When You’re Afraid of the Church

We were church shopping again. I tried to steady my breathing as we stepped into the building. I gripped my husband’s hand as we chose our seats. He asked me if we were going to fill out the connection card to which I shook my head. I showed up. That was brave enough for today. 

In our new city, my family and I struggled to find a place to belong. It wasn’t that we had unreasonable expectations in the 12 churches we visited in the span of 2 ½ years. We were just looking for good worship, a biblical message, and friendly people who wanted to share life together. To be fair, however, I was not in the healthiest mental state when we began our quest.

I was in the process of healing from a season of spiritual abuse. I was afraid of the church. 

Weeks went by of attending the same church and we were checking off the boxes from our mental list. And I stood at a crossroads. If this was where we were meant to be then why was I still scared? I needed to get to the source of the pain, to get freedom from this fear, but how? How could I expect freedom from fear of the church when the church was the exact place I should look to for help? I felt foolish.  

So, I carved out time one morning with the intent of uncovering the lie I had believed about the church. I started with a series of questions. God, when did this fear get control of my heart?

In my imagination, my mind replayed multiple incidences of spiritual abuse from the church. Years of being treated poorly, devalued as a woman, and manipulated to agree with the spiritual leader when I did not. God, show me where you were during these situations.

God, when did this fear get control of my heart?

My imagination scanned through multiple situations but then zeroed in on the memory of a business meeting. During the course of the meeting, the spiritual authority and I began disagreeing about a biblical truth. Instead of discussing rationally, he mocked me in front of my peers and said I was too emotional. This was the straw that broke me, the sliver of pain that festered in my heart. With freedom in mind, I pressed in with my questions like tweezers aiming to pull it out. God, what lie did I believe at that moment? I felt deep grief in my heart as I grasped the lie. I believed that no one would ever have my spiritual back. I couldn’t rely on the church to protect me. This broke my heart. I repented for believing the lie, asked God to forgive me, and I forgave my spiritual leader. 

But I wasn’t done. My imagination replayed what happened next. After I was embarrassed by my spiritual leader we were ironically scheduled to pray in the sanctuary. Tears fell as I relived the memory of crying in the back of the church feeling foolish, stupid, and utterly alone. God, how do you feel about what happened to me? In my imagination, I saw God kneeling beside me and grieving with me that I had been treated so badly. In my spirit, I sensed him reminding me that the church should be the safest place to go and it is his joy when I bring my him my pain.

I cannot be responsible for the abuse that spiritual leaders bring, but I am responsible for the condition of my heart. It takes courage to remove any lie that hinders freedom. But in doing so, I now fully embrace that I am safe. I am protected. I am loved. The four walls of the church had been a source of affliction, but God will always have my back.

Tannis Oliveri

Tannis is an executive assistant by day and a writer by night, she enjoys copious amounts of coffee, deep discussions, and seeking God with her whole heart.
Tannis Oliveri

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