When Church Hurts: Recovering Bravely After Others Let You Down

Updated: Jan 28

By Michelle Nietert

God's Brave Women - Michelle's Story


If you had met me in the winter of 2000, you would have met a woman who was on cloud nine. Through some amazing events, God spun together what I thought was the perfect ministry job for me – fulfilling and equipping me, using my talents and answering prayers of dreams I had when I was 16.


I was on staff at a local church, about to be promoted to the director of their counseling center. I had a thriving private practice and was traveling and speaking both locally and around the country. I was also in love with a man in our church who sent flowers when we opened our first women's business luncheon. It was growing exponentially every month.


In April 2000, my life drastically changed within minutes as I was called into a meeting with a newly formed advisory board (at least that’s what I thought they were). I anticipated the topic to be about a mediated separation of our organization into separate entities.


"Shock radiated and the blood drained from my face as I discovered the board had joined together and had taken over all aspects of the entire ministry. They were firing the senior pastor - my boss and mentor. I would be allowed to stay on only if I would temporarily fill his position and betray him..."


Shock radiated and the blood drained from my face as I discovered the board had joined together and had taken over all aspects of the entire ministry. They were firing the senior pastor - my boss and mentor. I would be allowed to stay on only if I would temporarily fill his position and betray him by agreeing publicly to what I knew were false statements. I knew some of the accusations were not true because I witnessed some of the conversations that had occurred, but was bound by client confidentiality and could not publicly share of the insight I had.


Devastated, I barely remember leaving the parking lot as I found shelter (ironically) at a sister church awning. I called my boyfriend at the time, not knowing where to go or what to do. My whole world was wrapped around that community – him included.


Overtime things continued to disintegrate, including my relationship with him. He did not want a wife who simply joked she'd just get married and have babies because she didn't know what to do with the rest of her life – imagine that. The following weeks would bring further misunderstandings. Myself and half my counseling staff would lose the offices we were practicing in and have to move all of our clients, as we were evicted with 24 hour notice.


"By this time our entire congregation was scattered, and I felt the weight of so much loss, with additional dynamics of threats of criminal charges being brought against me for theft of intellectual property for items like sermons, seminar training and other materials I had written."


By this time our entire congregation was scattered, and I felt the weight of so much loss, with additional dynamics of threats of criminal charges being brought against me for theft of intellectual property for items like sermons, seminar training and other materials I had written. I was to destroy all copies my work with one of the board members witnessing. I had no contract saying I did not own my writings, and I refused, believing they were given by God and ultimately His property. The major player behind this would later get me on the phone months later and beg my forgiveness before he could continue with "his ministry." I, on the other end, was willing to forgive but trust and repair – never.


I attempted to continue pursuing the call of ministry in a local church, but was again met with further rejection when I interviewed for a women's ministry position. Most people don't realize this, but church staff positions take about six months to a year to attain and during that time I was unemployed and living through the provision of others, including a couple who would one day become my future brother and sister-in-law.


After about six months, I did go on a church interview up in the Northwest but was told by some people who had only spent a weekend with me that while I was incredibly gifted, I needed to be heavily "discipled" before returning to church staff. They misunderstood my anger and grief for immaturity. If it hadn't been for the voice of an amazing mentor who has been with me since 16, I might have just walked away from ministry altogether hopeless.


"They misunderstood my anger and grief for immaturity. If it hadn't been for the voice of an amazing mentor who has been with me since 16, I might have just walked away from ministry altogether hopeless."

He pointed out to me that the same search committee had passed on someone far wiser, more talented and experienced. If that was the case, there was something else going on behind the scenes that had nothing to do with me or my supposed lack of "maturity."


After that last interview, I withdrew from the church ministry world into the safe haven (ironically) of the Container Store and later returned to public education as a school counselor. If anyone has ever worked in a school environment, they will understand that school staff are very much like a family.


That very well could've been the end of this story, as being the crisis counselor for a large school district was an amazing opportunity to reach lots of children and influence many others who were reaching them. But God is incredibly faithful to the call that He places on those He equips. He gave me time, and not only surrounded me with voices of His truth and encouragement, but He also allowed me space to hide in His flock and heal.


"But God is incredibly faithful to the call that He places on those He equips. He gave me time, and not only surrounded me with voices of His truth and encouragement, but He also allowed me space to hide in His flock and heal."

Now, almost 2 decades later, a lot of healing and restoration has occurred both inwardly and outwardly. That boyfriend, after a period of over 3 years, became my husband, and we are now the parents of two amazing children. I own my own counseling center three times the size of the one that no longer exists. Now no one with an agenda or desire for power can determine our center’s impact on our community except God. Finally, these past few years have brought more amazing open doors with the return to ministry through speaking and writing – something I did not have the energy nor the desire to pursue previously.


As God continues to open doors, I will confess there are moments of great fear and vulnerability. Could I possibly lose all it again? Would the very people I lead and minister to someday come against me, attacking my very personhood in a way that almost destroyed my soul?


"There ar