My church story: the cheat sheet


I think it’s time I give you the Cliff Note’s version of my experience in and out of church.

I got saved at the age of six, which is what my Vacation Bible School teacher at a tiny Baptist church in my hometown said I had to do to get to heaven. For saying the sinner’s prayer, I won a green and white stuffed bunny that was hand stitched by one of the faithful old church ladies. I had a Sunday School teacher who loved me unconditionally and found magazine clippings of my favorite animals to decorate memory verses on index cards. 

I got on fire for God at a Calvary Chapel-esque church in my pre-teen years. It was here that I was exposed to Teen Mania Ministries, a giant and rather fundamentalist revival organization based in Texas. I took two overseas missions trips with Teen Mania, which stoked my passion for travel and taught me dating was sinful.

I got kind of weird on God at a Pentecostal church I attended for the bulk of my teen years. I received the gift of tongues and witnessed my friends from youth group screech, convulse, and roll on the floor when the Spirit came down. It was during these years I believed secular music is always bad, playing rummy is the appearance of evil, and my developing body kept men from being right before God, unless I covered it up. I got used to three-hour sermons, loud preachers, and prophesy.

I got some rest at the Christian college I attended. Compared to the doctrines that saturated my teen years, the college seemed open minded and accepting of different views. I stopped attending church regularly, but I continued to go to campus chapel twice a week. It took me awhile to detox from the thinking I binged on in high school – I remember during my first semester I actually made an anonymous written suggestion for the school to implement a dress code because I thought my peers were dressing too immodestly. Lord help me. 

I got angry, really angry, at the non-denominational church Joe worked as a youth pastor right after graduation. He was a youth pastor for 10 months at this church before the senior pastor – who is a narcissist in the most clinical sense of the word – fired him two weeks before our wedding. He screamed at Joe and told him to increase the youth group’s numbers, but only with rich kids so the church would grow financially. I watched Joe endure verbal and spiritual abuse for months from this church, and with each Sunday it got harder and harder to slap on a smile.

I got bitter. I got a bone to pick with that guy.

 I got a little healing in a small group of people we found in Boston, a group of students and artists who accepted us and prayed for us no matter what kind of anger or arrogance we threw at them. These were the kind of people that sat cross-legged on their rug in their fourth floor brownstone, talking about life and God. They were the type of people that celebrated with champagne when one of us landed a long-awaited job, and tearfully sent us off with prayer when we moved back to California.

I got a little bored, a little numb, a little tired of church shopping in the town we live in now. I got indignant when a hyper 23-year-old male Bible study leader berated his soft-spoken wife in front of the whole group. Meanwhile, at a church across town, I got anxious when the pastor, red in the face, yelled at his congregation for being “lukewarm.” I got discouraged after off-and-on attending another church – not a large church, mind you, but a congregation of about 100 – for nearly two years without ever being reached out to by anyone.  Not so much as a cup of coffee.

Then I realized. I got to stop this. 

So there you have it, the cheat sheet to my personal church history. From this, from what is written and what is between the lines, many more stories will flow.

Does anything stick out to you, anything you’re dying to hear more about? Anything about this post make you uncomfortable? You don’t have to agree with me to join the conversation. 



  1. Tina on January 20, 2014 at 6:09 pm

    My goodness! What a ride. Sometimes you need to stop and think about why you are where you are and where you would like to be. Faith is no different, I suppose. My only question, asked respectfully: you say that no one in that small church reached out to you. Did you reach out to any of them?

    • creatingmom on January 20, 2014 at 6:16 pm

      Hi Tina, I am so glad you asked.
      I know in my heart I attended that church with a bitter heart, one that was waiting for someone to prove me wrong. In the beginning I approached a few other young moms in the church (this is when I was still pregnant), and got icy cold responses. Of course there were 1-2 people who would say hi to us each week, so they weren’t all like that.
      And then there is the fact that we only intermittently attended. I’m talking two weeks out of the month. So it wasn’t like we were committed regulars.
      I need a longer post to explain what happened at that church.
      I did know the pastors, because when I was a reporter I wrote a story on the church. They knew a sliver of our story – that Joe was once a youth pastor and is no longer – and they never once asked “why”. Perhaps they were afraid to, I don’t know.
      Thanks for asking that question. There are two sides to every story, aren’t there?

  2. Penelope on January 21, 2014 at 4:20 pm

    I understand completely about a cold church! Small town churches can be extremely cold to newcomers. We attended a Sunday School class of 10 people and not one person even said hello!!! True story! We never returned. But the pastor was that way too. When discussing visitation: “they know where we are. We shouldn’t have to visit them.”

    That kind of coldness (& judgment) is what keeps the church from growing. It’s what keeps people out of church!

    As tough as it is, just keep visiting. God will show you where He wants you to be!

    • creatingmom on January 21, 2014 at 4:22 pm

      Uh, wow about the visitation comment.

      Thank you, Penelope. I hope you’ve since found a friendlier place of worship.

  3. Chastity @ My Rays of Sunshine on January 21, 2014 at 6:46 pm

    Thank you for sharing this, Carly. I was raised in a Pentacostal church and it always felt like home to me until I started going on mission trips with the youth group. I remember coming back from visiting the Dream Center in L.A. (which I LOVED) and standing in front of my church’s congregation and calling them all hypocrites because not a single one of them would help any of the needy kids in south central L.A.

    To this day I still am facebook friends with several of the people I went to youth group with and one in particular believes God has called upon her to judge everyone. It hurts me how she truly doesn’t understand the love and compassion of God.

    I haven’t found a home church in years. Where we are living now is full of strict, damning your soul to hell churches and I refuse to raise my children in such a toxic environment.

    Best of luck on your journey.

    Thank you for sharing this at Wine’d Down Wednesday.

    • creatingmom on January 21, 2014 at 7:09 pm

      Chastity, kudos to you for doing what you know is best for your kids.

      There is something about the Pentecostal denomination in particular that breeds spiritual narcissism. I have friends who have stayed and they are lovely people, but most of those who were in my youth group have “backslidden” because it is just too rigid of a life to maintain. The burnout rate is high. Many of us are bitter adults who are hypersensitive to legalism. I love meeting others out there who understand, it helps me in the healing process. Thanks for stopping by and sharing with me.

  4. The Park Wife on January 21, 2014 at 6:47 pm

    We have gone through so much of what you have talked about here. The great thing is that we do not have to go to a church to find Jesus, He is not hanging out in some of those toxic places where they say what they are doing is in His name. We gather in my home with our children and anyone else that wants to stop by. We pray together often, seek Him through studying our Bible. He is truly more alive to us than when we were over-scheduled on committees in a church where everyone was judgemental and snarky. And, oh my, thank you for mentioning the part about dating. I have been talking to our son and though I do not want him to give his heart and sweet mercy, his body away to every girl that comes along, I do not want him to think that he can not date. .

    • creatingmom on January 21, 2014 at 7:00 pm

      You gather in your home? That is exactly what we are trying to do. Do you ever blog about that? If you do, I’d love it if you linked to it in a comment. I’d love to hear about how its done.

      It’s easy for me to say I’ll teach healthy dating boundaries to my daughter because she is still a baby… But I do know one thing, the whole “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” thing is just too much. I strongly feel that youth leaders need to leave parents to decide what boundaries are best for their own children. None of this “one rule fits all” thing. I think in many circumstances dating is out of the realm of what church leaders should handle. Parents know their children best and should have the control in this area. I think you’re right on track!

  5. Kate on January 21, 2014 at 7:41 pm

    Thanks for sharing your story. I grew up in a crazy Pentecostal church. Just nuts. Then I went to a big, very balanced, healthy, normal Pentecostal church – truly discovered a great family. Did the Baptist Christian college and that sort of balanced out my Pentecostal background. Now, we got to a small, humble, caring little Evangelical free church. There are so many wacky Christians and there are some really genuine Christians who truly represent what a healthy Christian family should be like . I hope you are able to find your way to a group that really represents Him well. It’s sad that so many people are turned off to Jesus b/c of poor followers. But He is amazing. God bless on your journey! Coming by from Wine’d Down Wed!

    • creatingmom on January 21, 2014 at 8:05 pm

      Hi Kate! Yes, I think it’s the small Pentecostal churches that are really “nuts” as you put it.
      Thanks for the encouragement. I have not given up on my faith, and I know it will only be stronger for this in the long run. In the meantime, though, it’s pretty painful. This blog has been therapy for me in a sense. I love hearing stories similar (and different) from mine.

  6. Jessica on January 21, 2014 at 11:51 pm

    Super interesting read! I *kind of* went down a similar path, although I didn’t get as hardcore as you did. I WAS a bible thumper for a year or two in high school but came out of that my senior year after I was dumped by one of the popular boys in the youth group and I became a scorned Jezebel.

    I kinda got into church again after I had my first son, I think just cause the overwhelming awesomeness of becoming a parent had me wanting to “do right by him” and bring up him up in church.

    Buuuut…now I’ve TOTALLY fallen off the religion bandwagon. So, there’s my cheat sheet 😀

    Great post, I love your way with words!!

    • creatingmom on January 21, 2014 at 11:57 pm

      HAHA, you became a “scorned Jezebel.” Love it!!! Well, it’s actually kind of sad that happened to you, and I’m sorry. But you wrote it so funny.
      Being a new parent does inspire me to “make things right”, so that’s what I’m doing in this season. But it’s hard.
      I’m so glad to have connected with you. 🙂

  7. Nancy on January 24, 2014 at 3:08 pm

    So sad that Jesus is often so poorly represented in his church…breaks my heart. My story is similar, although I didn’t have much to do with the Pentecostal church. In recent years, we’ve had our share of struggles & doubts, and I’m now at a place of I guess boredom or a lack of passion/excitement/whatever you want to call it for the church and my faith…but so far we’re still hanging in there, after finding an incredibly warm, open, honest, genuine church family to belong to.
    Thanks for sharing – your honesty is so refreshing!
    (And sorry for all the late comments – working part time = no more time to read my favorite blogs! Just getting caught up!) 🙂

    • creatingmom on January 24, 2014 at 4:15 pm

      Welcome back, and I hope your transition back to work is going smoothly.
      That’s wonderful you found a warm & genuine place to worship… I wish that for everyone.
      I identify with what you said about lack of passion/excitement. So much of what I learned growing up was how to maintain the passion for Jesus, and when that burned out, I felt like I lost my faith. But I bet you demonstrate your faith and love for God everyday, just not in that mold you once did. I bet you show it in the way you love your children and husband, in the way you enjoy a sunset, in the way you have inner peace. Thanks for writing me.

  8. Ami Adams on February 7, 2014 at 9:00 pm

    I grew up in a Pentecostal church and I have to disagree, it wasn’t “nuts.” Sure, there were the standard “tent revival” type services. But God moved and witnessing His presence in various ways was moving. And so sweet. I begin going to church until I was around twelve, and I am now in my late twenties. I never had one of those bad, judgmental experiences. Sure, there are still old school Pentecostal churches out there and yeah, maybe those churches are the ones that can make people feel condemned instead of loved. But I believe that when you find the right church family who loves Jesus for who He is and lives Him, you will feel loved and appreciated and valued…everything but condemned. Don’t allow bad experiences to take over your opinion of the church as a whole. Sending you love!

    • Carly Gelsinger on February 7, 2014 at 9:16 pm

      Ami, I’m so glad you commented here. One of my dearest friends’ parents are Assemblies of God ministers and they are in no way “nuts”, so I agree with you 100%. The last thing I want to do is make blanket statements towards an entire denomination. Even in my own church, I could show you people who would see a totally different side to my story. But for me, personally, it was toxic. Thanks for sharing.

      • Ami Adams on February 7, 2014 at 9:25 pm

        I know there are always “those people” who create sickness within the church, in a spiritual sense. It’s easy to get caught up in that and feel condemned, forever judged. Moments like that are when it is important that we seek Jesus to find out for ourselves, and that isn’t always easy. I grew up in the Church of God, and my husband and I are members of an Assemblies of God in our town. We love it. The good thing about our stories? God uses them for His glory. And that’s what life is about…glorifying Him.

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