What if my past church experience was bad?
What do I do?
Let’s try the naively optimistic answer: “Bad things don’t happen at church!” We could say that, but it just wouldn’t be true. I counseled a young woman who felt she was being run out of the church choir on purpose. I didn’t believe it could happen. Not at church! Turns out, that is exactly what was happening on purpose and in the church. Ouch!
Let’s try a more “Christian” response: “You will just have to forgive and forget.” We could say that, too, but know too well that it is “easier said than done.” When a man or a woman finds out their spouse has been unfaithful, forgiving and forgetting might be a lifetime struggle.
So what do I do? Try another popular approach; maybe someone has it worse than we do. It seems that somehow we find comfort knowing others have experienced worse pain than we have.
Normally I wouldn’t recommend this approach, but I will make one exceptional exception. Let’s go to “church” with Jesus and see what he did when confronted with a bad experience.
In the Luke 4, we see Jesus in his hometown of Nazareth. On the Sabbath Day Jesus read from Isaiah and declared himself to be the “anointed” one. Initially the town folks liked what they heard, but when Jesus told how they would reject him, we are told that they were “furious” and they “took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built in order to throw him down the cliff.” This is a bad church experience.
Or go to the gospel of Matthew 26. Here Jesus is called before the elders of the church in Jerusalem. When he declares that he is the “Christ, the Son of God” they “spit in his face . . . struck him with their fists . . . and slapped him.” Subsequently they turned him over to Roman authorities, lied about him, and pleaded that he be executed—which is what happened. This is a bad church experience.
So what did Jesus do? He kept going to church! That is, he kept striving to fulfill the will of God his Father. A bad church experience did not deter his worship, which was most clearly shown in His sacrificial and unconditional love for the sinners he came to save and in his obedience to the will of his Father.
Jesus had a better answer to our question. His answer is reconciliation. In 2 Corinthians 5:19we read: “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”
What do I do if my past church experience was bad? I look past sinners to Jesus, the Savior of sinners. I look at and embrace the message of reconciliation. Jesus will not hurt me, he has healed me—completely and forever. He has forgiven my sins, and he has forgotten them too. That radically changes my attitude and outlook.