It’s now been about a year and 4 months since my wife and I left the institutional church. I thought it would be good and perhaps even beneficial to many to share in a little greater detail how and why we left the institutional form of church, what life has been like since we left and where we see God taking us. Please note that I do not want to discount the traditional church, I simply want to share my journey and what God has taught me during this journey.
From about the time I was six I grew up at a local church. I was in Sunday School, Childrens’ Church, Vacation Bible School, Youth Group and even took an interest in “Big Church” (this is what the adult service was known as to the kids). I grew up and was what I believe to be a typical church kid. I eventually lost interest and faith in God but stayed involved, putting on a nice face for everyone at church. About halfway through high school, the Lord used who is now one of my closest friends to show me who Christ really is. From that point on I stayed very involved in the church I grew up at. God did great things and really showed His grace to me and revealed Christ to me while I was there. I was in the youth’s worship band, I was a youth leader and at one point I even considered it may be God’s will for me to become a youth pastor. I’m not going to lie, God did great things with me and many others there at the time, but eventually something in me changed and the sweet excitement of being involved at this church quickly became bitter and I began questioning things I had never questioned before, not even when I was blatantly living in opposition toward Christ.
The age old statement that “there must be more to this” became prevalent in my mind. I began looking at and analyzing everything I experienced from the outside in and questioning it all, and of course as any good church going Christian, I kept it all to myself. I was nervous to even tell my closest friends that something wasn’t right, that I believed everything we were doing was all wrong, besides, it’s not like I had a solution. Finally, during a conversation with two close friends, it came up. Turns out that they had felt the same way I felt. They had even been struggling for about the same length of time that I had been, yet we all kept it to ourselves, I suppose for fear of judging one another. We then decided together to seek God about what were feeling through prayer and lots of reading of the New Testament, particularly the book of Acts. We quickly came across something Paul said in 1 Thessalonians:
…but test everything; hold fast what is good. – Paul 1 Thessalonians 5:21
Naturally, we began testing everything that we had known and grown up to believe. At times we would literally sit around, think of various church practices and then find out what it said about them in the New Testament, if anything. During this time we heard about a book called Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna. Upon hearing some excerpts from Pagan Christianity I quickly went to Barnes and Noble to purchase the book because I believed I was in a place where it could very helpful. I must admit, at first it a hard read. The answers to questions I was looking for were difficult at times, much more difficult to digest than I had anticipated. After putting it down for a bit I picked it up again and started over from the beginning, it was finished in a week (I was working at a hotel at the time and had a lot of free time to read). The book answered many questions and excited me about exploring authentic Church life, one that is born of Christ and that isn’t man made.
After reading Pagan Christianity I quickly found a large amount of resources to better learn about this “organic church” thing that i kept hearing and reading about. Along with constant reading of the New Testament, I read many books concerning church life by Frank Viola, Watchman Nee, George Barna and many others.
I continued attending and being involved in ministry at this church for a while during all of this. Knowing for sure that I would eventually be leaving, I stayed for probably about another six months. I felt like God wasn’t ready for me to leave just yet, and I still believe I was there at that time for a purpose, even though I may never know exactly what that purpose was.
During all of this, about five and a half months before actually leaving all forms of the Institutional Church, I got engaged to my amazing wife. God couldn’t have brought her to me at a better time, we have shared this exciting journey together and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The wedding date was set for June. A couple weeks before the wedding, I met with the youth pastor, who was a good friend and was also the pastor that would be performing our wedding ceremony and told him that we would be leaving leadership in the youth group and leaving the church altogether. It was surprisingly a good meeting, it was nice to know that he trusted Jesus and saw Him in me enough to trust this decision and trust that it was God and not me. He still performed the ceremony and I still consider him a close brother.
So we left the church that I grew up at and haven’t been to a church service since then. I’m going to continue this in my next post by explaining what we have been doing since we left, struggles we’ve faced, our progression of mindsets, our changes of heart and where we foresee God taking us in the coming legs of this lifelong journey we have embarked on.