Churches Hurt-Jesus Heals

I grew up knowing about Jesus and going to church. I considered my faith strong and I had a relationship with Jesus. Then I stepped foot inside James River Church and the experiences I had came close to destroying my faith and relationship with Jesus. I had a decision to make, work through the church hurt and let Jesus heal me, or let it destroy me. I chose to not share a lot of details with people, and spend that time with Jesus healing.

Almost six years later, many therapy sessions, a degree in behavioral health, close friendships, and a new church community that truly is a safe place, has positioned me in a place to write about what I went through. My experiences are not isolated. I know several great people that love and follow Jesus that have left James River Church due to the experiences they had.

Before we started attending James River Church regularly, I had a friend tell me to just attend and not volunteer. She said if I volunteered I would never be the same. I do not look back with regret wishing I had listened, but instead look at it as an experience that helped me grow.

Having a servant’s heart comes natural to me and I have always been one that wants to help others. In different areas throughout my life I have found myself in different leadership positions when I was not looking for them. I signed up in various volunteer areas at James River Church. Eventually, my husband and I were leading teams of volunteers. The more we lead, the more we saw and experienced.

1. In the various family rooms, we were told to toss any food, cups or bottles sitting around. When we mentioned a single caregiver stepped out for a minute and would be back, it did not matter. We were told to toss it, it did not look good for the church.

2. Volunteers could not have any personal belongings with them while volunteering. They could not be holding a cup of coffee, they could not have bibles, journals, coats or purses anywhere near them. As for your cell phone, well you better hope there was not an emergency because you would get talked to if you even had it out for a minute. You want to serve, but also want to be in to hear the message, and can only attend one service, not an option. You would stand at a booth the entire time and you could watch it from the TV. Be friendly, but not too friendly that the conversation lasts too long.

3. Is God speaking to you in that message you are in, and your heart wants to stay for that last worship song, but you serve the next service? You’ll need to put God aside and get to your door. If volunteers left their station for any reason, we would hear about it.

4. I was approached to ask my volunteers to serve even more. When I said they need a break too and need to be in the services, I was reminded that it was about the church not the volunteers.

5. I was rarely told what I was doing right, but every week there were plenty of things I was doing wrong. (Such as letting my volunteers take a bathroom break away from their doors, or hold a cup of coffee).

6. Going into the behavioral health field and wanting to be a counselor I was kindly told I would never get a job at a church. I had been divorced and that was looked down up on. Oh, and I had tattoos, that did not look so good on women. I explained that people needing counseling would benefit more from people who have had similar life experiences than from someone that had the “perfect life in the house with the fence around it”. I was still told I could not be in that position regardless of my faith and relationship with Jesus and degree I was working towards.

7. Since you cannot be a counselor here, you can work in the connect group for first time guests. As an enneagram 2 and an empath, along with a lot of life experiences, I loved connecting with new people. UNTIL the moment a sweet woman sat in there sobbing saying she had committed the unforgivable sin and would never be forgiven. I talked to her and told her that was not true, Jesus loved her and forgave her for whatever it was. She then told me she was transgender and I hugged her and I told her it did not matter, Jesus loved her and accepted her right where she was. When I called the counseling office the next day telling them they might want to reach out to her, you know what their biggest concern was? It was not this woman’s mental health, salvation, or helping her. It was “What bathroom was she using do you know?” I asked them why that mattered and hung up.

It was right after that experience I was up many nights feeling God telling me to leave the church because it was not loving people where they were at like Jesus would. The church cared more about its image and money coming in than it did about the people. I not only felt God calling me to do this, but to make leadership aware which was terrifying to me. Then the final experience happened……

8. The lead female pastor called me into her office before service and sent my husband on out to lead the volunteers. She told me to make this other volunteer like me. I said it is impossible for me to change someone’s personality. She kept insisting that I make her smile more, be more outgoing, more inviting. This volunteer was an amazing volunteer and lead well. The volunteers loved her. I told her again, that if I had the power to change people’s personality, then my husband and daughter would act and be just like me because they were around me all the time. That God created us all uniquely with our own personalities. That no one could change a person’s personality. She looked at me and said, “Then you maybe you are not a good leader and should to be leading, you can step down from your position if you cannot lead.”

9. Once we stopped tithing we received a letter in the mail that we were no longer a member of the church. I found that interesting, because if we were still going there and were giving a cash donation that could not be traced back to us, we were still removed as a member of the church. It was another confirmation that the church truly did not care about its people, but the money.

I gave a few weeks notice so that we could say goodbye to all of the volunteers we had met. I also wrote that letter to the leadership team and handed it to the chief officer. They called us in for a meeting and told us volunteers leave all the time, it is no big deal we could be replaced and so could any other volunteer who had an issue with what was expected of them.

Why do church leaders need a group of people following them around to keep others at a distance and to “feel safe”? That is not how Jesus led. I never once saw the pastor’s wife stepping in and helping out with anything, but instead pointing out what was not being done correctly in her eyes.

Why does every event have to have the news brought in? How many churches and organizations serve in their community but stay out of the spotlight? Did Jesus want these kinds of things in the spotlight?

I decided to not let this experience shake me, but to grow from it. My concern is the many, many people that stepped foot inside that door hoping to find a safe place. The ones that gave their life to Jesus and then experienced some of what we did. It was hard enough for me to work through, I cannot imagine the setback a new believer would have.

A church is a building. The people that are inside it are the ones Jesus is concerned with. The broken people, that is where Jesus would spend his time.

It was a great reminder to hold people and positions loosely and cling tightly to Jesus. Especially when serving does not look how Jesus would want it to.

I am hopeful others share their stories and someone gets through to the leadership of this church for the sake of our community.

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