If you or your spouse have had a bad church experience in the past, you're not alone.
Approximately 22 million Americans say they are Christians and have made a faith commitment to Jesus Christ. They say that commitment is still important to them, but they have struggled with faith or relational issues and therefore quit going to church. Tens of thousands more will join their ranks this week.
Like a safe harbor, local churches can be a second home for many people. Sadly, churches also can be the setting for some of the harshest attacks against our faith.
Problems tend to arise when people are:
- Unsure of where they fit in a local church.
- Confused or overwhelmed by church expectations.
- Rejected, humiliated or hurt by someone in the church.
Steps to Recovery
If you're still struggling with a bad church experience, you're not alone. The good news is that it's possible for you to make a healthy recovery.
Many people have found it helpful to use a journal to record some of their recovery steps, but there are many steps you can try along with your spouse:
- List the ways you've been wounded by others. Write down who hurt you and how.
- Describe any times you've been confused or overwhelmed while attending a particular church.
- Describe any times you wondered how you fit in a local church.
- Study what the Bible teaches about experiencing God's forgiveness and forgiving others. Read the story of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis 39-45. If you have an opportunity, look up verses on "forgive" (and related words) in a Bible concordance. In your journal, make a list of what you learn.
- Pray about what you've learned about forgiveness. Ask God to make each truth real in your own experience.
- Identify who you need to meet with to ask for forgiveness for the wrongs you have done. Pray ahead of time that they will graciously forgive you. If a lot of time has passed, it's even okay to pray that they've forgotten what you did.
- Identify who has wronged you. Tell the Lord how badly you were hurt. Thank God for understanding how you were wounded. Ask Him to give you the ability to forgive each person in your heart, no matter what they did, even if they never apologize to you. Identify the individual(s) you can't seem to forgive. Do you need to meet with that person and a third party to seek repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation? If so, who could you ask to serve as that third party? A Christian counselor? Your pastor? Another godly older friend?
- Start the process of finding a new, healthy church home.
Leaving your church under bad circumstances can lead to the temptation to abandon church entirely. Here's what some prominent Christians have had to say about spiritual drifiting:
"At a deep level I sense the church contains something I desperately need. Whenever I abandon church for a time, I find that I am the one who suffers. My faith fades, and the crusty shell of lovelessness grows over me again. I grow colder rather than hotter. And so my journeys away from church have always circled back inside." — Philip Yancey
"Life is full of people who 'used to believe.' But because things turned out darker and tougher than they supposed, they have decided that 'there can't be a God to let things like that happen.' But 'things like that' have always happened, to all sorts of people; even to Christ." — J. B. Phillips
"Maybe if you have money, health and a busy schedule, you don't feel the need to fellowship with other Christians. But when the storms of life hit — and they will — suddenly you'll find nobody's there. If you remain shallow in your relationship to your local church, you will lose out on the support of other Christians when you need it most." — Luis Palau