We talk about unforgettable lessons a lot in Christian education
because we want our Bible studies and lessons to be
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
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.