When I Had No Church
- Monday, February 04, 2013
Unless you are still in the same church you were raised in as a child, chances are you’ve had a bad church experience. Maybe someone in leadership got caught doing something they shouldn’t have been doing. Or perhaps, after studying your Bible, you discovered that the teaching you were exposing your family to wasn’t scriptural. Whatever the case, leaving a church isn’t an easy thing to do. It sometimes results in losing touch with friends you’ve served beside for years. It could mean uprooting your loved ones and trying many churches before you discover a new place to worship.
Such has been my life for the past two years. After leaving our church home of nine years, we regularly attended five different churches from four different denominations. The amount of lessons I’ve learned during this time cannot be contained in a single article. But I would like to summarize a few important steps that helped my family survive this in-between time and led to us finding a new and healthy church home.
1. Remove the Term "Church-Hopper" From Your Vocabulary
I don’t know who originated this evil description, but if you are going to survive your bad church situation, you need to treat this damaging phrase as if it never existed. When church leaders begin tossing the term "church hoppers" around, it’s basically a way to guilt people into not leaving their church. It is an unedifying and cruel thing to call someone not only because it’s selfish, but also because you don’t know the details of their situation.
There were many times in our transition where my wife and I felt like we were disobedient christians because we hadn’t yet found the church for us. I can’t help but imagine that this is a point where many people give up on church altogether. Leaving an unhealthy church requires a lot of patience. It can require thick skin, deaf ears, and a great degree of un-learning false doctrines.
2. Take Bible Study Very Seriously
I’ve found that there are two types of Bible readers:
Type A: reads the Bible out of religious duty, but allows some "other thing" to govern their behavior. Maybe that other thing is their emotions. Or maybe it’s the laws of the church they serve in. But the Bible isn’t the authority in their decision-making; they never allow the words on the page to have a true impact in their lives, and they read to prove what they already suspect. Their priority is quantity over quality.
Type B: takes time to process the Bible. They take the time to wrestle with the things they are reading. They realize the importance of letting the Scriptures indicate who God is, how He relates to His creation and ultimately, who we, His creation, are supposed to be. Their priority is quality over quantity.
I’ll never forget the moment I decided that I’d been a Type A, but needed to be a Type B. I was driving home from my grandmother’s funeral a few years ago. I was reminiscing over the life she’d lived, the multitude of people she’d touched, God’s grace upon her life and the lives of her children and grandchildren. I remember being blown away that God used this woman, a widowed little granny who didn’t speak in tongues or cast out demons or hold crusades overseas. She allowed God to transform her world. As a result, she touched the lives of so many people.
Up to that point, I’d taken a lot of pride in the life I lived as a Christian. Most of the examples I had in my life were Christians who had great material wealth and tremendous power over others. People would cheer at their sermons and give them special treatment in public. They prayed in tongues and prophesied. They laid hands on people who’d fall to the ground under the power of God. They taught college-level Bible classes. They traveled the world conducting massive crusades with hundreds of thousands in attendance. These people were my heroes.
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