When I was in high school I went to a party at one of my friends. I must have been 16. My friends had some whiskey. I had tasted it before and wasn't too impressed so I was staying away from it. But while I was there, my dad called to tell me that our dog had bit a child and we were going to have to put it to sleep. That really bummed me out. I heard some place that people "drown their sorrows" so I gave the whiskey a try. It was bad, but if you mix it with enough Coke it goes down just fine.
I have no idea how much I had to drink. All I know is that I woke up in front of a toilet the next morning. (Good thing I asked permission to spend the night!) My friends must have thought that was the safest place for me. I remember having to go to work the next day and feeling nauseous all day. I must have been green. I felt awful. Needless to say, I've never touched whiskey since!
Church can be like that. One bad experience can ruin you for life. I remember my dad telling me that when his uncle died that his priest asked his father for $1000 to say mass to shorten his time in purgatory. I think my dad was bitter about that his entire life. I've heard of numerous people who have been scared away from church over money issues.
I have enough of my own experiences to keep me out of church for decades. One, in particular, kept me out of church for a few years. I was being manipulated and there's nothing worse than being manipulated when you are vulnerable. You see, everyone that goes to church is somewhat vulnerable. They are open to hearing from God. So the church/minister has a special entry into your life. When they abuse that place it's called spiritual abuse. And spiritual abuse, like that whiskey, leaves a nasty taste in your mouth. Your gut instinct tells you to stay away. And that's what I did. Every time I tried to go back to church it seemed phony/insincere. It took me a number of years before I could go without questioning every word spoken.
Lesson: For the church, the lesson is that we need to win back people's trust. We have to realize that there are scores of people out there who have been - not just bored but - abused by the church. We need to directly address these issues in what we say and do to convince them that we are different - that we are motivated by love and compassion, not greed and power.
For people with a bad church experience, the lesson is to try again. Don't give up hope. God has a church for you somewhere. As much as church people have let me down, I'm compelled to be a part of the church because I'm convinced that it's God's expression of his kingdom on earth - well...at least that's the plan! I really believe that the church is the only institution that can offer true hope. But it will never be that if people like me abandon it. We have to go in and reclaim it for what God intended. I'm game. How 'bout you?