Updated: Jun 29, 2021
Nothing like Covid-19 to screw up church attendance.
But then again there’s Betrayal Trauma.
As a faithful church attendee, I don’t usually miss. I have been involved in leadership for many years in several different areas, including choir, singles ministry, welcome ministry, teaching various Bible studies. Suffice it to say, I was faithful.
And at the same time, I struggled. Not so much with being at church but with who I thought I should be and I never seemed to measure up. Sadly the messages that I received and perceived were causing me to doubt my relationship with God if I wasn’t always kind to my husband. Or if I didn’t forgive the same offense for 7,936th time. Or if I wasn’t particularly loving. It seemed I was letting the little foxes destroy my marriage. I worked harder according to the words of my pastor, studies and teaching. I didn’t want to be viewed as one who gave up when the going got hard or quit right before the big miraculous change happened. So I kept going. And all the while, because I didn’t always love like Jesus loves, I doubted my relationship with Him altogether.
But then I learned of my husbands addiction and something changed in me. I realized that it wasn’t me. Yes, I needed to love like Jesus and forgive, but there was a much deeper reason than my struggles.
What does this all have to do with church??
Bear with me.
As I battled with some religiosity of my own, I came to recognize that I was justified in my struggle to forgive the same offenses over and over. While we ALL sin and we can all repeat our sin, the goal is to grow. To learn from our mistakes and purpose to not keep hurting our spouse in the same way over and over. Forgetting. Selfishness. Blame shifting. Deflecting. Gaslighting. All of these things turn the focus from the addict to the partner, who is actively trying to fix the marriage. Alone.
As a Bible believing Christ follower, I would have loved to go to my pastor for support and for guidance. But I was afraid. Mostly because there were things that he knew had happened to me over the years, within the church, and I never felt supported. I never felt loved. Instead I felt distance. Like I was a thorn in his side. As though me or my life didn’t matter to him. Maybe that wasn’t true, but it wasn’t demonstrated in actions or words that I was a valuable member of the body.
So instead I went to an associate pastor and shared my pain and grief, telling of my emotional abuse that I was learning to recognize. I never expected anyone to fix my pain, but to have my church leadership, a place I had faithfully and lovingly served for over 25 years, show me empathy. To come along side of me and care. To pray. To check on my status. To show me I mattered.
But that isn’t what happened. Instead I was asked, ‘He never hit you, right?’. No. No, he didn’t. Would you have helped me then? Would you have believed me and been by my side if that had happened? Would you have helped me financially or checked on me to make sure me and my family were safe? I don’t know. But after that conversation I was dropped. Literally. My senior pastor knew what was going on to some degree and never once reached out to me to even say he was praying for me.
Enter Covid. Thank God for Covid. I really never thought I would say that or would have been in this place of where I would rather worship at home rather than at church. But here I am. COTC…church on the couch.
While I absolutely love corporate worship, the more time that goes by and the more that I process my trauma, the safer I feel away from church.
Hear me. I know that this is not indicative of all believers or churches or pastors. As I’ve entered the dating game (literally), I’ve come to shy away from anyone to identifies as a Christian. Why?? Because while there are real believers out there, I feel that many men use the label as a way to take advantage of women. So for me, church isn’t safe. I wasn’t protected there. I wasn’t cared for there by the people who professed to care for me and my soul. I wasn’t valued there or prayed for. I wasn’t worthy of contact or care. My voice didn’t matter.
For me, this looks oh-so-similar to my marriage, which wasn’t safe, and I don’t want any part of it. I never thought I’d feel this way and quite honestly have passed unfair judgment on those ‘unfaithful’ church attenders.
My lack of church attendance has nothing to do with my love for Jesus. He is my life. He is the One who tells me my voice matters, that I am worthy and have value. And though the church is made up of imperfect people who were not created to fill my (or your) every need, they are to be my family. The leader of my family failed me. And I feel hurt.
For anyone who struggles with going to church for any reason, I hear you. I see you. But more importantly, Jesus does. And He cares.
How do we move forward?
We need to determine what safety looks like for us and move towards that. It doesn’t mean you or I will never be hurt at church again. It means that you know what a healthy church, starting with healthy leadership, looks like. It means you trust Jesus completely and implicitly while you test the church to see if they are trustworthy.
How does leadership handle their own sin?
If you have a concern and take it to them, do they doubt its legitimacy?
Do they get defensive if you bring something to them they disagree with?
Find out what they believe constitutes abuse.
Find out what they believe are biblical reasons for divorce, or if they consider divorce to be a sin.
How will leadership protect you against a known abuser?
What about someone you say has abused you?
Do they believe you?
Do your homework so that you can feel safe when you attend. We need to be able to feel free to worship, and hopefully feel safe from those who use church as a dating site.
And church. We need to do better. There’s a lot of hurting believers that get thrown to the wolves by leadership. We’re to be a hospital. A safe place for ALL to come to meet Jesus, to meet others who love Him, and to know that we are welcomed into His presence.
How are you feeling about church attendance?
What have you had to overcome in order to feel safe at church in person?