Church Scars

Church Scars March 24, 2015

There’s an ugly secret about the church: the church has hurt a lot of people. If you’ve been in the church long enough, you probably have a scar or two to show for it. As a pastor’s kid, I was mostly immune to it, but I felt it for my friends. I remember in high school when a buddy of mine came into the church building with a hat on. A deacon came up and hit him upside the head, ripping his hat off and demeaning him for having the audacity (as an unchurched kid) to wear a hat.


I remember as a youth pastor seeing an older couple yell at two visiting youth because they were sitting in their pew. I remember being on stage, unable to do anything because the service had already started, watching the shame and embarrassment come over these visitors who had no idea they had taken somebody’s seat and had to get up and move somewhere else.

I remember a minister friend who was fired by his church because black kids wanted to come to his white church and he welcomed them with open arms. The leadership ran off those kids and my friend with them.

I remember two weeks ago talking to a young lady who grew up in church, loved the church, and the church loved her . . . until she got a divorce. That was the unforgivable sin, and although she tried to stay involved with her church for community and support, they let it be known that she was no longer welcome. So she left, staying away from church for far too long (her words) until she regained the courage to venture back out into church world.

Church scars. If you’ve been in church long enough, you probably have some. It shouldn’t be like this, but it is. I asked a question recently on Facebook that asked people to share their church scars. Here were some of their responses:

  • [My husband] and I both were very involved in youth groups and both got a bad taste in our mouth so to speak for church due to things that happened with our youth pastors.
  • As a very young Christian I think it was feeling like I couldn’t measure up. The church was very condemning and I was a babe in Christ so didn’t understand the grace of my Savior.
  • After we moved back to Columbus, we joined a church and attended for 8 years. I never felt “at home” the whole time we attended. Then a situation arose that caused quite a few members to leave, including us.
  • I grew up in church and was there for every event and activity as a child and through youth. But, after some stuff went down, my feelings were hurt and I resented the church.

We can defend, explain and try to resolve, but let’s start by admitting that the church has hurt a lot of people.

QUESTION: What are your church scars? (Comment below and share yours)

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  • Laura

    We had been long time members in a church, serving and attending faithfully, while raising 5 children. When one daughter in her teens started being very rebellious, we tearfully asked the church to pray during a Wed. night prayer service. At first they cried along with us, and seemed to help carry our burden. But soon after, we began to feel attacked for every parenting decision we had made, past and present, even over our non-prodigal children. Legalism and judgement turned us away and left us scarred and broken. We are in another church, but still do not feel “at home.” Our daughter is no longer a prodigal, but we are still church skittish. (and so are our grown children)

    • joshdaffern

      Hey Laura, I hate to hear that! I wish I could say your situation was unique, but I know it happens far too often.

  • Charlotte

    We ran a youth group for about 5 years and had a couple of dozen under 21’s who attended our group regularly. Several of the young girls came to us upset one day because one of them had been going through a rough patch and so her friends had prayed with her after the Sunday service. The ‘prayer team’ had gone over, interrupted them and told them they could not pray unless a member of the prayer team were with them?!?? The girls didnmt want this and it was rather a private matter and were told they must stop praying immediately. Their reason? The girls hadn’t been on the prayer team’s ‘prayer course’ so for their own safety they mustn’t pray without someone who was qualified?!? I rang them for a bit of clarification and they told me that the prayer team is there to offer support in prayer and to ensure that vulnerable people weren’t prayed upon in the guise of a prayer. I said I could understand that there are some circumstances in which vulnerable people should be protected but these were a bunch of friends, well known in the church, who were praying, comforting and supporting their friend… The girls left church feeling like they had to pray in secret elsewhere! That’s crazy! We need a badge to pray now!?! I was labelled a trouble maker and excluded for speaking out in defence of our girls and daring to suggest that people should be allowed to pray in church!

    • joshdaffern

      Hey Charlotte, I’m so sorry to hear that. Honestly, I’ve never heard of a Prayer Ministry being as exclusive as that, but I can definitely believe it. It’s horrifyingly sad just how many things drive people away, especially something as unifying as prayer.

  • Elaine

    My husband and I were very active in our church for 15 years and loved our pastor and church family. When I was diagnosed and subsequently hospitalized for severe depression, my pastor told me there was no biological basis for mental illness and it was a “spiritual problem.” If I just prayed more, I would be fine. I had been going to him for counseling. He started to use my confidential stories in his sermons as examples of what not to do and how not to act. He didn’t use my name, but everyone knew he was talking about me. And I certainly knew! The final straw (we should have left long before we did), was when he held a private meeting with the deacons of the church and told them to spread the word that we should be ignored and no one was to fellowship with us or help us in any way because we were “caustic.” My best friend was married to one of the deacons. When they told us what had been said, my family, and my friend and her deacon husband all left the church. And none of us ever heard from the pastor or anyone else in that church again.

    • joshdaffern

      Elaine, thank you so much for sharing. I’m so sorry you had to walk through that! Mental illness has been taboo in the church for many years and only recently have churches begun to even have real conversations that the struggles that people can walk through. I hate that your family was hurt through the process. I pray that God will lead you to a family of believers where you can heal and once again serve and be served in a local church. Blessings to you!

  • Evelyn

    My husband became very sick as a child, lost his hearing, and had to relearn how to walk, when he was not quite four years old. At the time his family was attending a church close to their home. The pastor preached that illness was the result of sin in the community. Rather than support my future in-laws, and minister to them through this trying time with a very sick preschooler, and another son in elementary school, they were made to feel that their son was stricken because of their sin. I have never seen my in-laws in church, aside from weddings and funerals, in the more than 20 years since I have known them.

    • joshdaffern

      Hey Evelyn, thank you so much for sharing! I hate that your in-laws had to walk through that! What a horrible experience! Even a brief reading of John 9, where the disciples asked Jesus about the same basic question should let us all know (especially Christians) that sickness isn’t a sign of God’s judgment on a family. My heart breaks that your in-laws had to walk through that without the people that should have been there every step of the way.

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