If someone is to recover from spiritual abuse and return to a church one of the important aspects is to know what they are looking for in a church, or maybe it is knowing what you are not looking for. The American church today is so diverse that even within the same denomination a church can be very distinctive. I once attended a church that was named with “community church” but really they were part of the Nazarene denomination. If you talked to the leadership about it they would tell you they were the black sheep of the denomination because they didn’t follow the same structure of other Nazarene churches.
As a spiritual abuse survivor makes a choice to return to a church they need to make decisions about what are negotiable aspects and what are non-negotiable aspects of a church they might be comfortable with. For example, are you specifically only open to attending a specific denomination, or not attending a specific denomination. Could you attend a church with a woman pastor? A pastor team? Family members on staff together? Do you want topical teaching or Biblical expository teaching? Do you want traditional worship structure or a more contemporary style? Do you want music to include hymns or more contemporary style songs? Are specific ministries in the church important, for example do you have kids that need to be a part of a ministry? Do you want a large, medium, or small church? Does the average age of the congregation matter?
On first thought many things might seem to be non-negotiable because we have a church style we may be drawn toward. I have learned though that I may not be a good judge regarding choosing a church for myself due to the damage from the abuse in my past and certain things I am drawn toward in more non-denominational style churches and strong biblical teachings. It will be very important for me to receive input from others that know me about whether a future church might be a good match for me.
This week I have had the wonderful opportunity to share with some Christians on Saturday, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at social and service gatherings. They included people from three different churches and even though they were social/service gatherings at each one we specifically engaged in prayer. Prayer is something that was not a part of the church I attended for the last year other than at the Sunday services and briefly before a group meal. While I would not have said that prayer was a key issue for me up until now, the experiences this week are making me rethink things and showing me that it is a lot more important to me than I thought.
One of the things we can do to put a positive light on the abusive experiences we walked through is to learn from them. They teach us what is important and what is not; what is valuable and what is not as valuable. When we can look at our abuse and name off things we have learned through the experience we are starting to reshape it into something that can move us forward toward a positive future and that is exactly what God wants our future to be!