We talk about unforgettable lessons a lot in Christian education because we want our Bible studies and lessons to be life-changing.
Our staff here at Children’s Ministry Magazine started wondering, though, if there’s a “dark side” to unforgettable lessons. Are there things that are said or done at church that may burn people for a lifetime?
So we asked adults if there were ever times in church as a child that they were made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, or awkward. Check out the things we heard-and hopefully, apply the salve of God’s grace in your ministry to keep others from being burned in the same ways in your ministry.
Down in Front
When my daughters were young, they loved going to church and Sunday school every Sunday. Because of the noise in the back pews where all the young families were, the girls sat up front so they could hear and see better. I’ll never forget what happened one Sunday morning when one young girl said to my daughters, “You don’t belong up here; you belong in the back ’cause you’re poor and your clothes are old.”
My children were so hurt that they never would go back to church after that. To this day, they have a very hard time with people who call themselves Christians.
As a young person, I was in a boating accident in which I felt I “should have” drowned, but something or someone had kept me afloat. The more I thought about it, I had a distinct feeling that Someone (probably God) had saved me, but I wasn’t sure who God was or what God could do.
I was shy about asking my parents or anyone else, but I did tell my Sunday school class about my experience on the lake, secretly wanting someone to explain to me what had happened. The teacher’s response was something like, “That’s nice.” That was the end of it. I realize that my Sunday school teacher himself may not have understood or known how to respond to me, but I wish he would’ve helped me understand this better.
At vacation Bible school opening night, the minister approached the small wooden podium. He then sermonized for 20 minutes about the perils of hell if we didn’t repent for our sinfulness and ask God into our hearts right then. He explained what would happen to our skin (blister and crack), our families (gnashing and wailing, torture and dismemberment), and our souls (scorching and burning in eternal fire).
He singled out random children and said, “Do you refuse God?” He asked, “Who dares to claim he’s not a sinner? Who of you will be saved?” I was scared out of my wits. I just wanted his ranting to stop, so I raised my hand. I was the first person to raise my hand, but not the last. After me, a floodgate opened. Little hands shot up around the room. I had no idea what was happening, but it seemed as though I’d done the right thing.
A woman in a wool suit led me from the room into the darkened sanctuary where we sat, all alone. The woman told me to ask to be saved. “I don’t know what to do,” I said. After more prompting, I managed a halting prayer that was both meaningless and driven by fear, pressure, and embarrassment.
When my mom picked us up, she asked how VBS went. We told her it was horrible, scary, the people were mean, and we didn’t want to go back. Looking back some 20 years later, I can safely say I felt traumatized that night.
When I was about 8, we went to a church where my two sisters and I didn’t know many kids. We went to different schools, and we didn’t attend Sunday school very regularly. It was always kind of awkward being there anyway, but especially awkward when we came in late-a lot of strangers staring at us while we found open chairs. And it seemed like we were often running late. So on several occasions, my sisters and I would wave happily to Mom when she dropped us off, then walk through the church and out the back door where we’d “hide out” under enormous evergreen trees behind the church. We’d hold our own little Sunday school out there-singing hymns and reading Bible verses.