12 May Moving Forward From Painful Church Experiences

I have no recollection of attending church prior to the age of seven, but I have two vivid memories of the six years my family and I attended the Congregational Christian Church in Graham, North Carolina. Each one was life-changing, but in different ways.

I will never forget my first experience in Sunday school, and it was not the teacher, the Bible lesson, or the kids who attended with me that stood out. I remember the offering. I had never been to this kind of gathering before and when they passed an offering plate around, I twitched at the sight of those shiny coins inside. My eyes glistened as my soul began to well up inside me. When the plate was handed to me, I reached in and grabbed as much as my chubby little hand would comfortably handle. I didn’t want to seem greedy, but I had to take advantage of this strange place where they passed out free money.

Before I could get my wonderful haul of holy cash into my pocket, the teacher grabbed my wrist and with a face that made no attempt at an expression, told me I was supposed to give something, not take money given to Jesus. Slowly I released the death grip on my short-lived brush with wealth. I felt my face getting hot and the sweat dripping down my brow as the coins noisily clanged back into the metal plate accompanied by the class’s uproarious laughter becoming a cacophony of dissonant humiliation. I don’t recall ever again running out of a church building the way I did that day, but I must admit, there were several times over these many years that I wanted to. When mom and dad found out about their son’s covetous heart, they just laughed and said something parents say at this kind of thing, and they made me go back to that same class the following Sunday.

It was a good lesson for me though. You don’t give up on God or His church just because you had a bad experience; we are called to commit our lives to Christ and to obey His commands. “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command” (John 15:12-14 NIV).

No one should ever think that the church will never hurt them. I learned very quickly that people are not necessarily nice and sweet and good just because they attend church. Many of the Church members that I looked up to the most when I was young and impressionable battled pride, lust, alcohol addiction, and experimented with marijuana. Many of the people loved me as long as I didn’t do or say something that threatened them in any way. But I am not here to criticize the church in any way.

The church is the Bride of Christ and I will not speak badly of Jesus’ Bride. Besides, the people who stop going to church because they had a bad experience should apply those same rules to restaurants or grocery stores or family reunions. If they did, they would have to live in a cave on a mountain and entertain no visitors.

There was a time in the ministry of Jesus when many people who had been following him left. He didn’t seem surprised, but it had to hurt him. Jesus never makes us stay; the door is always open. He even turned to those special 12 men who are called his disciples and asked them this question, “Do you want to go away as well?” (John 6:67 ESV).

There are always those who go away; some out of frustration, some out of failure, and some out of guilt. Maybe it’s time to forget what lies behind and strain for what is ahead. I believe it is best to move on from the painful life experiences that tie us to our regretful past.

Lay down the hard things that have broken you. Lay down the need to receive without giving, to be new without surrendering, to have without sharing, and to know without obeying. I call you to forget all that is behind and strain for what is ahead. Maybe that could begin with a call to your Pastor or on a Sunday, join us for online church.

The second memory of my childhood is more cherished. It was when I stood with dozens of people on a bright Easter morning and walked up to an old preacher who asked me if I believed in Jesus as my Savior and Lord. And for some reason, an 8-year-old boy prone to weakness and pride started to cry as he worded a confession that he continues to speak until the day he dies.

Jack Heaston has served as the Campus Pastor for the Overland Park Campus of Legacy Christian Church since May of 2010, but he has been in the ministry for 49 years. He has served the small, medium, and large church and helped plant a new church in April of 2006. He and his wife, Melinda, have 4 children and 13 grandchildren. Jack loves the Word, and teaching or talking about the scriptures never gets old to him. He loves to write and hopes to pen his memories before God calls him home.