandoned. I felt like this church is what saved me from, you know, myself really because I was a mess. And if I’m not in church with them, like where am I gonna be? 

ANNA TRAN: And sadly, after leaving PTM in 2018, the next few years were really hard for Espy. She lost her job. She and her husband separated. Her kids were going through a really hard time. Money was even tighter. Hardship after hardship kept coming her way. 

ESPY MENDEZ: I remember even asking God, like, “You said that you were the Prince of Peace. Where are you? And then it says in your word that you’re a man that does not lie. Where is the peace that you promise?”

JESSE EUBANKS: Gosh, you know, in so many ways it felt like the church was like a dam, like, holding the flood back from just kind of overtaking Espy’s life. In so many ways, the church was like a last hope. And so like the failures were not minor. Like they were catastrophic to her life, you know? 

ANNA TRAN: Right. 

JESSE EUBANKS: And I even think about, like – here’s Espy, somebody that really needed parental figures in her life, and, you know, David and Carol were that to her.

ANNA TRAN: Yeah. Especially for David as a lead pastor and having inappropriate interactions with multiple other women in the church, it just, like, shows that he had his own personal agenda over the care of the congregation. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah. With structural church hurt it’s this idea that church members end up being used or stepped on in order for church leadership to achieve their own personal vision or agenda, and I just think about how many churches out there cover that up. Like they cover up the failings of their leaders because they’re trying to protect these institutions and they’re trying to protect their own agendas and preserve their image. And it made me think of something that Pastor Jerome said.

JEROME GAY: One of the things I say is, you know, the Lord is a cover-ing. He doesn’t affirm a cover-up of abuse. And so when there’s a cover-up of sexual abuse, assault, or things like that that can happen within the church, these are ways that we’re not doing well. We’re becoming more and more of an unhealthy community of faith when those things are happening within the church.

JESSE EUBANKS: So, sadly, there are so many stories of congregations being hurt by church leadership, but I think there’s another side that we need to think about as well, which is – what happens when you’re in church leadership and it’s your congregation that hurts you?

ANNA TRAN: Yeah, that’s a side I don’t hear much. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Well, let’s talk about that after the break. Stay with us.


JESSE EUBANKS: Love Thy Neighborhood podcast. Jesse Eubanks. 

ANNA TRAN: Anna Tran. Today’s episode – “Where the Gospel Meets Church Hurt.” 

JESSE EUBANKS: We’ve just heard the story of Espy Mendez. Espy grew up in a chaotic, unhealthy environment, and she continued that pattern into her adult life. But right after she turned 30, she became part of a church where she experienced family and stability for the first time.

ANNA TRAN: But after about two years, Espy left because she and other church members came forward to expose inappropriate behavior by the lead pastor. 

JESSE EUBANKS: The truth is that often when it comes to church hurt what comes to mind is hurt caused by leaders. But as with all things, there’s a flip side. Okay, so a recent Barna survey of around 500 pastors found that 42 percent of pastors said that they considered quitting full-time ministry in 2022.

ANNA TRAN: Okay, 42 percent. That’s pretty substantial. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, and here’s the deal – that’s actually a 13 percent increase from 2021. We’re saying that it went from 29 percent all the way up to 42 percent. Top three reasons that pastors said that they were considering quitting were stress on the job, political divisions, and loneliness and isolation. So, to tell me more about this, I actually talked with a pastor who has quite a bit of experience with some of those exact feelings. 

JONATHAN DODSON: Hi, uh, my name’s Jonathan Dodson.

JESSE EUBANKS: In 2006, Jonathan planted a church in Austin, Texas.

JONATHAN DODSON: Among the creative class, among the skeptics and artists and the Keep Austin Weird vibe.

JESSE EUBANKS: And as a church planter in the U.S., it was easy for Jonathan to get caught up in the desire to achieve the ideal vision for the church. But he learned early on that instead of pastoring the church you envision in your head –

JONATHAN DODSON: You pastor the church God gives you. And I think as a young pastor I, I needed to learn to recognize that you shepherd the souls God gives you, not the people that you kind of have, you know, in your plan. 

JESSE EUBANKS: And this reframing – it actually led to shaping the culture of the church where he pastored. Jonathan and the leadership of the church wanted the church to be a family, not just an event. They would have meals at people’s homes, served their local community together, help each other with kids and pets, and all this is happening in between their weekly Sunday services. 

JONATHAN DODSON: There’s a mix of just doing life, and then there’s crisis. You know, um, uh, people go to the hospital. Who’s there? It’s not just the pastor. It’s the church. It’s the meal train. It’s the, the, the constant care, the text threads. 

ANNA TRAN: Yeah. That’s like really sweet. That sounds like the church being the church. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Right. But of course, you know, if they’re like a family, every family has conflict. 

ANNA TRAN: Right. 

JESSE EUBANKS: So Jonathan actually categorizes the types of conflict that he faces as a pastor in three different ways, and he calls them garden variety, mid-level, and then the most extreme, which he refers to as level 10.

ANNA TRAN: Oh gosh. 

JESSE EUBANKS: So like an example of garden variety would be some people in a small group feeling like other people in that group weren’t really listening to them or they felt like somebody in the group was really harsh with their words. 

JONATHAN DODSON: They carry that in their heart a little bit, goes on for weeks, they become bitter, and then they email the leader and say, “You know what? We feel like we’re not really called to this group anymore.” 

JESSE EUBANKS: An example of mid-level would be something like –

JONATHAN DODSON: Deep anger and fighting in a marriage where there are things thrown and words said and it is not just once but it’s a pattern. Husbands and wives are at each other’s throats, or they’re cold treatment and isolating and drifting.

JESSE EUBANKS: Okay, so examples of a level 10 would be things like abuse, things like infidelity, things like significantly breaking the law. All of these things are going to destroy individual lives. They’re gonna destroy the church. And of course, for Jonathan as a pastor guiding people through these types of conflicts, he gets to see all different sides of people.

JONATHAN DODSON: Not only to the beauty of people’s lives, but to the sin, the struggle, the pain, the heartache, the evil.

JESSE EUBANKS: So from like the mid-2000s all the way through 2019, things are going relatively smooth. Like the church has conflict, but the conflict is not all the time, it is not all over the place. You’ve got your garden variety conflict. You’ve got your mid-level conflict. Occasionally some level 10. But it’s not constant.

ANNA TRAN: Okay, got it. 

JESSE EUBANKS: But then, at the beginning of 2020, whereas conflict had always been spaced out, suddenly it’s like a switch got flipped and it just became relentless. Okay, so January 2020 – Jonathan gets a phone call. It’s actually from this couple at the church, and it’s the husband who’s on the line. 

JONATHAN DODSON: And he said, “Hey, um, we’re not gonna be coming back to church.” 

JESSE EUBANKS: They were an older couple. They were really well-respected at the church. These were people that people looked up to. They mentored others. Really engaged. They had done a lot of their life at the church. Deeply embedded in the community there. So suddenly getting this phone call, when Jonathan heard this –

JONATHAN DODSON: And I was really shocked. So we got together – my wife and I met with them ’cause we were very close to them – at this coffee shop. We walked in, was bustling, sat down in the corner booth. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Jonathan said their whole demeanor had changed and when he looked across at them –

JONATHAN DODSON: It just felt different. The wife was kind of ice cold. She was usually bubbly and warm. And I said, “Well, you know, guys, can we pray before we get into this?” And he pinned me to the wall with daggers in his eyes and just kind of like, “Yeah, sure, whatever. Like, I don’t believe in your God.” 

JESSE EUBANKS: This couple that they had known and loved and done so much life with – they were sitting here and essentially they were deconverting from Christianity. They were there to say, “We don’t believe that Jesus is the Messiah anymore.”

JONATHAN DODSON: I don’t know anything breaks a pastor’s heart more than for people to abandon the faith. That’s how 2020 began for me. 

JESSE EUBANKS: And then of course, as 2020 goes on, the year holds a lot more for Jonathan. As a pastor, he has a ton that he’s about to have to walk people through. For example, after George Floyd was killed, members of the congregation came to Jonathan and said, “We would really like to be able to do something to emphasize racial injustice more.”

JONATHAN DODSON: There was concern about racial injustice prior to 2020. It wasn’t like we were ignoring the issue. Uh, we were trying to equip and grow and all of that. 

JESSE EUBANKS: And so, you know, Jonathan’s church – they decide, “Okay, we’re gonna do some history classes, help our congregation understand what in the world’s going on in culture, where did all this come from.” So they decide they’re gonna do some history classes about critical race theory, some history classes about racism in America. They’re trying to do all this work to help the congregation. But the bottom line is that for some people, that just wasn’t enough. For example, that year there were some members that wanted the whole church to do a whiteness intensive course.

JONATHAN DODSON: And I was unwilling to, to do that. So I said, “You know, if you wanna do that with a few people, here’s some concerns about it and how, the impact it could have, but we’re not going to require the whole church to go through a whiteness deconstruction. We are going to continue to talk about race dynamics. We are going to acknowledge imbalances of power in our country.”

JESSE EUBANKS: Jonathan said that some members were wanting the church to become more justice-centric rather than Christ-centric. 

JONATHAN DODSON: And we were unwilling to kind of exchange the center of gravity of our church. 

JESSE EUBANKS: And because they were unwilling to shift the central message of the church, a lot of people left. And those were the hits that he was taking kind of from the progressive side of things, but swing over to the more conservative side of things and Jonathan was getting hit on a whole bunch of other stuff. For example, when his church was trying to figure out “should we or should we not require people to wear masks as it relates to church” –

JONATHAN DODSON: I remember one pastor, um, saying, “On the same day I received a letter that says, ‘If we don’t gather together on Sunday, I didn’t realize we had a coward as a pastor,’ and then also receiving on the same day, ‘If we gather together on Sunday, the blood is on your hands.'”

ANNA TRAN: Gosh, that is really intense. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Right. And eventually, like, one member writes and is like, “Oh, I’ve got a solution to this whole thing.” So this guy is a friend of his.

JONATHAN DODSON: Dedicated his children, wrote us a letter and said, “Um, we can’t wear masks in the gathering. Can I find us a different place to gather?” 

JESSE EUBANKS: The member was wanting to change locations so that they didn’t need to wear masks. 

JONATHAN DODSON: The perspective there is so self-centric. So you, we’re gonna find a different, entirely different place to gather just for you?

JESSE EUBANKS: So Jonathan wrote him back saying, “Changing locations is not something that we can do.” 

JONATHAN DODSON: We never heard from him again. Completely disappeared. Ghosted completely. Heartbreaking for me because this isn’t just an ordinary church member. This is just someone I mentored. This is someone I love, this family. This is someone I would consider a friend. Poof. Gone. 

JESSE EUBANKS: And I think that this tragedy brings us to the second kind of church hurt, and this is what Pastor Jerome calls cultural church hurt.

JEROME GAY: Certain ethnic culture or just, um, programmatic culture. And if you don’t fit their culture, even though it may not be in Scripture, you feel alienated, distanced, or even shunned because they’re, they’re trying to gain a particular homogenous setting.

ANNA TRAN: Hang on. How does this apply to Jonathan’s setting? 

JESSE EUBANKS: Well, in his case it applies because some people within Jonathan’s church are essentially saying, “Either you’re going to follow my exact cultural agenda, or I refuse to be a part of this church.” And it’s something I see all the time. Each of us show up with our personal convictions and our personal preferences, and we universalize those as expectations – “My church needs to meet all of my preferences or I’m out.” Or on the flip side, churches are built around personal preferences, and then when somebody who is a cultural minority shows up, we don’t know how to make room for that person. And so all this tension just continued to build up. Jonathan actually found himself replaying all of these conversations in his head that he’s been having with people, and they are just going on in his mind over and over again.

JONATHAN DODSON: I would begin to, like, marshal an argument internally against them and then I realized that was not endearing me to these saints and so I just asked the Lord to help me pray for them. 

ANNA TRAN: Wow, I can imagine that he probably feels pretty trapped. What do you do with all that critique and people essentially saying that it’s your fault for all of these things?

JEROME GAY: Here’s a big difference is when a member experiences it they can just leave. They often can leave with their church hurt, but the pastor has to lead with his church hurt. He has to continue to lead the people that are hurting him sometimes.

ANNA TRAN: Yeah, that makes sense. You know, I think if a pastor switched churches every time he was hurt, that would be pretty problematic.

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, if pastors change churches as often as members do, you know, we would have a pretty huge problem on our hand. 


JESSE EUBANKS: And so eventually all of this comes to a head in the middle of 2022. Jonathan is actually walking to his church when he suddenly realizes something inside of him has snapped. 

JONATHAN DODSON: The, the responsibility of caring for all of those people was unthinkable, and, um, the feeling was just like the bottom dropped out of my heart. It was like a void manifested where there had been no void, a profound sense of my own frailty and inadequacy and a little bit of despair, but mostly “I have nothing to give.”

JESSE EUBANKS: And this feeling made Jonathan feel really alarmed. 

JONATHAN DODSON: So I called my elders and said, “Guys, something’s happening.” I told ’em I couldn’t even preach, and I just, I just fell apart at the table with them.

JESSE EUBANKS: So after Jonathan expressed just his hardship and the feelings of emptiness that he was dealing with to the elders at his church, to his surprise, they actually did not tell him just to push through or to brush it off. They actually told him –

JONATHAN DODSON: “Let’s just sit in the dirt and weep,” and they wept with me. I prayed the slowest prayer I’ve ever prayed in my life, and then they said, “Why don’t you take two months off just to find comfort and healing?”

JESSE EUBANKS: I just think about the pastors that I know in my own life and the unrealistic expectations that pastors have to live with year in and year out anyway. “We want you to be there when our child is born. We want you to be there to bury our parents. We want you to preach on the exact topics. We want you to do it with systematic theology, but also with great storytelling.” Then you take the last few years and you take the polarization of what’s taking place in America – so many pastors are essentially being held hostage by their congregations, and when the pastors have the courage to actually speak up and say, “No. The Lord is calling us beyond this polarization” – I mean, you, you can just see the devastation that comes to churches because people start leaving.

ANNA TRAN: Yeah, I’ve heard of pastors who’ve been diagnosed with CTSD and that’s continuous traumatic stress disorder and that’s ongoing trauma that causes physical and psychological damage. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah. There’s another angle that I think that we should also be thinking about. So we’ve heard from somebody who was hurt by church leadership. We’ve also heard from a leader who was hurt by their congregation. But there’s also a third category – what happens when a person who’s experienced church hurt is also part of the problem?

ANNA TRAN: Yeah, that’s a pretty tough one. And after the break, we have a story about someone who’s a victim and is also culpable. Stay with us.


JESSE EUBANKS: Love Thy Neighborhood podcast. Jesse.

ANNA TRAN: Anna. Today’s episode – “Where the Gospel Meets Church Hurt.” 

JESSE EUBANKS: Before the break, we were hearing from Jonathan Dodson, a pastor who planted a church with the intention of fostering a family-like community. But during 2020, pressure from church members started increasing. After a series of challenges, Jonathan found himself in 2022 feeling totally depleted, feeling empty, and unable to give care to people. 

ANNA TRAN: So at this point, we’ve heard stories from multiple sides – people being hurt by leadership and leadership being hurt by church members. 

JESSE EUBANKS: And before the break, I asked the question – what happens when a person who’s experienced hurt is also part of the problem?

ANNA TRAN: Well, that’s something a man named Mike –

MIKE HERNANDEZ: My name’s Mike Hernandez.

ANNA TRAN: – has some experience with. When Mike was a teenager, he got caught up in all sorts of danger. 

MIKE HERNANDEZ: I was involved around a lot of gangs. Multiple times I think I could’ve gotten shot, killed, car accidents, got like almost two heart attacks because of the drugs that I was taking. So just looking for something to change me. 

ANNA TRAN: By the time Mike was 20, he got fed up with drugs and alcohol and he wanted a way out of his addiction. Mike had made a new friend who had been sober for a while and his friend was telling him that Jesus was the real way out and so Mike’s friend brings him to a small church service at a person’s house. There were around eight to 10 people there. There was singing, praise and worship. There was a pastor preaching. And so eventually, you know, Mike is wanting help with his addiction, and he goes up to the pastor and says, “Hey, what are you gonna do to help me with my addiction?” And then the pastor says –

MIKE HERNANDEZ: “Well, Mike, it sounds like you’ve tried everything, but why don’t you try Jesus?” And so I said, “Okay, what do you need me to do?” So I got down on my knees, and I gave my life to the Lord. 

ANNA TRAN: Within the next two days, literally, Mike gets radically delivered from drugs and alcohol. Honestly, that’s a whole ‘nother wild story. But, in the days following, Mike quickly told his friends all about what was happening to him. Immediately, he, like, left his old lifestyle behind him, he dove straight into church community, he starts sharing his testimony everywhere, and he becomes pretty close with the lead pastor.

MIKE HERNANDEZ: I’d be at his house every week. He’d gimme a book Monday, I’d bring it back to him Sunday. I’d say, “Gimme another one.”

ANNA TRAN: Mike would often meet up with his pastor for lunch.

MIKE HERNANDEZ: So he’d pour into me on his lunch break. I’d pick him up every Sunday morning so he’d be pouring into me while I’m driving him to church. So we were just extremely close. 

ANNA TRAN: And at this time, Mike’s a new believer. He’s got a lot of passion. He’s telling everyone he knows about Jesus. He’s setting up individual meetings with anyone who would listen, telling them all about the things he’s learning from the pastor and the sermons. And when Mike told his pastor all about the stuff that he was doing, his pastor said –

MIKE HERNANDEZ: “Well, let me give you an idea.” I said, “Okay.” He said, “Instead of meeting with all these people on all the other days that we don’t have church, just call ’em and pick a day where you all can meet together, and then I’ll give you a message to share to them.”

ANNA TRAN: And so in 2007, Mike becomes the church’s first small group leader. Remember, this is only about a year since he’s been a Christian and has become sober. He quickly stepped into other leadership roles and areas of service. 

MIKE HERNANDEZ: I would be going to the juvenile detention center as well during that time. I would be preaching to the kids at juvie. I counted all the money. I documented it. I forecasted, you know, what we needed to purchase, certain things, to the church.

ANNA TRAN: So after a couple years of ministry, one day in 2009, Mike’s phone rings, and it’s his pastor.

MIKE HERNANDEZ: And I remember he called me, was like, “Oh, I really need to talk to you.”

ANNA TRAN: And Mike has no idea what his pastor wants.

MIKE HERNANDEZ: I drove to, like, a restaurant or something. 

ANNA TRAN: Mike sees him, parks the car –

MIKE HERNANDEZ: And we talked in the parking lot, and he kind of, you know, was crying. 

ANNA TRAN: His pastor is stressed, trying to talk, and then eventually his pastor says –

MIKE HERNANDEZ: So he’s like, “You know, I have to get some things right in my life. I was talking to a girl inappropriately.”

JESSE EUBANKS: What, what does he mean by inappropriate? 

ANNA TRAN: Well, at this point, from what Mike knows, it’s to the extent of he was either text messaging a woman or having inappropriate conversation with a woman, speaking with vulgar language or making off-color jokes. And it didn’t seem like it was a pattern. It seemed like a one time thing. And understandably, Mike is taken aback at the news, but they keep talking it out. And by the end of it, the pastor is saying how sorry he is. But at the same time, his pastor’s worried that people are going to leave the church and that other leaders will abandon him. And because the pastor’s mistake was just a one time thing, Mike, he makes a decision – “I’m just gonna stick this out.”

MIKE HERNANDEZ: I feel like I’m a very loyal person, you know? So I was like, “Yeah, man, you know, I’m not gonna leave you. I’m gonna be here with you. We’re gonna pick up the church together.” 

ANNA TRAN: The following week, the pastor made a public statement to the church. He told the church that he was stepping aside from leadership for a time period. But eventually things return to quote unquote “church as usual” within the year. Okay. Fast forward to 2014 – the church has grown from a small house church, and now they actually have a building. And one day Mike is sitting in his apartment, and someone from the church sends him a message asking if he sees the video. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Wait, what video? 

ANNA TRAN: So it’s a video of his pastor talking directly to another woman from their church. And what he was saying – it was not good. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Oh my gosh. 

MIKE HERNANDEZ: I mean, extremely inappropriate, very sexual, very vulgar, very nasty, to her. 

ANNA TRAN: Mike is in disbelief. He’s been working side by side with his pastor for years, doing life with him, praying for their church together, but he’s looking at his phone and there’s no denying it that this is his pastor in the video.

MIKE HERNANDEZ: I mean, dude, I’m looking at the video. That’s my leader. You know, I’m reading the text messages. That’s his number. I remember crying and getting on my knees and just repenting on his behalf and just asking, “God, I’m sorry, you know, for this. Please forgive us as a church. Forgive him for talking to, you know, this girl like that.”

ANNA TRAN: In the few weeks to come, it’s just like the first incident. He and his pastor have a conversation about it, his pastor makes a public announcement saying that he’s gonna step away for a little bit, but eventually things go back to quote unquote “normal.”

JESSE EUBANKS: At the church.

ANNA TRAN: Exactly. 

JESSE EUBANKS: How is that possible? Like how do you go back to normal after, now here’s two incidents of your pastor acting like that? 

ANNA TRAN: Well, remember Mike is really close to his pastor. His pastor was there supporting him when he got off drugs and alcohol. When someone has been a part of the process that has saved you, there’s like a lot of cognitive dissonance that you have. You wanna see like something bad that they’ve done as something that’s abnormal. That’s not part of who they are, not something that they would do typically. I mean, like, I can see Mike wanting to trust him and giving him the benefit of the doubt. 

MIKE HERNANDEZ: If he’s telling me he’s getting better and supposedly he’s telling me he’s repentant and he’s crying, I mean, surely, you know, he must be changing.

ANNA TRAN: And his pastor would tell Mike the same thing he said after the first incident.

MIKE HERNANDEZ: “The people need help. The people are hurting more than me. You’re their leader. You need to take responsibility. Let’s help them. Let’s pick up this church, and let’s help it to get sustained again and grow.”

ANNA TRAN: And so that’s what Mike trusted in. Even after seeing the video, Mike continued to serve at the church. His pastor took some time off from leading but eventually was back in the pulpit, preaching and directing ministries. A few more years pass, and Mike actually becomes the associate pastor of the church. So he’s gone from being a church member, he has been a small group leader, and things seem to be going okay. The church has grown. People are coming to faith. But then in 2018, other leaders in the church start leaving, and Mike actually isn’t fully sure why they’re leaving. All he knows is that people are leaving, and he can’t help but feel just a little bit slighted by this.

MIKE HERNANDEZ: I felt like, “You’re, you know, you’re leaving, I’m staying. You’re quitting, I’m enduring.” 

ANNA TRAN: And then pretty soon after other leaders started leaving, things begin unraveling at lightning speed. So, at this point, there were a couple more instances of the pastor’s impropriety. Within a year, three more women came forward, all with documented text messages or Facebook messages about inappropriate things the pastor had said to them. 

MIKE HERNANDEZ: And one of ’em, which you interviewed, was, uh, was Espy. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Oh my gosh. So Espy and Mike. Same church. 

ANNA TRAN: Exactly. Same church. PTM. 


ANNA TRAN: So Mike’s pastor is Pastor David, the one from Espy’s story. 

JESSE EUBANKS: Holy smokes. Well, that gives a lot more context for all this.

ANNA TRAN: Right. So at this point, after the three women came forward –

MIKE HERNANDEZ: That was the final straw for me. 

ANNA TRAN: That was it. This was a pattern Mike could not deny. He knew that he couldn’t give David any more chances. Mike knew he had to leave. So one Sunday Mike pulled David aside – 

MIKE HERNANDEZ: And I had told him that, you know, “There’s three girls that came forward. We have the messages. I think you should just own it, confess it, but understand that, you know, I’m not gonna be here no more, man. Like, I love you, I care for you, your family.” And then he just kind of looks at me like, “Okay, so you’re not gonna help with this building?” Didn’t shake my hand, didn’t give me a hug, didn’t tell me thank you, didn’t say goodbye. He just kind of looked at me with a crazy look, shrugged his shoulders, and walked back inside the building, and I never spoke to him again.

ANNA TRAN: Mike had committed 12 years of his life to his church, and as you can imagine, leaving a place you dedicated 12 years of your life to – that’s a lot to process. 

MIKE HERNANDEZ: Me and my wife, we felt, we both felt horrible. We were very discouraged, confused, angry, a lot of mixed emotions. I mean, that was our home. Those were our spiritual parents. Our blood, sweat, and tears, man, was in that place.

JESSE EUBANKS: Gosh, I think that Mike’s story, it illustrates something that I think a lot of different church leaders have gone through, especially like in really corrupt, you know, or broken churches, where there is this tension, right, between like, “I’m trying to give grace, but I wanna hold this person accountable. This church is my family, but I’m also employed at the church.” There are so many competing frictions. It’s this really, really hard tension.

ANNA TRAN: Right. In a lot of ways, Mike allowed church hurt to continue because he let David go on without accountability. But that’s because he trusted David. David was like a spiritual father to Mike. He was willing to stay loyal because of that trust, and David was telling Mike, “There’s still people at this church that need your help.”

JESSE EUBANKS: So what does Mike do with all this? 

ANNA TRAN: Well, first, Mike knew that he himself needed healing. He was hurt by David. So, he went and sought another mentor figure to help guide him through his grief. As he’s processing his grief – remember when other church leaders were leaving? 

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah. Yeah. Mike was under the impression like, “They’re all leaving because they’re quitters and because they just don’t wanna be a part of this anymore.”

ANNA TRAN: Right. “They’re not loyal.” Well, it turns out that David was actually lying to Mike about the reasons why they left, and the real reason was that these leaders were confronting David about his improprieties and trying to bring him to accountability. 

MIKE HERNANDEZ: But I didn’t find out until after I left and actually talked to the people because I always took him at his word, you know, and just trusted him blindly. 

ANNA TRAN: So Mike resigns from his job at the church and he leaves the congregation altogether and in the months to come, as Mike is looking back on all of his time at the church, he actually starts to feel this great sense of conviction. Conviction that –

MIKE HERNANDEZ: I needed to repent for all the people that I hurt and all the people that I labeled. And God had told me, you know, “My children are not known by how they label each other, but by how they love each other.”

ANNA TRAN: Mike knew that he wasn’t David. He couldn’t go back and undo all of the pain that was caused, but Mike knew that what he could do was listen, you know, listen and hear people express their hurt and their pain. So, Mike started praying. 

MIKE HERNANDEZ: God started bringing people to my memory, and I started going to my Facebook, I started going to my phone, and I started reaching out to these people. 

JESSE EUBANKS: So this reminds me of, uh, the last category that Pastor Jerome talked about – personal church hurt. 

JEROME GAY: And so, uh, personal church hurt is just when a, you know, believer hurts another believer, uh, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Prayerfully through relationship and conversation you can get clarity on that.

ANNA TRAN: Right. Mike is in both the intentional and unintentional categories. You know, he wasn’t always the leader. He was also blindly trusting David. At the same time, at one point he was the leader and didn’t have a posture of love towards those who left the church. So he starts reaching out to former members of the church to ask if they can get together. He would say –

MIKE HERNANDEZ: “I’m not trying to make excuses, but I was manipulated, but I wanna take ownership of what I did to you and I’m hoping that you can give me a meeting so I can publicly, personally repent to you.”

ANNA TRAN: And so when Mike would go to these meetings, he only had two things that he wanted to do. First –

MIKE HERNANDEZ: I sat there and I listened to their story.

ANNA TRAN: And second –

MIKE HERNANDEZ: I would apologize.

ANNA TRAN: Those were the two big things. Mike wanted people to feel heard, and he wanted to own up to his actions and apologize. 

MIKE HERNANDEZ: Every meeting was so – man, high, high emotion. There’s pain because, man, I feel bad for what I did. There’s tears because they’re having to relive what they’re sharing. But then there’s anger because I’m finding out the way this man really did treat them.

ANNA TRAN: Mike actually met people at their houses, his house, restaurants. Sometimes it was only a phone call, but, you know, he did this over and over and over again. 

MIKE HERNANDEZ: Nah, I lost count, man. Yeah, I lost count. I mean, I, I, my meetings were filled up every single day of the week. In essence of the span of time, probably two to three months.

JESSE EUBANKS: And, like, what did this lead to? 

ANNA TRAN: Well, sometimes after the meeting was done, they would reconcile and they remained friends. But for other people, they just needed to express their feelings, express their hurt and their pain. But afterwards, they ended up not having any type of relationship with Mike. So the reality is that his church had hurt a lot of people. So understandably, for many people there was some level of suspicion of Mike. At the same time, Mike still felt burdened for the people who were hurt. So this actually leads Mike to do something a little bit risky. He sends out messages and tells the people he had met with –

MIKE HERNANDEZ: I said, “If you’re open, we can meet every Wednesday at my parents’ house, and let’s focus on getting healed. Let’s focus on forgiveness. Let’s just, you know, focus on getting healthy.” Because all these people, man, like, they didn’t wanna go to church. They hated church. They hated pastors. 

JESSE EUBANKS: That is, that’s understandable in light of everything that’s happened. 

ANNA TRAN: Totally. It makes so much sense. So, Mike didn’t wanna do anything formal. He didn’t have any official ministries. It wasn’t a church. It was just people getting together to talk about all the hurt that they had experienced and somehow work their way towards healing. And one of the people that Mike actually invited was Espy. Because this wasn’t, you know, a church setting, Espy was willing to go. She told me about these three women. 

ESPY MENDEZ: Ms. Marelli and Ms. Rosa, Ms. Delia. I remember the first time that I was at the group they asked me like to kind of share what was going on in my life, and I, I remember it was like this, you know, like snot nosed, ugly cry, like I couldn’t even talk. It was one of those…

ANNA TRAN: This was a space that Espy could come without any judgment and just share in a really raw way what was going on in her life. Because remember, after she had left the church, she lost her job, she and her husband separated. Her life was just full of hardships. At this point, Espy is still wrestling with a lot of really tough things. And so, you know, as people are coming to these get togethers, they’re sharing meals, talking about the stuff that they’ve been through, people were actually coming up to Mike and saying –

MIKE HERNANDEZ: “You’re my pastor.” I said, “No, I’m not.” You know, other people would come up and say, “This is my church.” I said, “This is not a church.”

JESSE EUBANKS: You know, Mike was so insistent that he was not organizing a church, but, like, you look at this and I’m like – people are sharing life together. They are seeking God together. They’re studying the Word together. They’re praying together. They’re worshiping together. I’m like, if it walks like a church and it looks like a church.

ANNA TRAN: Right. Mike, even though he didn’t plan on starting an official church – the people around him just genuinely saw his care for people and how he facilitated bringing them together. So at first he was pretty resistant, but eventually he went to his denomination for counsel. They encouraged him, and soon enough he started an official church. And Espy so appreciated how Mike handled the situation that she actually decided that she wanted to be a part of this church. She knew it wouldn’t be easy, but she decided to be a part of it anyways.

ESPY MENDEZ: And then when I would go to church, I would run out because it would be too much. I would just cry and cry and cry and cry. 

ANNA TRAN: Being at church was still pretty tough for Espy, but she continued coming back because of the community that she had with the church. You know, something that brought her the most healing was her time hanging out with the older women. She was inspired by their perseverance, and one woman in the group was sharing about how she had gone through a lot of hardships, you know, sickness and loss in her family. And Espy asked her – “How do you still have faith in God while going through all of that?” 

ESPY MENDEZ: She said, “Because no one can tell me that God is not real because if he was not I would not have survived that.”

ANNA TRAN: And as Espy heard this woman say this, she reflected back on her own experiences of church hurt. And she realized –

ESPY MENDEZ: That is exactly right. If, if God was not real, I would not have survived these past three years because it, my life got really dark.

ANNA TRAN: These older women loved her and helped her wrestle with her hurt and pain.

ESPY MENDEZ: Like they really showed me what, what the body of Christ is, you know, what the love of Christ is and how patient Christ is and, and what church really is.

ANNA TRAN: Okay, so what do we do with all of this? 

JESSE EUBANKS: I mean, the reality is this – any of us that have been a part of a church probably have some degree of church hurt. You know, it’s a spectrum, everything from minor church hurt all the way up to catastrophic church hurt. But the journey towards healing is always going to start with – “I need to recognize and pay attention to my pain, and then I need to bring it to trusted people so that I can begin to process it.” 

ANNA TRAN: Right. Understandably, it’s really tempting to wanna remove ourselves from the church, especially when we’ve been hurt deeply. But we have to remember the church is called the body of Christ. Each individual is part of a whole body. Removing ourselves from the body is actually not a solution. We were made to need each other in order to become whole and to heal.

JESSE EUBANKS: Yeah, you know, God did not design us to cause horrible harm to each other. God designed us to need each other. 

MIKE HERNANDEZ: So if you’re not connected to a community, I promise you – you’re actually gonna be dysfunctional. You do need somebody. And God created it like that – for us to need each other, even if it’s just one person, and go to them, you know, and say, “Hey, you know, I’m dealing with this. Help me. Carry me,” and allow them to stand in the gap with you, pray for you, and carry you, you know, to the one who can actually heal you. And that’s, you know, that’s Jesus.

JESSE EUBANKS: And so if you’re listening to this and you’re somebody who has experienced church hurt, just know you’re not alone. Jesus grieves with you. God’s response to the brokenness of the world and the brokenness in our hearts was to send his son. And Jesus is deeply familiar with church hurt. 

ANNA TRAN: Jesus was abandoned by his disciples. He was rejected by those who called him friend. He was betrayed by people closest to him. He knew hurt, and ultimately he bore the weight of all of our sin and all the hurt caused by it when he died on the cross.

JESSE EUBANKS: Isaiah 53 tells us – “He is despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” And it goes on to say – “He was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. Upon him was the punishment that brought us peace, but by his wounds we are healed.” 

JEROME GAY: He’s not coming from a position of not knowing what we’re going through. He literally experienced it, but, but there’s one, there’s more – injustice. The Bible says many false witnesses came and spoke against him. So now we got abandonment, rejection, betrayal, injustice. All of this is, is what Jesus experienced, and he still stays committed to the church. He’s the foundation of our faith.


JESSE EUBANKS: So once a month, Anna Tran and I continue our conversation on a topic related to the Love Thy Neighborhood podcast. And so this month we’re gonna continue our conversation about church hurt over on our Patreon on our brand new podcast, Things We Couldn’t Say, and we’re gonna talk about a bunch of things that we couldn’t talk about in this episode. We’re gonna talk about what happens when your church hurt is caused by bad teaching, what happens when it’s caused just by doctrinal disagreements. And Anna and I are also gonna talk about our own personal hurt from the church. We would love it if you could join us for that ongoing conversation over on our new podcast, Things We Couldn’t Say. In order to get access to that podcast, head over to For only $5 a month, you’ll get exclusive access to Things We Couldn’t Say. All the money goes towards supporting the podcast and our urban ministry. Again, head over to The link is in the show notes.


JESSE EUBANKS: Special thanks to our interviewees – Espy Mendez, Jonathan Dodson, Mike Hernandez, and Jerome Gay.

ANNA TRAN: Senior producer and host is Jesse Eubanks. Co-host is me, Anna Tran.

JESSE EUBANKS: This episode was written by Anna Tran with Jesse Eubanks. Anna Tran is our producer and audio editor and who the other day looked at me with more hangry in her eyes than I’ve ever seen.

JONATHAN DODSON: It was like a void manifested where there had been no void. 

ANNA TRAN: Editorial input from Kiana Brown, Anna Johnson, and Kirsten Cragg. Music is from Lee Rosevere, Poddington Bear, Blue Dot Sessions, and Murphy DX. 

JESSE EUBANKS: This show is brought to you by Love Thy Neighborhood. If you want a hands-on experience of missions in our modern times, come serve with Love Thy Neighborhood. Love Thy Neighborhood offers summer and year-long missions internships for young adults ages 18 to 30. Bring social change with the gospel by working with an innovative nonprofit and serving your urban neighbors. 

ANNA TRAN: Experience community like never before as you live and do ministry with other Christian young adults. Grow in your faith by walking in the life and lifestyle of Jesus and being part of a vibrant, healthy church. Apply now at

JESSE EUBANKS: Which of these was a neighbor to the man in need? The one who showed mercy. Jesus tells us, “Go, and do likewise.”


This podcast is only made possible by generous donors like you!


Espy and Mike’s stories were originally heard on the Leadership Table Podcast.

Pastor Jerome’s book – Church Hurt.

Jonathan wrote a book to encourage pastors – The Unwavering Pastor.

Get a discount for the book using the code: TUP25


Special thank you to our interviewees Espy Mendez, Jonathan Dodson, Mike Hernandez, and Jerome Gay.

Senior producer and host is Jesse Eubanks. Co-host is Anna Tran.

This episode was written by Anna Tran with Jesse Eubanks.

Anna Tran is our producer and audio editor.

Editorial input from Anna Johnson, Kiana Brown, and Kirsten Cragg. 

Music for this episode comes from Blue Dot Sessions, Lee Rosevere, and Podington Bear.