Tuesday, March 3, 2015

When Church Hurts

Sometimes, I hate church.

Oh, I love the kids I work with plenty. Their smiles and eager hearts fill me with joy and I will never get over my love for children. But church comes with issues that hurt and then there's the healing and the trying to be upbeat and all. Church is full of fallen people and what can we expect? Extending grace towards each other and ourselves is all we can do, as we continue in the obedience of fellowship with other believers.

We just changed churches last summer because of Mary's extreme thunder fear. She didn't want to go anywhere at all, much less church. She didn't like the church we were in which met at the local elementary school. She loves worship music, which heals her fears somewhat, and that church didn't have any children's music and she had to be in a class without her siblings, which didn't help when she felt like throwing up over the weather (it happened once there).

We were desperate for a solution. The situation made it hard for me to volunteer when she was having unrelenting, debilitating fear. First, I resigned as nursery director and just worked once a month, instead. But still, it wasn't enough and I was stretched too thin emotionally. I was torn between being professional and reliable, and being there for my daughter.

Last year was just incredibly stressful all the months she suffered (and I dread thunderstorms this spring and summer). Unprepared for the intensity again, I'm praying for significant progress before the season hits.

Things improved when we changed churches because the new one was farther away, allowing her to calm down a little during the ride. Moreover, she had children's church with both Paul and Beth, which included children's worship.

All these months later, something else has come up in both our AWANA church and the church we attend. Maybe you've noticed that church is becoming an extension of the regular classroom? There isn't just worship and a sermon, but actual academic work to do. For the last thirty to forty minutes, after large group worship, the kids break up into age groups and Mary suffers through word searches and useless worksheets, both of which are a nightmare for dyslexics (especially word searches). She feels like an idiot and tries to look at other people's papers to get by. Church ends with her somewhat depressed, rather than joyful.

I thought at first of contacting the director and explaining gently that 1 out of 5 people have dyslexia, and that these kids feel anxious and depressed when given written work, word searches, or are asked to read aloud from their Bible in front of other children.

But, I didn't want to rattle feathers. I still don't know what to do about the situation. Why, oh why, does church have to be so academic? What's wrong with verbal discussion? Is it harder to keep kids calm and under control, without written work? Is crowd control part of the issue, like in public schools?

And AWANA? The program we attend isn't in our church. It's in a Church of Christ, which isn't a non-denominational church. We always prefer non-denominational churches because they tend to follow the Bible closely, and are not tied to hierarchies and heaped-on, extra-biblical rules, or a watered-down Gospel.

The first year we attended their AWANA, we didn't know about the doctrinal differences between Church of Christ and our beliefs. We know the United Church of Christ is liberal and perhaps a bit universalist, but we thought plain ol' Church of Christ was evangelical. Then last summer, I read about them online and learned some uncomfortable things, but the kids liked their friends there and we decided to give it a try another year, thinking that within the context of AWANA materials, these doctrinal difference wouldn't come up. We definitely didn't want to attend that church, but the AWANA program is tightly run and we thought it would be safe. My husband and Peter help out there, but I haven't this year.

Well, something really unfortunate happened last Sunday night during Paul's class. The Pastor of that church teaches the older Truth and Training class this year because the previous teacher moved. The Pastor wasn't very involved last year at all. For his "Bible lesson", he does this question and answer session with the kids, apparently so he won't have to prepare an AWANA-approved lesson. He believes that baptism is necessary for salvation, telling Paul that everywhere in the New Testament, baptism follows right after conversion, so one is not truly saved without being baptized.

Paul thought...what about the thief on the cross, who went to heaven without a baptism? However, Paul kept silent about his own musings, fighting back tears. He was devastated, and embarrassed because the kids noticed he was crying. The Pastor said, "Don't worry. We'll get you baptized. Just talk to your parents."

We have desired that our three older kids get baptized, knowing they were spiritually mature enough, but the boys previously felt afraid of the public speaking part and wanted to wait. They now feel ready, along with Mary, but we've come to find out, the church we now attend doesn't baptize children younger than 12, which we definitely don't read about in the Bible. Here again, a church is heaping on rules that aren't in the Bible. We like the church otherwise and we realize no church is perfect, but now we have three children eager and ready to be baptized, and only Peter is eligible at this church.

We may end up baptizing them in a river, for heaven's sake!

It is true that people were baptized in the Bible after they believed, but it wasn't a condition of salvation, but an obedient, public profession of faith. I believe the reason people wait now is because churches, many of them, make you go to classes first and only have baptisms infrequently. It only matters, I suppose, when someone really feels ready to be baptized and can't because of the "red tape".

It's unfortunate.

Sorry about this rant! Just blowing off steam here, after some hurt feelings, tears, and reassuring conversations and Bible verse searches about baptism to help Paul process the false teaching he heard at the AWANA church. He is a true Bible scholar in his own right, but he liked that Pastor and it's hard to reject a false teaching and see it as such when you like the person delivering it. We did let Paul make up his own mind, though, and he sees it as we see it--that baptism is an obedient, public profession of the changed heart brought about by faith in Christ and by the indwelling Holy Spirit, who came to dwell in us when we first believed.

We definitely made a mistake going back to this AWANA program after learning about the doctrinal differences last summer. We can't let the kids' wishes always dictate what church we do or do not go to, although we will always try to accommodate their individual needs.

Lesson learned. Tears shed. Hearts rather exhausted.

I had to write an email to that church telling them we respectfully disagree with them doctrinally about baptism and that we can't attend AWANA there any longer. I thanked them for their service to our children, and I went online to find another AWANA in a non-denominational church that we can attend to finish out the AWANA year, which goes until the end of April.

I hate that we have to attend an AWANA program that isn't at our own church. We love the AWANA program and feel it has aided our children in developing a strong biblical foundation, and in addition, AWANA graduates are eligible for college scholarships of up to five thousand dollars (depending on the college), and every bit helps. The church I found offers AWANA up through eighth grade, allowing Peter to earn another scholarship-worthy award. He aged out of the other AWANA at sixth grade.

I don't know if my children will attend a Christian college or not, but it helps to be prepared for anything at this point, and look into all scholarship options.

I wish we had the foresight to choose a church last summer that offered AWANA. Then, the children would see their AWANA friends more frequently, and we would know more about the people administering the program. The idea of changing churches again feels so fickle and upsetting, but maybe it would be best to admit we made a mistake?

The AWANA church we will try out tomorrow night also has children's church K-6, which my three younger children could potentially attend together on Sundays, if we switched. It includes children's worship music. A second hour includes grade-level classes, which are extra and not required.

Do you find church trying at times? Ever been hurt by a church in some way?


Anonymous said...

If it helps, we share your frustration and have had similar difficulties finding a church.

At a previous church the leader of the children's ministry once said to me, "Oh yes, Timmy used to come each week with his mum. He had autism. He was so disruptive! They don't come any more..." This last bit was said with relief. I thought how sad it was that the poor mother felt she couldn't come any more because of her child's behaviour.

When I was a single mother I used to end up chasing my ASD & ADHD son round the car park. If I hadn't already been a believer I would have left. The children's supervisor asked me if there was anything she could do to help me. I replied that in all honesty I could do with a babysitter, so I could have some time out once in a while (it was clear enough to everyone how demanding my son was, though he couldn't help it). She said "oh well we can't do that". What was the point of her asking? I felt judged by this woman, and by the people who would stare and mutter at my son and at me, as a single mother. Assuming all sorts of things about me, no doubt. My point is that the Church, as the Bride of Christ, should be the *most* accommodating of brokenness and disability, not the least. Church should never be about keeping up appearances (we did marry at the same church, so it wasn't all bad)!

I will keep what you've said in mind when I pray for you.

I woke up with a fever this morning but it's going now so I'm going to get off my computer and do something useful. God bless you and yours, Christine x

Christine said...

Yes, the stares are ever present when a child is having a breakdown or crises. I agree if she was going to ask if you needed help, she should have been genuine. There was someone in the church who could have babysat for you, and she could have made an effort to connect you with someone available in this way, like a stay-at-home mom or grandma.

I continue to learn that people only understand what they have experienced themselves. I hope you are feeling better soon, Sandy!

Tesha Papik said...

Sorry for all the heartache I pray the Lord leads you all in the right direction! I am the children church leader of our very small church and must confess most weeks I feel really burnt out after teaching my own children all week. It is really hard and I know I fall short but I feel excited to work on some teachings for Easter this year! We try to overlook doctrinal differences with other Church's but sometimes there is no avoiding it:(

Christine said...

Tesha, I'm sure you do a great job with your class. A small size means that it feels cozier and safer for the kids, in terms of self-consciousness about disabilities. I teach every other week at church and I too sometimes feel so fatigued from the week's home teaching that it feels like great effort to get there and do my best. The Lord just has to cover for us and I believe he understands human fatigue. Love to you!