So where do I find myself at present . . . ?
Recently, my wife and I have both been challenged by dear friends who are concerned about our decision not to remain within the framework of an institutional, organized church. Given how much these friends mean to us, these conversations have touched off a great deal of study, prayer, discovery and contemplation . . . as well as prompting the creation of this blog.
We have become involved with a network of wonderful people in this area, who are facing a similar journey to ours. These people were introduced to us through the writings and podcasts of Wayne Jacobsen, and we had the opportunity to meet with Mr. Jacobsen and several new friends in March of this year at the home of some local friends of his who have now become good friends of ours as well. What impressed both of us was how little Wayne seemed interested in leading and controlling the conversation we were having. Each person in the room had a story to tell, and all of us learned and grew from the experience . . . but nobody was responsible for leading or directing the discussion. It was completely organic, completely real . . . and completely independent of any “local church.” Jacobsen lives in California, far away from us here in Virginia, but the other people in that room have, in the last two months, become a very large and important part of our lives.
My wife and I came away more refreshed than either of us have been by an ordinary church service for a long, long time. We felt like we had seen God working in the minds and hearts of the people in that room, and that He had worked in our minds and hearts as well . . . showing us more of Himself. We have gotten together with some of the people in that room, as well as some of their friends who are in similar situations, a total of four times. We hope for many more such gatherings, as each one brings a renewed sense of joy, fellowship, and gratitude for our Father’s working in our lives.
I have had well-meaning friends tell me that this experience runs completely contrary to Scripture. I disagree. While I am certainly glad that many people are able to find spiritual nourishment and fellowship inside conventional churches, I find nothing in scripture that indicates that this is the only way God will ever use to build up the people He has redeemed.
I will address some of the most common objections I have received in regards to this statement in future posts. I considered putting them here, but I don’t think this series is the place for them. This is a story, not an apologetic. All I will say about them for now is that, after a lot of soul-searching, prayer, study and agonizing, I have come to a place where I don’t think I can, in good conscience, attend a conventional church at this point in my life. If I did so, it would be because I was once again bowing to external pressure from others, conforming to the person they want me to be. It would not be because I believe that’s where I need to be to engage in a meaningful relationship with God, or with other members of His Body.
Where, then, do I go from here?
I don’t know . . . and oddly enough for someone with as many “control-freak” characteristics as I have, I like it that way. God has made life an adventure – a mystery with new surprises and unforseen twists. One exciting thing I have been discovering even in the past few weeks is that, when one is living outside the boundaries of a conventional church, the opportunities to speak truth into the lives of others, and have them speak truth into my life, are vastly increased.
There are, it seems, a lot of us asking these questions. When I first began examining my beliefs about church, I thought I was alone – or at the very least, that Heidi had been through these questions before. At the time, though, I wasn’t sure I wanted to end up in the same place she had. She had seen and been through a lot more than I had, at the time, and I thought perhaps it was because of this that she had ended up where she had. Time and experience, though, led me on a very different path, to the same place she had reached – a place outside the walls of any church building.
What I discovered, though, is that far from finding ourselves defenseless outside these walls, and open to spiritual attack in ways that “normal Christians” aren’t (something each of us heard from our skeptical pastors, church leaders and friends) we are finding other people with similar questions and similar experiences, who have arrived at similar answers.
We are also finding that we can experience all of the same benefits that a conventional church offers – the study of scripture, the fellowship, the opportunities to serve and bless each other, the joy of participating in “Body Life” – without the shame, fear, and debasement that is popular in many local assemblies.
For some of us, this is our first experience with the easy yoke, the light burden, and the rest for our souls that Christ offers in Matthew 11.
Where do I go from here? I don’t know . . . but for the first time, I do not fear to find out what comes next.
. . . I am excited by it.
Back to Part 4
5 Responses to My Journey out of Church and into the Body of Christ (5)
Hi Mike – again, I relate. I left the traditional, conventional, organized, institutional surroundings several years ago. For a long time I had doubts and fears. Was I doing the right thing? Was I bright or strong enough to survive outside its seemingly safe confines? My wife left with me but reluctantly. Our son was young at the time so I worried about him and how he was going to “get fed.”
Thing is I loved our old pastor, still do, as well as so many others that we “churched” with. But I was dying inside and I couldn’t explain why. The Lord was beginning to show me that there was more to Him than Sunday-go-to-meetings, and programs and committees and oy, I’m having some bad flashbacks here.
After we left we were involved with some house church environments but unfortunately much of it seemed as institutional as my traditional church experience. Now I find myself enjoying living in the moment and like you said, “Where do I go from here? I don’t know . . . but for the first time, I do not fear to find out what comes next. . . I am excited by it.” Me too. God has ways to bring life to us. His life. It’s exciting just being the Church and seeing, as the wind, the Spirit taking us where He wills.
By the way… that Wayne Jacobsen guy can be very dangerous to ones preconceived notions of who God and the Church are. The Lord has used him mightily in my life. He’s a great friend and brother. I’ve learned much from him.
Hey – I have THOROUGHLY enjoyed your 5 part series here. My husband and I are in the process of leaving conventional church and starting (with a few friends) a “home” or “simple” or “organic” church, whatever you want to call it. I am very excited about this! Sounds like you already have one with having a name or label on it. I know that the trend of people meeting in homes and discussing our faith instead of being talked at at bug church meetings is growing at an amazing rate. Check out this study done by the Barna group: http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=BarnaUpdate&BarnaUpdateID=255
Hello Mike and Heidi,
I just wanted to thank you for sharing your story, which is scarily similar to my own. It has really encouraged me to find people around my own age discovering the same things I have. While I have met and come into contact with some wonderful people on this journey, it is sometimes hard to find people around my own age to share these things with. I think this is because it is usually intense pain that ends up bringing people on this kind of journey, and most people under the age of 30 haven’t experienced things like that. I’m glad they haven’t, as I too know what it is like to battle the agonies of depression, but I am still so thankful that God allowed me to reach my lowest points, because it was the only way my conceit would allow me to look up and see only Him.
Thank you again for sharing, many blessings to you both, and I’ll be keeping track of both your blogs in the future.
Thanks for this great story. Really encouraging.
We came out of what called itself a free church about three years ago, in practice, and finally renounced ‘membership’ last autumn. We live in Germany (I’m English, husband German). Have also been through a similar church and personal journey. My husband recently left the Lutheran church, into which he was christened as a baby, as well. (You have to pay tax to the LC if you’re a member in Germany).
Wayne visited us last June. Good time. A step in the next leg of the journey for us and several others who are in the process of coming out of the box.
God is doing the same thing here in Europe that He’s doing with you in the US. Thrilling stuff.
Where we are at the moment – we have come through de-tox and feel stronger and more at peace than ever before. I am no longer worried about what others think of me, or guilty that I don’t ‘go to church anymore’. I am beginning to see God’s purpose as far bigger than the Sunday club ever made it out to be and day by day am gradually learning to hear His voice, and walk in Him, so that He can show me what that purpose is.
We still live in the flat under the pastor and his family, feel no leading to move and believe we are just to love them and try to live relationship with them, even though we don’t ‘belong’ in their organisation and they don’t see things the way we do.
It always encouraging to read that others are going through the same stuff. Bless you,
Mike and Heidi,
Thank you both so much for the encouragement you’ve given me in telling your story. I’ve only “out of the box” for a few months since March this year. Nothing will induce me to go back to a conventional church setting. I recently went to a “Carols By Candlelight” Service at the local baptist church I used to attend as a member. The carol-singing and listening to the familiar story was OK! But, as usual, we had to have the evangelistic message. It almost seemed sacrilegious to think in this way. I really wondered how many would be impacted by the message which to my way of thinking seemed so contrived. I did not blame the man who was giving the address. He felt obligated to give it. It was the done thing!!
The real reason why I left that church was that I wanted to be in a non-denominational church. The one I chose – which shall remain nameless – was liberating at first. I remember the pastor saying that people come and people go and that was fine. But it wasn’t quite like that, as I discovered when I volunteered to do “telephone follow-up”. We were expected to keep tabs on newcomers to draw them in! Then I had an ear infection which prevented me from going to church. I had had problems before this with the house group I was attending and had discussed them with the house group “leaders” and we had decided that it might be better for me to change groups. Well, a few weeks after my non-attendance at church, I had an email conversation with one of the pastors, who initially expressed concern that he hadn’t seen me and wondered how things were. I suggested we meet somewhere for tea / coffee. That was not good enough for him. He believed I should first see my house group leaders, because he did not wish to “usurp their spiritual authority over me”(!!!!!????). I replied to say I had decided to leave the church and I did not consider using such words was helpful! We did tentatively agree to meet after my trip to the States. But when I rang him up, instead of fixing a time and place to meet, he asked: What can I do to help? I then said I did not think it was good idea to meet, since there would only be an argument. I explained my reasons for leaving. He did reply and say he fully understood my reasons and the doors of the church were always open for me.
After such an experience. I’m extremely wary of anyone attempting to pressurize me into joining anywhere where there might be issues of authority / manipulation / control! God is NOT like that.
Again, thank you both for your encouragement. I now meet up with 3 / 4 others every Wednesday morning for fellowship / Bible study. Two of them are former pastors. I learn a lot from them. None of us leads. We just share!!