My Bad Church Experience; Finding Faith as an Adult

bad church

1 Peter 4:8

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.”

 I’m a journalist, not just in job title, (former job title for the moment) but also by nature.  I can’t accept something because someone tells me it’s true, I have to investigate the matter myself.

Over the summer, I was in the car A LOT.  I listened to a few podcasts from a church based in Atlanta.  They had a series called “My Bad Church Experience” which made me think of my own.

It’s funny, as a reporter it’s easy to write someone else’s story.  You’re doing an interview and your interviewee says something that stops you in your tracks.  You make a mental note of it and you know that’s what you’re writing your story around.   It’s hard to concentrate on the rest of the interview because you’re already writing the package (story) in your head.  But when it’s your own story, the words are hard to get out.

This is my faith story.  I decided to write it because every time I’ve read my bible lately, I’ve had a hard time concentrating because I keep trying to write this story, my story.  I’ve had hesitations sharing it with the world (by world, I mean whoever actually sits down and chooses to read this whole thing) because I don’t want to offend or hurt anyone from my past. But, ultimately I’ve decided to tell my story not because it’s unique, but because it’s not unique.  And, if it’s not unique, then maybe it can help people who have been through similar experiences.

I grew up going to a private Christian School from Kindergarten to 4th grade.  During this time period I also went to my best friend’s church on most Sundays.  What I learned there was hate.  How we should hate evil.  But, lots of things were evil: Halloween, Santa and don’t get anyone started on the Homosexuals. I think I heard the term “homosexual” dozens of times before I actually knew what it meant.  Funny how Jesus never mentioned those evilest of evils.

 John 8:7

“…He that is without sin among you, let him cast a stone at her.”

The other thing I learned was fear.  Fear of not being quite good enough.  I thought I had demons in my house spying on me; I had nightmares of burning in the fiery pit of hell.  Has anyone ever seen the play Heavens Gates, Hells Flames ?  If so, then you know how terrifying that would be to a little kid.  It showed different scenarios of people dying and then God judging whether they get into heaven or whether they will be tortured for all eternity in Hell.  As if scaring people into believing in Jesus, the most loving person of all time, is what he’d want.

Romans 13:10

“Love does no harm to its neighbor.  Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

 The pinnacle of this part of my life was a trip to a church camp in North Carolina.  I remember sitting in a lecture and the instructor puling up a slide with a list of slang words.  It showed you how every slang word was a sin because the word was a derivative of God.  So, no “oh my goodness”.  Or even “gosh by golly” because the word “golly” was derived from the word “God”.  Sorry Grandpa B, apparently you’ve been sinning all of these years.  Switch to another scene, an instructor called out names to TV shows and had us all clap for the ones we liked to watch.  It was the 90’s so the auditorium erupted when Friends was called.  Then the instructor told us how many times the Lord’s name was used in vain, how many times pre-marital sex was mentioned, etc. in the show.  Even Christian Rock music was evil because the blasphemous beat of the songs could set young people in a sinful mindset.

I felt so disgusted with myself that I got “saved”.  I had already been saved, but I wasn’t sure if it counted because I was so bad.

But what I’ll never forget about church camp was pulling back into the church parking lot and getting into my mom’s car.  It was like a cloud lifted and at 11 years old I was no longer a kid in some ways.

On that short drive home, I realized that adults could be wrong.  I started questioning everything.  Unfortunately, these experiences did not draw me closer to God, but far, far away from him.  I was pretty convinced that most, if not all, Christians were judgmental hypocrites.  I never considered myself an atheist, but I definitely toyed with the idea.

Things didn’t change until I was in college and started dating Andy.  We went to church together a bit and I started believing again.  But really it was a couple years into our marriage when I started having a relationship with God.  Honestly I never thought I was important enough for God to want to have relationship with.   We found a good church in Augusta and every week I kept hearing a message of grace.  Grace.  It’s a word I never remember hearing in my past.  I’m sure I’m wrong, I’m sure it was in there somewhere, but it’s not what stood out in my 10 year old mind.

Here’s where the journalism part comes back.  I saw an ad in the church bulletin for a 9-month long Bible study that covered more than 80% of the Bible and I just knew I had to do it.  It was a God moment.  Going through the Bible myself and having a pastor put context behind those words, words that don’t make any sense without it, was a complete game changer.  Understanding why the laws in the Old Testament were so strict, reading the prophesies of Christ’s death in Isaiah and then finally reading every recorded word Jesus said that were filled with love, not hate, changed my life.

Again, I decided to write this post, not because my story is unique, but because I know it’s not unique.  Don’t let a group of Christians you disagree with, define your thoughts on Christianity.  Investigate it for yourself.  Read the Bible, research the Bible.  If you’re looking for a New Years Resolution, is there a greater one than discovering what you believe?

 1 John 2:9

“Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.”

29 thoughts on “My Bad Church Experience; Finding Faith as an Adult

  1. Jillian – I really enjoyed reading this. My story is almost the opposite. I was raised in a grace based religion – no hell fire and damnation. The church I attended almost half my marriage was the same. Then we moved to Augusta and that’s where I lost my faith. I think it was the constant exposure to religious “haters” – they hated non-Christians, homosexuals….pretty much anyone who wasn’t a conservative. And I was exposed to them everyday. And I gave up and walked away. I went from being someone who went to church weekly and participated in many church activities to someone who went to church maybe 6 times in 8 years. And then my brother, a Unitarian pastor, turned me on to John Shelby Spong – a retired Episcopalian Bishop. He explains spirituality in a way that resonates with me.

    Thanks for a good read!


  2. Thanks for sharing your story. Grace has a way of changing everything doesn’t it? And there is nothing quite like sharing the journey with a group of people who you care about and who care about you. Carol and I love you guys and think of you often! Blessings, Dan


    • Dan, Andy and I were talking about you last night. Really, for a lead pastor to do that kind of class that was such a time commitment…wow, what a blessing. I am so thankful. We think of you guys often. Really, you should plan a trip out here!


  3. Wow this is definitely hit the nail on the head, I’ve been battling with trying to find a church home and my faith as an adult. I never knew it would be this difficult to find a church home that teaches faith grace and hope. Many of the churches that I have visited over the past 2 years Are too caught up in appearances and showboating that they forget the real reason why we are there in the first place, and that is to get closer to our faith and to develop our own relationship with God.

    Thank you!!! It’s good to know that I’m not the only one that has dealt with this.



  4. I can relate to this 100%. I was on a bad path in College, the temptations, partying and everything that goes with a partying life style in Athens Georgia. I was in a dark place…I was lost spiritually. I too, grew up in a church home with christian parents.I had the exact same thoughts you had Jillian, i even flirted with athiesm (in my teens and college days) and today I still struggle with faith at times. But my relationship (personal) with the Lord has confirmed that there is a God and he is an almighty God! And i can credit the lord for putting me in a fantastic Church home where my wife and I attend today. This was a great read and made me feel better there are others experiencing the same thing i did. Hope all is well we miss ya here in Augusta!


    • Thank you, Jessica! I’ve never been a print person, so it’s a little scary writing words that people will actually see (I hope this makes sense) so the compliment means a lot coming from you! Glad to see that you are doing so well.


  5. I find myself in the midst of the same dilemma. I know that I know that there’s something real, I just lost sight of it somewhere along the way. Thank you for sharing. Jane (a childhood friend of Carol’s)


  6. Thanks Jillian. I had a co-worker explain that very “new years resolution”. His father was a Methodist minister and he had a wealth of information and knowledge, at his disposal…however, he had never assimilated into his own beliefs. I found this very interesting and vowed to do the same. I have not held myself liable to this task.. but is not to late. Thanks for the inspiration and insight.


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