My Bad Church Experience & How I Found Faith Again

In She Speaks by Jillian Benfield9 Comments


1 Peter 4:8

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.”


I’m a journalist, not just in job title, (former job title for the moment) but also by nature. I can’t accept something because someone tells me it’s true, I have to investigate the matter myself.


Over the summer, I was in the car A LOT.  My husband was in Officer Training School in Alabama and my 3-month-old daughter and I bounced back and forth living in different places that month.  I listened to a few podcasts from a church based in Atlanta.  They had a series called “My Bad Church Experience” which made me think of my own.

It’s funny, as a reporter it’s easy to write someone else’s story.  You’re doing an interview and your interviewee says something that stops you in your tracks.  You make a mental note of it and you knowthat’s what you’re writing your story around.   It’s hard to concentrate on the rest of the interview because you’re already writing the package (story) in your head.  But when it’s your own story, the words are hard to get out.


This is my faith story.  I decided to write it because every time I’ve read my bible lately, I’ve had a hard time concentrating because I keep trying to write this story, my story. I’ve had hesitations sharing it with the world because I don’t want to offend anyone from my past. But, ultimately I’ve decided to tell my story not because it’s unique, but because it’s not unique.  And, if it’s not unique, then maybe it can help people who have been through similar experiences.


I grew up going to a private Christian School from Kindergarten to 4th grade.  During this time period I also went to my best friend’s church on most Sundays.  What I learned there was hate.  How we should hate evil.  But, lots of things were evil: Halloween, Santa and don’t get anyone started on the Homosexuals. I think I heard the term “homosexual” dozens of times before I actually knew what it meant.  Funny how Jesus never mentioned those evilest of evils.


John 8:7

“…He that is without sin among you, let him cast a stone at her.”



The other thing I learned was fear.  Fear of not being quite good enough.  I thought I had demons in my house spying on me; I had nightmares of burning in the fiery pit of hell. Have you’ve ever seen the playHeavens Gates, Hells Flames?  If so, then you know how terrifying that would be to a little kid.  It showed different scenarios of people dying and then God judging whether they get into heaven or whether they will be tortured for all eternity in Hell.  As if scaring people into believing in Jesus, the most loving person of all time, is what he’d want.




Romans 13:10

“Love does no harm to its neighbor.  Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”



The pinnacle of this part of my life was a trip to achurch camp in North Carolina.  I remember sitting in a lecture and the instructor puling up a slide with a list of slang words.  It showed you how every slang word was a sin because the word was a derivative of God.  So, no “oh my goodness”.  Or even “gosh by golly” because the word “golly” was derived from the word “God”.  Sorry Grandpa B, apparently you’ve been sinning all of these years. Switch to another scene, an instructor called out names to TV shows and had us all clap for the ones we liked to watch.  It was the 90’s so the auditorium erupted when Friends was called.  Then the instructor told us how many times the Lord’s name was used in vain, how many times pre-marital sex was mentioned, etc. in the show.  Even Christian Rock music was evil because the blasphemous beat of the songs could set young people in a sinful mindset.


I felt so disgusted with myself that I got “saved”.  I had already been saved, but I wasn’t sure if it counted because I was so bad.


But what I’ll never forget about church camp was pulling back into the church parking lot and getting into my mom’s car.  It was like a cloud lifted and at 11 years old I was no longer a kid in some ways.


On that short drive home, I realized that adults could be wrong.  I started questioning everything.  Unfortunately, these experiences did not draw me closer to God, but far, far away from him.  I was pretty convinced that most, if not all, Christians werejudgmental hypocrites.  I never considered myself an atheist, but I definitely toyed with the idea.

Things didn’t change until I was in college and started dating Andy.  We went to church together a bit and I started believing again.  But really it was a couple years into our marriage when I started having a relationship with God.  Honestly I never thought I was important enough for God to want to have relationship with.   We found a good church in Augusta, Georgiaand every week I kept hearing a message of grace.  Grace.  It’s a word I never remember hearing in my past.  I’m sure I’m wrong, I’m sure it was in there somewhere, but it’s not what stood out in my 10 year old mind.

Here’s where the journalism part comes back.  I saw an ad in the church bulletin for a 9-month long Bible study that covered more than 80% of the Bible and I just knew I had to do it.  It was a God moment.  Going through the Bible myself and having a pastor put context behind those words, words that don’t make any sense without it, was a complete game changer.  Understanding why the laws in the Old Testament were so strict, reading the prophesies of Christ’s death in Isaiah and then finally reading every recorded word Jesus said that were filled with love, not hate, changed my life.

Again, I decided to write this post, not because my story is unique, but because I know it’s not unique.  Don’t let a group of Christians you disagree with, define your thoughts on Christianity.  Investigate it for yourself.  Read the Bible, research the Bible.  If you’re on a path to self-discovery or self-improvement, is there a greater start than finding out what you believe?


1 John 2:9

“Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.”

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  1. Jillian experience reflects mine except that I am a jewish believer in Yeshua.I came to accept him and his message of love God love your neighbor but I found mainstream religionists to often been full of judgment and hate…So I find myself, movie producer, mentor,a west la fairly liberal on several hot button social issues jewish guy finding my love of yeshua in my reading of his words in context and generally ignoring the mainstream coreligionists interpretation of how I should act and feel

  2. I have to admit that I almost refused to read your post due to a knee jerk reaction I have to anything to do with Christianity, but something made me stop. I grew up in a Southern Baptist church, but I started to see nothing but hate and hypocrisy. When I moved away for college I began to turn away from God and religion. After a serious car accident, I became addicted to prescription pain killers. I needed God to help me, but the God of my youth was one of vengance and wrath. I have had to start from scratch in forming a new relationship with God. I still can’t bring myself to go to church, and only recently have I been able to start reading the Bible again. I’m sure none of this means anything to you, but please know that, despite years of sobriety, the fact I stopped to read your post feels like a huge spiritual step. It’s nice to know that the hurt feelings of my youth can be mended.

    1. Amanda,
      I am not sure how or what I am supposed to say however when I read your comment I felt this overwhelming urge to show you love and let you know that I care and love you even though I don’t know you but more than that God loves you and is sorry and it hurts Him so much that you were taught religion and not how to have a relationship with Him. You don’t need to go to church to be close to Him, to have the loving relationship He desires so bad to have with you. I know this sounds crazy but and I am far from perfect or even speaking with Him daily right now because I am letting worldy life events affect me however I think reading this blog and then reading YOUR reply has encouraged me more than me sitting in church yesterday for the hour I did before I walked out. I just want to encourage you to talk to Him daily…You don’t have to get on your knees and pray for like whatever you were taught though that is good too…its about talking with Him all day…I have even yelled at Him when i didn’t understand something and later on I can still “feel” His love for me. I believe its all about love and He loves each and everyone of us unconditionally regardless of our choices but He wants to see us live for Him and show other people His love through us as. I don’t know if this made since I asked Him to help me write it though I wanted it to be from Him not me…I will be praying for you and hope you have a great day.

  3. Hi Jillian! This was so strange to read, almost as if I was reading my own story. Scary that this is so true for many of us! Thank you for sharing.
    ~another Jillian

  4. Pingback: My Bad Church Experience Featured on She Is More | News Anchor to Homemaker

  5. You sound a lot like me. I went to a private Baptist Christian School because academically it was the best choice for me. Though my Mom looks back now and wishes we had just home schooled. I learned very early on how judgmental adults could be. We had assembly (church services) every week and I got to listen to a lot of different kinds of preachers from all different denominations. I heard a lot of hate and a lot of words that induced people to make that long walk to front out of fear and out of a sense of worthlessness that I did not agree with. I even went so far as to refuse to go down front and pray when a speaker put the call out one day. Me and two of my friends and the Japanese exchange student that really didn’t know what was going on. I got a stern talking to from a teacher about how I must not care about anyone to not go down and pray after that stirring sermon. I retorted that no, I just didn’t feel like being a lemming that morning and going with the flow. I’ve made a lot of peace with myself the last few years and am finally going to a great little country church. I’m happy to have a place to worship that teaches from a place of love and peace and not the hate filled speech I heard growing up.

  6. Hey there Jill……what a story. Let me first of all tell you that what I remember most about you as you were growing up was your kind personally and of course…..that wonderful beautiful voice of yours! I would have never guessed you ever felt that way. I am glad you have found your faith again and so willing to share your story, cause like you said….you are not alone! Many of us feel this exact same way……and you have made me want to give religion another try, Thank you! Your daughter is beautiful and I love the name! Hoping one day Kyle blesses us with a grand-baby…….talk to him about that ok? 🙂 Take care and God Bless you and your beautiful family! 🙂

  7. Jillian, your story touched my heart. I don’t know if Rachele ever shared her own experiences with you but what she (we) went through with the private school in Titusville left her with deep scars and eventually agnostic. The guilt that I feel over what she went through is still deep. Like you, she was so scared about many things, mostly to do with Revelations and demonds. I eventually took her out of that school and put her in public school. She tried to tell me many times about the scary stories but I didn’t realize how graphic it was untill I heard it for myself. I pray that she will find The Lord and know his love.

    Thank you for sharing your story.


  8. Jillian,
    I realize now that I’m coming upon this a bit late, but this story was exactly what I needed to see. I have had similar experiences with various churches in my earlier years and the hate-filled remarks and could never identify with that way of thinking. I began to feel afraid that I would be judged if those in my former church knew “the real me”. After reading your thoughts on this experience, it has given me a new perspective on pursuing my faith again. Thank you so much for sharing, and this truly was an inspiring story.

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