In this post, Greg Atkinson shares about his painful journey through church hurt when he was dismissed from his job as a pastor due to misconceptions about a mental health diagnosis. Through his experiences, he discovered the transformative power of forgiveness and an ever-increasing faith in God. If you’re ready to break free from the chains of hurt, Greg shares how he found healing by unlocking his ability to forgive.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with Greg Atkinson on the Your Hope-Filled Perspective podcast about Bipolar Disorder Stigma, after he suffered the great misfortune of being let go from his position as pastor after he revealed his bipolar disorder stigma.
Be sure to read to the end for a book giveaway!
When Church Hurts: How a Pastor Healed through Forgiveness
by Greg Atkinson
When a news reporter asked Billy Graham, “What do you see as the biggest obstacle in people’s lives,” Reverend Graham responded, “Unforgiveness. I believe that 75 percent of patients in hospitals would be made whole if they would forgive.” Pain in life is inevitable. It is also crushing and devastating. I’ve been on the highest mountaintops and in the lowest valleys throughout my nearly 50 years on planet Earth.
Breaking Stigmas: Bipolar Disorder Beyond Misconceptions
One of the reasons I speak often at mental health conferences is because I have bipolar disorder. There’s still a huge stigma attached to mental illness—especially bipolar disorder. People think bipolar means crazy, which is not the case at all. In fact, many people with bipolar disorder are intelligent, operate businesses, have families, and hold leadership positions in the community.
My wife, myself, and our kids were living in Missouri in 2011. We loved it, and it easily became our home. I had worked in the community and really wanted to place down roots. I interviewed with a popular multi-campus church in our area. I was extremely excited about the prospect of becoming a campus pastor. During the interview for the job, I was upfront, and told them I had a mood and anxiety disorder. They were not bothered by that news and in fact said, “That’s not a problem.”
I got the job and started working at one of the campuses almost immediately. I really loved being a campus pastor. Along with our team, we reached out to the community in many ways, and it was a blessing to see the church grow. In fact, in a short amount of time, we tripled our attendance. Our campus also set records for baptisms. We were busting out of the seams. The lead pastor of the church was thrilled with what was going on at my campus. We had built a good relationship, and he would hug me every week and say, “You’re doing such an excellent job. You’re the man. You’re doing great.”
I had been with the church for about two and a half years, and I really felt that I should share with the lead pastor about being bipolar. So, when I saw him in the hall one day, I told him that I wanted to tell him something about me. He said, “Man, Greg, you can tell me anything.”
I thought to myself, well, we will see.
Weeks later, in a meeting, I said, “Remember when you hired me, and I told you that I had a mood and anxiety disorder?”
“Sure, I remember that. It wasn’t a big deal,” he said.
I looked at him and said, “Well, that mood disorder is actually bipolar—that’s what I have.”
His whole facial expression changed—he looked angry.
A month later, the lead pastor asked my wife and me to meet with him and the executive pastor. As we sat in the office, my wife and I were stunned when the lead pastor coldly read a letter that said I was being fired because the insurance company could not provide liability coverage for a pastor / counselor with bipolar disorder. It was a shocking proclamation. The lead pastor made it sound as though his hand was forced, that if he didn’t let me go, they would lose their liability insurance. This reason ended up not being true.
Church Hurt: When Faith Collides with Human Frailty
This was my first experience working at a megachurch of feeling chewed up and eventually spit out when not needed anymore. It was not my last. I had similar experiences at two other churches.
Sadly, I’m not alone. When people experience church hurt—whether they work in ministry or attend a church where they have had a traumatic experience—they often walk away from their faith or become angry with God.
But church leaders are just people—flawed, sinful humans, just like the rest of us. In our culture we tend to idolize people and, in our churches, we idolize pastors. We put them up on a pedestal until they come crashing down. Our idol is broken, and we walk away from God, as if we are surprised that Christians are, well, human.
When I say this, I’m not minimizing the wounds I have from church hurt. In our culture, in which we see sex abuse cases raging in churches and even in the higher ranks of denominations, it is critical that churches remain accountable, and that survivors of abuse or church hurt are heard and protected. But for those who know Christ, we need to realize that we are following Christ, not the pastor or the leader who did wrong.
Finding healing through forgiveness
Through the hurts I experienced by leaders in church, I found an ever-increasing faith in God. God was always my comforter and my defender, and God would be my healer as well. I also learned that the only way to overcome hurt, especially when it comes from our Christian brothers and sisters, is forgiveness.
Are you looking for wholeness? Are you tired of living in a prison of bitterness and hate? It’s time to get help and healing by unlocking your ability to forgive.
If you don’t forgive those who hurt you, you will never find healing. If you never find healing for the trauma and the hurts that you have faced, you will live in bondage—a prison of bitterness, anger, hate, and hardness. And this will affect not only your life but those around you as well. Without healing, you won’t move forward in life. You will be stuck in a constant childhood state of trauma.
Forgiveness is a process. But the more you are able to forgive, the more you will free yourself to experience kindness, and to give it to others too.
How have you experienced the sting in ministry? We’d love to hear in the comments below.
About Greg Atkinson
Greg Atkinson is an entrepreneur, bestselling author, and international speaker with 30 years of organizational leadership experience. He has written for over a million readers and has spoken in over 100 countries. His newest book, “The Secret Power of Kindness,” is available now at gregatkinson.com.
In conjunction with this post and the podcast interview, Greg is giving away a free copy of his book, The Secret Power of Kindness: 10 Keys to Unlocking Your Capacity to Change the World.
Leave a comment below sharing with us one thing you learned about healing through forgiveness and you will be entered into the contest for your chance to win a copy of his book.
You could also share this blog post on Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter then comment here to tell us where you shared it and you’ll also be entered into the drawing.
The winner will be selected at random and announced next Monday, November 20, 2023. Continental United States only.