For the first 46 years of my life, church was my life. I rarely missed a Sunday. For most of my early years it was a Sunday morning, Sunday evening and Wednesday night routine for me. Church attendance, in my mind, was equal to having a relationship with God. I never remember a time when I rebelled against going to church. It was ingrained into my being. There was no other option – at least for my first 18 years. Then when I left home it had been instilled so much in me that I was afraid to miss.
Let me just tell you in the beginning of this series that I do not miss the church. I’m sure that to my friends who are still in the church that my admission will shock them. It is not meant to be a slam or criticism to them or people who still go to church. Each person is different and this is my story. It isn’t meant to be a blanket judgment for all only the reality for me to share with you.
CUTTING TEETH ON THE CHURCH PEWS
My father was “called to preach” when I was just learning to walk. He asked for God a sign and he apparently got one when God worked through my mother to call him into the ministry. You see, my mother had grown up as a preacher’s kid herself. She told the story many times that she had no desire whatsoever to marry a preacher yet that’s exactly what happened. My father was appointed to his first church in Valdosta, Georgia in 1967. For the next 15 years he would be my pastor. From Valdosta to Moultrie to Temple to Homeland to Axson to Villa Rica and then Savannah was the journey I took with them. I saw the good, the bad and the very ugly about the church. I am not happy with a lot of things I experienced and witnessed growing up in the church. Many people naturally assumed that I would follow my father and my grandfather into the ministry of being a pastor. I did not and, although I tested the waters, it was never meant to be for me.
When you grow up as a preacher’s kid, there are expectations placed upon you that can be overwhelming. Everyone watches what you say and do. When you don’t meet those expectations there are people more than willing to let you know how you have disappointed them. The expectations are the hardest part of my life in the church. Your life is in meeting those expectations and not disappointing people. It doesn’t matter if they disappoint you or not. I spent a majority of my life working to please others. That’s how I was raised and that’s how my brain was wired for all those years.
I will get into the church in Part 2 of this series. I will say that it was a cult in spite of those who would object to such a description of the church. I will lay it out for you next week. Since I left the church I had to unlearn many of the erroneous things I was thought. I really had to spend a lot of time sorting through it all and figure out what was true and what was not true about God.
Growing up in the church was not about the fear of God but more of the fear of disappointing everyone which was the same of disappointing God. There was a culture of unhealthy fear being in the church.
When I left home for the United States Air Force, many people told me that I would give into the temptations to alcohol and other sinful things that was assumed that people in the military do. Contrary to those assumptions, I never had any of those desires. I wasn’t raised with it so it wasn’t something I desired to do. Was I perfect? Heck no. I had my issues but I was too afraid to disappoint my parents or people in the church. I was expected to keep the teachings and everything about the church.
I tried my best to make it work. I tried to “drink the Koolaid” as they say. You know, one thing that I absolutely could never understand was the whole thing about speaking in tongues. Yeah, I know the look most of you have right now. If you are in the church and knew me you’re probably shocked. Those of you not in the church probably have a different look. Let me tell you that I never got it. I never could grasp it. Others around me did and spoke in tongues frequently. I don’t know. I won’t say it’s fake but I sure saw a lot of misuse in that function of the spirit. People would use that “gift” to manipulate things in the church. I just missed it somehow. It’s not that I didn’t try. I tried many times to speak in tongues and read books, listened to tapes and sermons on the subject but it just simply never clicked for me. Honestly, I still don’t get it.
Most of my life in the church I tried to fit in. I never did. I taught Sunday School, Bible Study, worked in Youth Camps, worked with Youth in the church and tried to preach but never felt my fit. The only place I have ever felt my fit in the church was in writing and the church didn’t even birth that in me. Working as a sports writer at a newspaper got me on that path. The last job I really had was as the media minster which was where I worked the computer and audio for church services. I didn’t even fill like that was my fit either. In fact, one year I worked in a men’s retreat with the media and one guy comes up to me and fusses me out about not having a tape ready for purchase yet later that night he was standing up in front of the congregation crying and talking about reaching out to people. Really? Yeah, that was much of my impression of the church. Hypocrisy everywhere. Of course, where else should hypocrites be? Of course the biggest hypocrite was me. In fact, I penned this writing during my last year with the church:
Welcome to Hypocrite City, Population: Me.
I am the chiefest of all hypocrites.
None can do it better than me.
I am a pro at the “church game”.
Just answer “fine” to all questions.
No one cares otherwise.
Don’t believe me? Try another answer.
They don’t know how to respond
Or they try a religious cliché
“Keep looking up”
“I’m praying for you”
etc, etc. etc.
Nothing of substance – just words.
Words are empty without actions.
That’s why it’s best to answer: “fine”
No one wants to hear me whine.
The church is a joke
Christ isn’t laughing
I have proof of what I say
No calls or emails sent my way
No encouragement or even one of those clichés
Tomorrow is Sunday, and then will I exist to them
Well, until next Sunday that is.
As long as I play my role and do my deeds
I don’t want to hear it
I want to feel it
I don’t feel it.
Maybe saying the church has too many hypocrites is the reason you think I left the church. No, not necessarily. It was just something I came to expect in the church. I had my fill of people who would be totally ugly and later speak in tongues in the Holy Ghost. Yeah, that still makes me sick to my stomach. Growing up with my father being a preacher whenever we would move to another church the first church member to tell us about all the problems with the church would be the very one that would cause the most problems. If expectations were on me then I had expectations to be suspicious of the motives of others which is one thing I have had to work on a lot since leaving the church.
Yes, there are a lot of negative things from my experience with the church but that wasn’t the overriding thing that caused me to leave the church. Since leaving the church, I had to pick the good parts from the bad. I left the church but I did not leave my relationship with God. The honest truth is that my relationship with God is better now than it was in all those years in the church.
I left the church but I did not leave my relationship with God.
FORSAKE NOT THE ASSEMBLY
I know preachers will quote that scripture about not forsaking the assembling yourself with others. (Hebrews 10:25) I know it well. The reason they will say that is because the church is their lives and, well, they need people and their finances so they will be able to continue in the ministry. I’m not saying they are in it for the money because I know some good people who are in it and they are working jobs to support themselves and pastoring their churches. They are not all about the money but it is their livelihood so of course they want to encourage people to come to church.
Let me say that for many people it is important to attend church and be involved in church. I won’t tell you that I will never attend or be a part of another church. I don’t know that for sure and I would never say never. I just know that at this time in my life I am doing better without it after all the years of expectations and hypocrisy. I would never discourage anyone from attending church. I have to be careful not to be critical of people who do. I often catch myself in a mid-eye roll when someone says they belong to a church.
So is it easy to keep up a relationship with God without church. No it isn’t easy at all. It’s honestly a lot of work and there is a lot of self-discipline involved. When I was in the church, I really only had to be “on” a few hours a week. Two hours on Sunday and maybe an hour for Bible Study. I have discovered that without church I have to work to keep my relationship in the right place. For me, it works to listen to at least one Podcast, listen or read the Bible at least every other day and constantly praying as well as spending time being quiet before God. Nothing super spiritual or anything but doing what works for me.
I eventually came to a crossroads in my life and chose another path of which I am on now. I made a choice to live the life that I could live. It does not involve the church.
NEXT WEEK: The Church I Left