I hesitate in sharing this post. There are those of you out there that have abandoned the church altogether because of your church hurts. And I desprately hope that you will change your mind. On the other hand, I feel like I need to share a few of mine, and hopefully in the process give a better glimpse into who I am and why I do what I do as a minister.
So....now the question is....where do I start?
I suppose that would be first grade. I spent first grade in a private Christian school, in a cubicle doing workbooks for my education. I remember getting the belt for walking over to the window and staring out it at the kids who got to go out and play in kindergarten while I was stuck inside in first grade. I also remember one of the high schoolers in a cubicle nearby dropping marbles on the floor. When nobody would fess up to their evil deeds, we all had to get on our knees and beg for forgiveness.
My church affiliated with that school, however, was wonderful. I remember my Sunday School teacher named Eileen, and how much she loved all us kids. I remember the love I felt in Sunday School and church to this day.
My next church I found was in around 6th grade. It was a church full of wonderful, loving people who truly reached out to myself and my family. They were also clearly a little overly legalistic and fundamental. All dancing was wrong. Wearing shorts was wrong. Listening to secular music was wrong. Even Chrsitian rock was sinful. We all should stick to classical music we were told. Boys and girls were not allowed to swim with each other. We might provoke each other to lust after all. There was a lot of guilt associated with faith from my experience here. Some of it the result of a healthy conscience, and some of my guilt feelings a little over stimulated by an overly legalistic church.
We moved again when I was in high school. We found a Southern Baptist church (like the one affiliated with the Christian school when I was younger.) Again there were places where I felt very affirmed here, but ultimately we had to leave after a year. The pastor had a ventriloquist doll he named HERSHEY that played to all sorts of racial stereotypes, so much so that even the MORMONS were offended. They also had a confederate flag in their sons window. My mom was criticized from the pulpit for taking a job to support her family for the summer that meant she had to work a lot of Sundays. I was belittled by the pastor's son for taking a "WELFARE JOB".
We went to another church for the next three years. I felt very affirmed and accepted there. I had some differences of opinion with Church of Christ/Christian Church theology of baptism. But I also was supported and loved. My sister did not feel quite the same way though...and I think is still bitter about our experience there.
In college I attended a wonderful American Baptist church in Kansas. They helped me grow in my gifts and skills, affirmed me for who I was, and spoiled me rotten all the way through college.
As I have been in ministry, I have struggled through lots of church hurts as well.
Most recently, it has been at my current church. It has been a difficult two years. I have been criticized because I am too peppy in doing announcements, my suit does not fit well enough, when my shoes come untied I get in trouble. I have been told that my sermons are too conversational, and that my suit just isnt nice enough so just wear a robe to do announcements. ANNOUNCEMENTS! I have been beat up for going the speed limit. Which then led to me not being a good driver because I refused to speed. This led to a big conference where I was told that I lacked energy (even though I took two youth trips with kids when the last two youth pastors could not pull together one.), that I did not fit the "image the church wanted to project" (because I was unhealthy and overweight), and thus I would need to go to the doctor, go on a diet, consult a fitness trainer, and be held accountable for this. And that this was now a "condition of my employment". I have been publically mocked about a related health condition in front of the congregation by the pastor. I sometimes wear Hawaiian shirts with khaki pants during the week as an associate pastor of youth. I have been told in writing that my attire is gawdy as a result. There have been jokes about me flodding the choir unless they put hardly any water in the baptismal because I am so big--in staff meetings by my superior. In short, I have felt like I was in a junior high time warp. And the constant put downs and criticisms at times have made me feel like a worthless, hopeless failure who is stuck where I am forever. But things are getting better, relationships are being healed, forgiveness is being asked for, and so I am feeling a little bit better about being where I am at.
I guess I am at church because despite the hurts, the heartaches, and the lonliness of being there, there is a sense of God's presence and work in spite of it all. I still sense his love through the church, as broken as it can be sometimes. And I still see his Spirit working. So I press on.