The next step in this journey was to begin to meet with other believers that have also left the institutional church. Meeting with others in the body of Christ is very much part of New Testament teaching. We need one another. My wife knew an older couple that we could fellowship with. They had been out of the institutional church for several years. We began to meet with them on a weekly basis in the beginning. Our meetings were focused on sharing what Christ had been teaching us, or Scriptures that we were reading. These meetings also had some great food involved as well. We would sit and talk for several hours, and the time seemed to fly right by. There was no sermon or teaching given by one individual that would send us straight into nap mode. We all had the opportunity to share and use our gifts. Our gatherings weren’t run by any one person.
In meeting like this, we grew to have a close bond with not only this couple, but their family as well. In time, another younger couple joined our fellowship and made it even richer. The husband was a musician and would lead us in worship songs. This made our meetings even better. We had no leader or pastor to lead our meetings. Jesus Christ was our leader and we followed His lead. I would consider the older couple as elders, but this was only natural for them with their wisdom and experience. After experiencing this form of “organic church”, I cannot see myself ever returning to the institutional church.
I have recently relocated on my own to Arizona due to a change in my family situation. I have looked into finding an “organic church” meeting with the help of Milt Rodriguez of www.therebuilders.org. So far there aren’t any meetings in my area. Perhaps it is time that I should begin one, Lord willing. I still meet via Google Hangouts with the older couple on a weekly basis. While we aren’t in the same room, the rich fellowship is the same. I can see in my own life, how the Lord is helping me to know Him in a deeper way and to rely on Him for all my needs. He has shown me that He “is my life” as quoted in Galatians 2:20. Conventional thinking would say that I should be going backwards in my relationship with Christ by not being in the institutional church. I would say that it is just the opposite, and would invite anyone to step out of the institution and into a deeper walk with Christ.
For the next few years I was in a smaller mega church where I met my wife. After about 2 years both of us felt as if something was missing at this church. The sermons seemed to be the same messages from a few months ago. The outline changed a bit but it was the same stuff. I was tired of designing worship services to attract the unchurched. We both felt that we needed a change. We sought out a church that was closer to our home and we found one nearby. After attending there for a while, my wife began to volunteer in the office and worked closely with the lead pastor.
The pastor invited a “prophet” named Clint Glenny to come and speak each night for a week. Brother Clint shared a lot about the end times and the state of the church in the U.S. The messages resonated with me, and I looked forward to each meeting. We had the opportunity to have dinner with he and his wife and we were able to be encouraged by it. He suggested we read a book by Frank Viola and George Barna called, “Pagan Christianity?”.
Then my wife began to have some tension with the lead pastor. We scheduled a meeting with he and his associate to discuss matters and hopefully find some resolution. This meeting did not go well for either side. The pastor told us that if we could not submit to his leadership then we would need to leave. It felt to me like I was being kicked out of a church. I had never been kicked out of a church in all my life as a Christian. I felt totally out of my element.
The first couple of Sunday mornings I was a nervous wreck. I didn’t feel comfortable with not going to church. I decided to purchase the book “Pagan Christianity?” This helped me to do something in the meantime. As I poured through this book, I began to see the origins of some of the traditions that we have accepted over the past 1800 years. Many practices and traditions of the modern western church do not line up with the New Testament teaching. Well, some would quote many a verse to prove that they are. But when you look at these same verses in context, they show that the modern western church is way off base.
(to be continued…)
This is a brief account of this man’s journey from being firmly rooted into the institutional church to leaving the institution and coming to know Christ in a real way for the first time in a very long time. It would seem to many that this concept of leaving “church” and truly finding Christ is backwards. Now, I didn’t leave the Church, because I am always a part or member of the body of Christ, thus I am the Church. But I did leave what is called the “institutional church”. Now I define the “institutional” church as those churches that are under the leadership of a pastor or priest and meet in a building on a weekly basis. The alternative, as I will explain later is “organic church”. This is a gathering of believers under the headship of Jesus Christ alone.
I have been a Christian since 1982. I was a sophomore in high school when I went to a New Year’s eve event at a small church I was attending. They were showing a Billy Graham film and I heard the Gospel message for the first time. Two days later I received the Lord into my life on a hill just off of a local beach in California. This is the very short version of my testimony. The pastor of this local church after interacting with me for a year told me he believed I was called to full time ministry. So after graduating high school, I set off for Bible college in Indiana. After one semester I decided it wasn’t for me and returned to California.
Then a few years later I returned to the same church and began my journey as a youth pastor. I volunteered and worked with junior high and high school students for a number of years. In 1999 I was given the opportunity to be a credentialed minister in the Church of God (Anderson, IN) and become the associate pastor of a church in San Jose, CA. I thought I was finally fulfilling the Lord’s call on my life by being an official pastor. This position also allowed me to team up with my former youth pastor and friend, who was the lead pastor of this particular church. It was a small congregation of about 150 people. The focus was on being a seeker sensitive church that modeled the principles of Saddleback Church, lead by Rick Warren.
After a few years at this church I came to realize that my own personal issues were getting in the way of effectively ministering to people, so I resigned. I attended a local seeker sensitive mega church for a few years. It was during this period that I decided to go back to school to finish my bachelors degree in Christian Leadership with the hopes of returning to vocational ministry. There was one course in particular that I can see was the catalyst for planting the seed of moving me out of the institutional church. It was a course of developing a Biblical worldview. The textbooks and discussions on this topic caused me to question how “church” was being done in the U.S. I had pastored in a seeker sensitive model, but I was coming to realize that this doesn’t line up with the model given in the new testament. I saw my need to repent of preaching messages and using scriptures out of their intended context. I was more interested in verses that fit my neat outline versus what those verses really meant.
(to be continued in Part 2)