When You Have Been Hurt By The Church

Church is supposed to be a safe place. A positive place. A place where you gather with God’s people. There are some good churches out there but unfortunately there are bad ones that hurt people.

If you’ve been hurt by the church, I feel you. I have felt the pain of being burned by a pastor, church leader or fellow believer. It hurts bad. It’s not a hurt you can easily overcome. I recently drove by a church sign that had the message “If you have been hurt by the church we’re sorry”. It was quite an unexpected message on a church sign but I was impressed by the honesty of it.

Having been hurt by the church myself, one of the most important things I can tell you is not to let it affect your relationship with God. Instead of hindering it, let it motivate you. Now, this isn’t easy. I won’t lie about it. It can be difficult to separate God from the church.

The church is made of people and people aren’t perfect. They can disappoint you. Unfortunately we tend to hold church folks to a higher standard than other people and when they fail us, we are dealt a blow. That blow can defeat us if we aren’t careful.

People can be cruel. Yes, even church people. I have had church people fuss at me for sitting in their pew. At another church I greeted people as they entered. I had to deal with some grumpy ones who would complain about anything and some would even complain to me about the pastor.

One important thing I realized about church people is they don’t really know you. They might think they know you but they don’t and they often have their own ideas about you based on the few hours each week you are at church.

If you are to remain faithful to your church you have to be good at forgiving because you will have to do it a lot. You will also have to have a realistic expectation of others. Realize that people fail and will let you down but don’t let it bring you down with it.

If you finally decide to give it up, it doesn’t mean you have to give up God either. I know this goes against what people will tell you but you can still have a relationship with God and not go to church. How is this possible? Discipline. It takes a lot of self-discipline. You have to be personally committed to your relationship with God. It is a PERSONAL experience.

Pastors and church people will make you feel guilty for not going to church. They will use the verse “forsake not assembling yourselves together” but it isn’t a commandment. It does you no good to force church on yourself out of guilt when you’ve been hurt. You don’t need to add more hurt on top of what you already have endured.

If you need church and you have been hurt by it, take a break or visit other churches. Don’t be afraid of taking time to heal. Being hurt by “God’s people” is not to be taken lightly. God understands and He can heal.

if you’ve been hurt by the church, don’t let it jade you. Don’t cast your net of hurt upon all churches. Focus on your personal relationship with God so that is more important than any church.

If you are in the church, don’t guilt trip people who are hurt. Give them some space. Love those who have been hurt. Don’t do it for the motive of getting them back to church, do it out of love for the person.

“It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man.” Psalm 118:8

The First Sundays of August

first sundayWhen I was growing up as the son of a preacher man, the first Sunday of August marked the beginning of a new church year in our denomination.  Over the course of 18 years at home, seven of those first Sundays in August were the first Sunday in a new church.  Let me tell you that those first Sundays in a new church were scary.  I never liked them.  The preacher’s family is always in a fish bowl but never as much as that first Sunday when everyone is checking out the new preacher and his family.  It was never a fun experience for me and perhaps one reason I am quite reserved in the beginning when I meet new people or I am in a new situation.

Kids are cruel and I have experienced that first hand in the church and before any first day in a new school.  In many of these first Sundays I heard their unfiltered comments.  “He’s ugly” or “He looks nerdy” were the ones that pierced my feelings the most.  Yes, it was a cruel initiation at a new church.  Unfortunately, if the parents didn’t like my dad being the pastor, the kids took it out on me.  I was just part of the collateral damage to their dislike for him.  It wasn’t always like this but I would say it happened more than not.

My dad pastored churches in Georgia.  The worst memory of all was a small community in South Georgia named Axson.  It wasn’t even a city but it has lasting injuries on my memories.  My dad replaced a long-time pastor who was related to many of the members so that first Sunday was filled with people checking us out.  This little community church had a lot of folks who were involved in tobacco farming which was a bit interesting since our church taught that smoking was a sin.  Not sure how they worked all that out in their salvation but they were a tough bunch.  The first Sunday I heard the kids’ cruel comments and their snickers as I would pass by.  No one wanted to befriend me or even attempt to talk to me.  I was an outsider and they were intent on keeping it that way.  They made my life hell especially on the school bus where they would sit in the back of the bus and flip me off.  I would have complained to the bus driver – and he did witness it – but he was related to them too.  Yeah, some things you can’t forget – even 40 years or so later.  Our time at this church didn’t last long as it became just too much to overcome the adversity.

So the first Sundays at a new church weren’t always a great experience and unfortunately the bad experiences burn into our memory more than the good ones but there were some good experiences.  I remember two.  The first Sundays in Villa Rica and Savannah were the best ones I have memories of.  Both churches had teens that actually talked to me the first Sunday and included me as a part of their group.  When I say teens I’m not talking about a huge megachurch.  Back in those days and in the church I was a part of, a “big” church would be a congregation of 50 or more.  Most were not.  After the Axson experience, the young people at Villa Rica was the next “first Sunday” at a new church and was a total opposite of the bad I had gone through in that nasty little family church.  (No love lost there)  The young people at Villa Rica made me feel at home from the first Sunday.  I still remember the Smiths and the Horsleys and how they were some of the coolest people I ever met.  The first Sunday in Savannah was also very welcoming as well.  I also loved the city.  It was my last “first Sunday” I was experience at a new church.

The other churches were Valdosta, Moultrie, Temple and Homeland.  You’d probably need to Google it to find Temple and Homeland.  I was too young to really remember the first churches in Valdosta and Moultrie.

I have to tell the story about Temple.  The church was actually called “Oak Hill” and was probably the smallest church my dad ever pastored.  It was on a hill somewhere near Temple, Georgia but there wasn’t a tree on the entire property and most definitely absent of any oak trees.  I don’t think I ever heard why it was ever called “Oak Hill”.  My dad was appointed to this church after leaving a one-year stay in Moultrie, Georgia.  We left a church that had a parsonage (a house for the pastor and family) to Oak Hill which did not have a residence for the pastor.  My parents were unable to find a place to live in the short time to relocate there.  With time running out, we decided to temporarily move into the Sunday School rooms in back of the church.  It wasn’t a huge issue since the church was so small that they were using the Sunday School rooms anyway.  The issue for us was that the church did not have “modern” bathrooms.  The only facilities were two outhouses on the property.  Yep, outhouses – like Little House on the Prairie days.  We used them too and at my age I saw it as an adventure but my parents weren’t so enthused about it.  We each took baths in my small kiddie swimming pool.  I can’t remember exactly how we did that but it was quite an interesting temporary situation.  Eventually we were blessed with an opportunity to buy a mobile home and set it up on the property.  If memory serves me correctly, our pioneer days experience lasted for about three months.

As far as my first Sunday at Oak Hill….there’s not much to say about it since the church had no kids or teens at all.  I was the youngest one there so there wasn’t any peer pressure to deal with.  In the year at that church, my mother was my Sunday School teacher and there were some Sundays that we were the only ones my dad had in attendance for his sermon.  Yes, it was small.

Those seven first Sundays formed me.  Not just that one day but in the other Sundays that followed.  It wasn’t a charmed life.  Learning the new people.  Knowing who you could trust and who were a bad influence.  It probably had a lot to do with my introverted ways.  I wouldn’t always open up too much too soon until I got to know people.  Many times people would comment about how quiet I was.  I was quiet but I learned to observe people first and I still do that even today.

These first Sundays in August prepared me for the other firsts such as the first days on a new job.  In reflection those church Sundays might have prepared me for dealing with the new situations as an adult.  I have learned that the person who tells you office gossip on the first day is always the person who is the problem in the office.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to name those people here.  I can tell you I learned that perception in the first Sundays in church and it has been true every time.  I can also tell you that nobody in your new place cares about what successes you have had in other places, you always have to proof yourself with the new people.

Today is the first Sunday of August but I’m glad that I’m not in a new church this morning.

First Sunday In August

I have some memories about the first Sunday in August.   

Growing up as a preachers kid in Georgia, this particular Sunday signaled the beginning of a new church year in our church organization.   Six times while I was living at home, this was our first Sunday at a new church.  Meeting people I had never met before and being guarded about what I did and what I said.  It was a fish bowl existence for me and probably the main reason I have an introverted personality today.  Even now, it takes me a while to warm up to new people or a new place.  I am also careful to not open up too much too soon. 

There are some things we learned about these experiences.  

  • The first person to tell you all the problems of a church was always the one that was the troublemaker.  I remember at one church we had barely got moved into the parsonage before someone came and told us about the problems of the church.  That was the person who turned out to be the problem.  
  • You learn to be very observant and know the motives of people.  Just watch and it doesn’t take long until their true colors come out.  You would assume that you shouldn’t have to think about these things with church people but the reality can be very sobering.  
  • People who bragged on themselves and what they did in the church were usually the ones that you couldn’t get to do anything after the “honeymoon period” was over.   Some people just simply resist submitting to authority.  They don’t want a pastor to lead them.

I know it sounds negative but I’m just telling you the experience I had with this.  Opinions will vary depending on who you ask but I know other preacher’s kids who had very similar experiences.  It just always amazed me how things developed from that first Sunday.   God – and people – work in mysterious ways.

If I can be totally transparent with you, I would have to admit the worst first Sunday experience was in a tiny community church in Axson, Georgia.  Man, those folks were tough and the kids my age didn’t cut me any slack at all.  They made fun of me and keep me as the outsider.  On the other end of the first Sunday in August was the first Sunday in Villa Rica.  The kids there accepted me from the first time we met.  Both of those experiences have stayed with me even today.  I look at some fondly and others not so much.  

Thankfully I don’t have to deal with the first Sunday of August the same anymore.  

Scars Behind The Pulpit

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It was a year ago today that my mother passed away.  I know it’s a cliché but it’s hard to believe that she’s gone.

My mother had a lot of scars.  They were scars you couldn’t see on the outside.

She grew up as a preacher’s kid along with her other five sisters.  (She is pictured above in the lower right)  She used to tell the story of how she never wanted to marry a preacher yet in twist of fate she ended up being married to one and spent many years being the preacher’s wife.  Of course, that made me a preacher’s kid when I came along.

Being a preacher’s wife is not the glamorous life for many.  It’s a life where you have to put on a face and live the way your are EXPECTED to live.  Everything you do is magnified, especially the negative.  My mother endured at many churches.   If you think being the first-lady of a church is filled with people who are the true model of Christians, think again.  There are many good people but there are many others who judge the preacher’s wife unfairly or discover that she is human with her own flaws, quirks and pains.

Being “ON” every service is not the easiest thing to do.  Preacher’s wives will be watched all the time and you are expected to be everything to everyone.  It would surprise you the things people do and say.  My mother took it all.  She heard the criticisms of my father and me from others as well.  As you know, it’s hard enough to be criticized but when people criticize the ones you love it’s even more difficult.

Yet you’re supposed to keep the smile on your face…..even if you suffer from migraine headaches.  My mother suffered a lot with those headaches and church members were mostly unsympathetic about her pain since it was “just” a headache or even that she wasn’t healed.  Yet, they would often complain about the slightest ailment and expect to be coddled.  The empathy for pain never seemed to work both ways.

In thinking about my mother’s life, I think the breaking point came in June 1989 when her father died.  She was never the same after that.  In addition to her headaches, her heart broke.  I will never know fully what she went through.   Our relationship suffered too.  Several times she told me how sad she was and how she wish she could just die to be with her daddy.  I believed that pain was a dark cloud over her the rest of her life.

I never desired to become a preacher myself although many people tried to call me.   I saw too much on how it was more than just preaching a sermon behind a pulpit every Sunday morning.  A preacher’s calling affects the entire family.

A year ago when I read on Facebook that my mother had passed away.  I hated every church member that ever mistreated her and the scar it left inside of her and how it affected the rest of her life.  I cursed the cult that we were associated with and glad that I was no longer a part of it.  I talked to God a lot during these days last year.  As the days passed, I began to think of how her pain has now turned to gain for where she is now.  No more physical pain and the scars in her heart are healed by the master physician.

A preacher’s wife is not the carbon copy of the mother of Jesus.   She is human and at times, she’s not going to feel like putting on the face.   Cut her some slack.  Don’t be so mean.  If you can’t say something encouraging then don’t say anything at all.  She has feelings just like you do.  You have no idea if she is at a breaking point or what she is dealing with inside.

If you are considering marrying a preacher – especially pastor of a church – consider it very carefully.   While it is a noble and honorable desire to support someone you love in the ministry, you need to be aware of these:

  • Prepare for criticism.
  • You will be watched all the time.
  • Believe it or not, there are some really mean people who claim to be Christians.
  • Your husband will need you to be his cheerleader much more than in most any other profession.
  • Create a safe place for you and your family.
  • Don’t neglect your own time with God.

If you are already a preacher’s wife, I would say for you to be strong and stay the course.  Never, ever compromise on being yourself.  Understand that you will never make everyone happy.  Also keep in mind that other people’s opinion of you is not as important as God’s opinion of you.  Be quick to forgive and let things go.

I hope that the words to this song is true for my mother today:

“So, I’ll cherish the old rugged Cross, Till my trophies at last I lay down.  I will cling to the old rugged Cross.  And exchange it some day for a crown.”