I am who I am because of my love for and belief in Jesus Christ.
Don’t worry, this is not going to be a Bible thumping attempt to persuade or convert anyone. It is just the story of what happened to me when I stepped away from organized religion. And I am not alone.
According to Jeremy Myers at Redeeming God, 65 million people have left the church with an additional 2.7 million leaving every year. Of these, 30 million still identify as Christians. Assuming these statistics are accurate, this leaves 35 million claiming no belief in God. Here is what Myers wrote based on his interaction with hundreds of people who, like me, have left the “church”:
… They don’t attend church. They don’t read their Bibles. They don’t pray. They don’t call themselves “Christian.” They don’t claim to follow Jesus. They use coarse language. They live what appears to be completely “secular” lives.
But do you want to know what I have found? I have yet to talk to a single person who truly has abandoned God or rejected Jesus.
I am not saying these people don’t exist. I know they do. I just think the number is much, much smaller than 35 million. I would be surprised if it was even 10% of that number.
Church As A Child
Some of my earliest experiences of church involved visiting church with friends. My favorite memory is visiting a Catholic church. I was probably between 5-7 years old. My friend and I sat on the front pew, I assume because we would be less likely to get in trouble there. We got scolded by a nun for laughing and talking. Later, when asked about the experience of church, I replied, “It was fun,” and was promptly instructed that church is not supposed to be fun. This rebuke didn’t change my mind. I wondered, why not? Maybe not in the giggling and talking way, but shouldn’t time spent with God be pleasurable? I thought so then and I still think this is true.
We never belonged to a church as a family. We occasionally attended a small non-denominational church in our neighborhood. As a young teen I more regularly attended the local Methodist church. I remained a United Methodist throughout my church going life.
Hurt and Disappointment…Who Needs It?
I will spare you all the details of my journey within the “church.” Most of what I would say, after all these many years is that it would likely be colored in favor of me and compared to what others have endured, mine was minor. But…it adds up and I no longer saw my church homes as somewhere I wanted to belong.
In hindsight, I believe God was preparing me for a whole new spiritual experience. One that is based soley on a relationship with him without the trappings of the church. I do miss much of the church worship experience. I miss the traditional music, organ, hymns and the majestic sound of a choir singing songs that glorify God. Goosebumps and tears usually occur. I miss a message that feels like it was written with me in mind. The work of the Holy Spirit to make personal a message given to the masses never fails to amaze me. I miss midnight candle light services on Christmas Eve. I miss taking holy communion with my brothers and sisters. I miss relationships with people I grew to care about.
We, as a family, were away from the church for several years then decided to try it again. This time returning to the congregation where we had been quite active before I went to work at a different church in the same denomination and transferred our membership. We only attended a handful of times before backing completely away. I had grown and changed. I just knew this was not where I was to be.
I felt a disconnect with the structure and doctrine of the church. During my time away, I continued to read scripture, pray, and constantly asked God to help me see people and the world as he sees them. It did not take long for my views to begin to shift. I became less harsh and judgemental towards others, especially the socially outcast. I came down off my high horse, that I didn’t even realize I was riding, and asked for forgiveness for my prior thoughts and lack of action.
What don’t I miss? The politics, within the church and the intrusion of governmental politics into the worship of God. I don’t miss the focus on money, large buildings and the tendency to value people based on their weekly contribution. The biggest thing that I left behind is the constant feeling that if I don’t do exactly the “right” thing I will be a disappointment to God. Is there anything worse than disappointing God? I lived in an anxious state that if I didn’t pray enough, give enough, do enough I was letting my church family down as well as God.
Rewriting The Narrative In My Head
At first the old teaching crept back in and I thought I was being influenced by “the enemy” by daring to ask questions and believe differently about how the marginalized are treated. And, by marginalized I am referring not just to the poor and immigrants, but to people who live alternative lifestyles to what mainstream Christianity dictates. I even found myself thinking differently about such controversial topics as abortion.
I am still on this path of allowing the old way of believing to fade away so that the words of Jesus and the way he lived his life can be my guide. It is still a radical viewpoint; one that I will not perfect in this lifetime. None of us will. Perfection is not the goal. The goal is make love my first priority…love others as myself. I have some very specific things to do this year that are my personal calling to live out my life of faith. Writing this blog is one of them. Not all posts will be directly about faith, but I feel it is important to begin the year with Jesus as the foundation because he is the foundation of who I am.
God is love. He gave humanity the greatest gift possible by allowing us to see and experience his love in the person of Jesus. Jesus hung out with the unsavory, chastised the religious leaders for many of the same things I mentioned above, he welcomed all and showed the world what pure love looks like. He also made it possible for us to go directly to God. We no longer need an intermediary. The “church” became us, the believers. The church cannot be contained in a building, nor should it. The church should be in the community and a part of everyday life. I used to think I had to do big things to live out my faith. Now I know that what matters is representing Jesus in my small sphere of life. Letting others see what love really looks like to the best of my human ability with the power of God leading the way.
Until tomorrow…be loving,
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