All week long, I’ve been seeing #ChurchHurt all over Instagram. Tons of videos, captions and quotes have been posted about this common trend within the organized church community. While some people have been understanding of this issue, others, including church officials and celebrities in the Christian community, have had less empathy towards the topic and those who’ve experienced it. Gee, ya think!?!
It all started with an Instagram live stream venting session from gospel recording artist Le’Andria Johnson. In her video, which you can see in its entirety over at Ebony Magazine, she covers a variety of topics from abortions, the idea of a “perfect Christian,” corrupt officials in the church, the business of church, arrogant leaders, and the backlash one receives when they go against the church (what she calls a cult like complex). With everyone having something to say about this woman speaking her truth and her experiences growing up in and pastoring her own church, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to weigh in on this topic since there’s a whole chapter about my own personal experience that will be in full bloom in my upcoming memoir, “How I Lost My Mind and Found My Life.”
Just like Le’Andria, I was born and raised in a church environment. From being baptized and raised in my family’s local baptist church, to spending my entire existence being educated in the Catholic school system, the culture of church was deeply embedded in me. It really was all I knew. I could tell you the rules of church and it’s protocols before I could even quote you a scripture. Sad, I know, but when you’re young, you don’t know any better. You’re just practicing what you see from the elders and doing whatever you were told to do. I believe it’s not until you grow up and seek out God for yourself that you develop a true, deep rooted connection in faith. For myself, it wasn’t until I left the church, that I was able to develop my faith and ultimately have a close relationship with God.
It all started when I was in college. I was fed up with the religious teachings and trying to fit in to the “It Crowd.” You know the type, those people who call themselves “saints” and walk around with their heads held high pretending they are holier than thou. They are on every church committee, have the priest/ pastor / bishop’s number on speed dial, they only dress “modestly,” always have special VIP seating, are the loudest ones shouting in the church, tithe faithfully and attend every service on Sunday morning. They are also the first ones to tell you about yourself if you’re not dressed properly, aren’t as active as they are in the church, or aren’t carrying yourself according to their religious standards. Awkwardness is shunned by the “It Crowd” for it’s sole basis is all about fitting in and being a replica of their perfectly projected sense of self-righteousness.
Unfortunately, these were the people / group I was trying to be a part of. I thought by doing exactly what they did in the church, by tithing faithfully, showing up every Sunday and staying for each service, participating on every committee, volunteering for events, and going on every retreat / revival meant that I was saved and would get into heaven. #SoNotTrue
The catch 22 about church is the community. While being around people who loved the Lord and could sing and pray you out of anything was a good blessing for it helped me get through many tough times in my youthful life, the bad side of organized church are the rules, politics and standards of the religious teachings. It all became overwhelming for me. Trying to fit in, trying to keep up with the demands, all while trying to deal with my life outside of church was exhausting.
They say college is all about exploring who you are and the things of the world. Unfortunately, being in organized church was not lining up with my current collegiate lifestyle. Yet still, through all my struggles like depression, anxiety, partying, drinking, suicidal thoughts, sex, etc., I would still try my hardest to fit in and keep up with the standards of religious teachings. With my struggles with “sin,” I’d try turning to officials in the church. Unfortunately, whether it was a deacon, priest, minister, bishop or nun, I was often sung the same tune, “Say a ton of Hail Mary’s, pray really hard, go to the alter for prayer call on Sundays and it’ll all work itself out.”
Needless to say, that didn’t work out for me. No matter how much I asked for help in dealing with life’s stressors, I was always made to feel like I was weird, an outcast and overall a dirty, lost person destined for hell because I couldn’t get my act together and do what all the other “perfect saints” were doing. Though many lay-members and official leaders of the church were living unholy, unhealthy, sinful lives fornicating, committing adultery, fighting in church, drinking and what not, when asked about those things in order to not feel so alone and to get help, I was ignored or shunned for asking such personal questions. The standard was to have an attitude of perfection and carry yourself like a decent human being. Whatever that means!
Anyways, the heads of the church would continue carrying on publicly shaming the congregation for their sins all while teaching their ridiculous, contradictory laws on how to be a saint of perfection rather than a sinner of brokenness. No one wanted to admit that they had struggles with things like lust, premarital sex, drinking, partying, stress, forgiveness, etc. To this day, one of the most famous quotes I’d frequently hear in the church community is, “I’m too blessed to be stressed!” Gee, I guess something’s seriously wrong with me since I’ve stressed about most things in my life! SMH!
Finally, after spending years of feeling unclean, unholy, rejection from members of the “It Crowd” for being different, and an outcast for not feeling saved, I had enough. I was tired of spreading myself thin, like butter on a piece of toast, trying to live up to useless standards and expectations of man. I was tired of being questioned and scolded for missing a church service or for not taking part in certain committees and activities as I once did. I was tired of trying to keep up with the trending fashionable standards that the church dictated. More importantly, I was tired of pretending to be perfect and sitting in church, listening to the pastor preach, and learning absolutely nothing about God and how to deal with my problems. I was broken and I needed help. I wanted a deeper connection with God and I just wasn’t getting it from religion.
As a result, I concluded that being in an organized church, following those strict religious, man-made teachings and being nowhere near closer to my goal of having a personal, deep relationship with God was not for me anymore. So, I left the church. By being so young and vulnerable in the church, while also not having that deep spiritual connection with God on my own outside of the various week’s services, I’ll admit I allowed myself to become hurt and run off by people in the church.
Instead of growing and learning about God on my own, I idolized man and turned to them for my help, believing in them to be my savior. I believed that people in the church were righteous, un-flawed, perfect specimens of how The Lord wanted His followers to be. I believed that if I did what they did, spoke the way they spoke, walked and dressed the way they did, then I would become a “saint” — saved, sanctified and filled with The Holy Ghost! Boy, was I wrong!
Now that I’ve grown and established a personal relationship with God without organized church, I see things differently. I’m healed from #ChurchHurt because I allowed the one true Savior to heal me, though it wasn’t easy! It took hard work, daily dedication and determination towards reading and studying the Word of God (the Bible) for myself. It took countless prayers and journal entries of letters I wrote to God begging to understand, learn and grow deeply in His true ways and teachings. It took a lot of patience waiting to hear from God, but it was all worth it!
For me, being #ChurchHurt became a blessing! Had I not left the church and sought God for myself, I probably wouldn’t be here today encouraging you and others I encounter. I currently have no current quarrels against the idea of organized church. I’ve even streamed a few services by current Christian leaders like Joyce Myers, Pastor Joel Osteen, Pastors John and Aventer Gray, Bishop T.D.Jakes, Devon Franklin, etc. While I’m very much a proud proponent for consistent self-biblical studies and daily quiet time with God, versus strictly going to an organized church and following man’s interpretation of The Bible, I do understand the value of an organized church setting.
- It’s a community of believers in Christ.
- There’s organizations to help you deal with any addictions or issues you may have.
- Bible study is offered to help you get into and understand the text.
- There are activities to help you and your family grow in faith and in a safe environment.
Organized church itself isn’t a bad thing. As I initially stated earlier, I believe it’s more important for people to establish a one-on-one relationship with God for themselves outside of church. The best way to do that is by praying, opening the Bible / Bible app and reading the Word of God for yourself. Don’t go off of religious teachings! Study and understand what God and Jesus Christ have to say. Don’t put so much trust in people! People will always fail you because they are flawed. There’s no such thing as a perfect person. We all go through things and we all have our own daily struggles in life. It’s just that some people have perfected the art of hiding their brokenness a lot better than others.
“Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.” (Matthew 16:18 NLT)
To help put things in proper, biblical perspective, there’s a specific reason why Jesus used Peter, also known as Simon Peter, to start His church. I believe if more people read up on this, they’d not only have compassion for people who’ve experienced #ChurchHurt, but they’ll also have a better understanding of the true origin and nature of the church.
“After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.” (John 13:12-17 NLT)
“On the way, Jesus told them, “Tonight all of you will desert me. For the Scriptures say, ‘God will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I have been raised from the dead, I will go ahead of you to Galilee and meet you there.” Peter declared, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you.” Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, Peter—this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.”” (Matthew 26:31-34 NLT)
Jesus predicted Peter would deny him and it all came true. Just a few sentences later, Peter denied ever knowing Him for fear of the same backlash that Christ was enduring. There’s a point to this story.
“Meanwhile, Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant girl came over and said to him, “You were one of those with Jesus the Galilean.” But Peter denied it in front of everyone. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. Later, out by the gate, another servant girl noticed him and said to those standing around, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth. ” Again Peter denied it, this time with an oath. “I don’t even know the man,” he said. A little later some of the other bystanders came over to Peter and said, “You must be one of them; we can tell by your Galilean accent.” Peter swore, “A curse on me if I’m lying—I don’t know the man!” And immediately the rooster crowed. Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.” And he went away, weeping bitterly.” (Matthew 26:69-75 NLT)
As you can see, Peter did not have it altogether by any means. Even walking in sync with The Lord, Peter still struggled with the notion of being a “perfect” Christian (aka Christ-follower). Still, knowing that Peter would deny Him, The Lord chose him to start the church. It was all designed this way for a purpose. Fast forward just a few chapters after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, while Peter is still distraught over what he’d done and had now gone back to his old life of fishing, he’s joined by a few other disciples. In the midst of Peter fishing, Jesus Christ comes to a nearby shore to visit him. It says this in the Bible,
“Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his tunic (for he had stripped for work), jumped into the water, and headed to shore. The others stayed with the boat and pulled the loaded net to the shore, for they were only about a hundred yards from shore. When they got there, they found breakfast waiting for them—fish cooking over a charcoal fire, and some bread.
After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these? ” “Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.” “Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him. Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.” “Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said. A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.
Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God. Then Jesus told him, “Follow me.”” (John 21:7-9, 15-17, 19 NLT)
Thankfully, we serve a forgiving God. As you can see, The Lord knew that Peter was flawed, broken, prone to resorting back to his old ways, would deny ever knowing Him, and completely, utterly, stupendously imperfect. Yet, in the midst of it all, The Lord forgave him, accepted him for who he was and loved him dearly. Why, because that’s the type of God we serve and it’s the true essence of Christianity and the church!
“When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”” (Mark 2:17 NLT)
Fake perfection, arrogance and judgement is not the way the church should be run for its original intent was to show just how imperfect we all are. Whether people feel that Le’Andria Johnson, myself, or anyone else who’s experienced their own #ChurchHurt should speak about their pain, no one has the right to deny anyone from telling their truth. The truth hurts! It’s not meant to be pretty in pink. We are a free people. Flawed? Yes! Broken? Yes! Still Christ-followers? Absolutely!
“So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.” (John 8:36 NLT)
Since the Lord set us free and gave us a free will, she has a right to speak her truth and go through her pain in her own way. Instead of everyone judging her for her words or actions, how about taking that same energy and put it into a prayer of healing for her. Watching her video, I saw pain and frustration. I’ve been there. I’m sure you have too. Though she shared some of her business, none of us know the real pain she’s feeling and has endured by people she trusted and respected. Since we all have our own burdens to carry and crosses to bare, we should try to be kinder to others.
Treat people how you’d want to be treated. We all have been hurt in some way, shape or form by people. We all have put our trust in people and have seen those same exact people fall short of our expectations. More importantly, we ALL fall short of God’s glory. That’s life! There’s only one true Savior who’s both judge, jury and executioner. So, flawed people should not speak against other flawed individuals. I believe it’s high time we take away the faux air of perfection, the hierarchy and idolatry of people in the church community, and get back to the basics of what the original church of Christ was supposed to be about: openly flawed, knowingly broken, unhealthy people coming together to love each other, encourage each other and more importantly, to learn about God’s kingdom and ultimately give up our way of life to trust and turn to Him completely.
I know today’s post was long, but I had a few things to say. (Obviously! LOL!). Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts on this #ChurchHurt matter. Since I’ve shared a little of my own personal story, if it’s happened to you, I encourage you to speak your truth and own your healing. If you’ve been hurt by people in the church, admit it and ask God to heal you from that pain. Get into The Word of God and learn His teachings for yourself. If you’re feeling brave to share your testimony on this experience, please feel free to post below in the comment section. If this hasn’t happened to you and you just want to comment on the matter, I’d love to hear your point of view as well. This world is already a cold, sick place; let’s all get to a happy, healthy place in Christ together.
Sincerely with love,
Travel photography by IG user: @saaggo