Sunday, June 27, 2010

Are You Fed Up With Your Church?

Every now and then, I come across some blog posts about how irritated some people are with their church. They've absolutely had it with the pastor, the congregation, the new color that was chosen to paint the walls, whatever. The issue has really got them all hot and bothered, and they tell everyone on the World Wide Web how heinous and awful their church is (taking special care to play the victim so that their gossip will be justified). Then they pose this question to their readers: Should I leave this church and go somewhere else? If you are one of those who is wondering whether or not to leave your church, allow me to share a very personal story, which I hope will put your "crisis" into perspective.

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When I was 18 years old, a girl from college shared the gospel with me, and I was born again on the spot. But my new Christian friends told me I needed to be baptized in order to be truly saved. All I needed to do, according to them, was get baptized. Sounds simple enough, right? There was just one problem. I didn't believe for a second that baptism saved me. I considered that to be a work, and the Scriptures tell us that no man is justified by works. Naturally, this caused a great deal of friction in my relationship with my new pals in Christ.

For two months, my new church friends harassed me day and night. They waited outside the steps of my dorm, so I couldn't get in or out without bumping into them. They followed me down the streets, to the point where I had to have campus security escort me to all my classes. Once, when I was window shopping, a loyal disciple of Christ accosted me by getting within inches of my face to tell me I was going to hell. (The only way I could shake him that day was to cause a public disturbance large enough to get mall security to come to my aid.) I was unable to change my phone number, so I had to turn off the ringer. They left horrible messages on my answering machine every day, telling me that I was going to burn in hell because they were the only church on the planet that knew the truth. They also followed me to my job, causing my boss to hide me in a free-standing closet when they demanded to know my whereabouts.

They gave me one last chance to forsake my wicked, sinful belief that baptism is not a requirement for salvation. I refused. And so, they held me against my will for several hours in that apartment.One day they called a truce, and asked me to meet them for lunch. I still remember the address of the four-story apartment where I was served a tuna melt sandwich and greeted with all sorts of awkward, yet obviously rehearsed pleasantries. They gave me one last chance to forsake my wicked, sinful belief that baptism is not a requirement for salvation. I refused. And so, they held me against my will for several hours in that apartment. This was before cell phones, and I couldn't get to a landline. There was only one of me, and about five of them. They locked the doors and told me that the only way they would release me was if I chanted "I am not a Christian, I am not saved, I am going to hell." At first I didn't comply. But after about an hour, I realized that there was no other way out of there. And so I chanted "I am not a Christian, I am not saved, I am going to hell" probably about three or four dozen times before they released me with one last warning that by walking out that door, I was walking out on God Almighty Himself. I don't know how many hours I was there. All I remember is, it was lunchtime when I arrived, and it was dark when I left.
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So that was my introduction to the body of Christ. I don't tell that story very often, but I feel inspired to share it all these years later. I remember feeling absolutely spiritually destitute during that time. Growing up, I was constantly under the weight of existential meaninglessness, hoping that by some miracle there was a purpose to this life, and when I am finally introduced to the most beautiful Person my mind and soul could ever imagine, I am told by His "followers" that I couldn't have any part of Him. It took me months to get my facts straight and rest on the promises of God. I'll admit, there was little comfort in the fact that God allowed that to happen to me in the first place. But some people told me that one day, my story might edify someone. Well perhaps that day is today.

Perhaps you are someone that is in this type of predicament. Let me assure you, God is faithful. He will never abandon or forsake you. You will come out of spiritually abusive situations a bit bruised, but intact. And He promises to make you whole.

But for most of us, situations like this are not the norm. Most of us are just irritated that our leaders are not running things to our liking. Most of us have no idea how good we really have it in our churches. We don't know what real corruption is. We have never experienced real abuses of power. We have never been persecuted by our government. We complain because there's too much emphasis on men's ministry, or there's not enough opportunities for singles, or we don't like the way the hospitality committee is functioning, and so on. We need to remind ourselves that the church is made up of flawed, sinful people. And since we are a sinners ourselves, our presence is only adding to those problems. Instead of complaining about what your church is lacking, consider the fact that perhaps God has brought that to your attention so you can begin the work of building up that area in your local church.

Do I get fed up with my church sometimes? You bet! But I know I have it really good where I am. I know that my leaders, although we don't always see eye-to-eye, always treat me with respect. They do not hold me captive in their homes and force me to chant lies. They do not preach a false gospel. And even if they did, God is in control. His Word has survived throughout the ages. Whatever you are going through, it will pass away -- but His words will never pass away!

So where does your issue fall? On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being a petty disagreement with your church leaders, and 10 being an all-out abuse of power and defamation of the gospel, how would you honestly rate your situation? Or better yet, how would someone else rate your situation?

10 comments:

Natasa said...

Thank you for sharing your experience. But I am curious: why did you refuse to get baptized? Because of them or because you belived you don't have to do it? For me, baptism is next step after you repent and convert.

Jennifer said...

Hi, Natasa. I refused because they told me that if I didn't believe baptism saved me, then my baptism was worthless, and I would go to hell anyway (so not only was salvation dependent upon the work of baptism, it was also dependent upon the work of believing that it saves me. Now we were talking about two works, and one was bad enough!)

I eventually did get baptized a year later, for the reasons you mention. But I imagine those folks most likely would have told me it was a waste of my time.

Betsy Markman said...

Oh my word, I have never heard of anything like those two nutjobs that stalked and harassed you! The scary thing is, they were sure they were doing the work of God, and that they were loving you.

Legalism always pushes people to do extreme things in a misguided effort to save souls, when those souls can only be saved by grace through faith.

I'm so glad you didn't let them push you away from Christ!

Tom Gabbard said...

Jennifer,

It seems that anything that will take our focus off of Christ and Him crucified is ever gravitated toward! Sad indeed!

In Christ alone I take my stand.

Geraldine said...

Here is a comment given to me from a friend...
"A much-needed perspective-altering article..."

Latisha said...

"Whatever you are going through, it will pass away -- but His words will never pass away"

Good solid insights! and the above quote made my day!

steve said...

Wow, Jen - I remember the "Cliff's Notes" version of that story, but when I read the "LP" version, my heart broke for you ! I wanted to fire up the old flux capacitor and go back in time and rescue you, haha ! Seriously, there was a guy that rocked my world when he busted out into an open air thing on the train. For someone that didn't know WOTM, it was pretty cool to be on the train - but here's where it *MAY* tie into these folks - every once in a while he threw in "...be baptized in Jesus name" and "...with the evidence of speaking in tongues," to which I'm thinking:"Sheeesh, preach the Gospel first, THEN get to that stuff if you want if you disciple someone down the road..."

I got the guy's ph# but he never returned my calls/texts. Do you think he was of the same ilk as these people ?

Wow, so sorry you had to endure that nightmarish incident - just shows when someone is soundly saved as I believe you were, that nothing can deter you.

When I come to FL, you will have to take me underwater sailing with you - I'll bring the sugar free jello ...

Anonymous said...

Jennifer,

My first church experience was VERY similar to yours... Actually much worse! Mine lasted 11 years. Maybe one day I'll tell my story publically. It all but broke me down. The only thing I could hold onto in that time was the fact Jesus was real. All else was rubbish to me!

After leaving they harrassed me in various ways for about 2 years always subtle but when you experience a level 7-10 in abuse of power to even see a face, get a myspace message or see someone show up to an event at your new church is un-nerving!

My exit from them (when I actually left) was very similar. I was asked to stay back so that the leaders/intercessors could 'talk to me' and stayed in a room for over an hour with each person telling me that I was in error and basically a plant from Satan to destroy the church. Words like wolf and jezebel came up... It was staged in a way like it was random but I later found out this meeting had been planned for about a week!!!

I am still trying to heal from that experience and it's been almost 5 years since I left. There is a lot that I am still sorting out. Still! A lot of scripture was twisted... a lot of 'brainwashing' and hostle situations like that that leave you in a place of defensiveness and not really trusting most people.

The blessing is that I had some special friends who DO truly know Christ who held me in the midst of that! One being Latisha! She checked on me everyday! Everyday! Just to make sure I knew the truth of God's word... That though my 'church' was asking me to distance myself from her and all who didn't believe their way, God knew better.

The unfortunate thing is more people than we would care to say go through experiences like this! The church in a LOT of ways takes on very cultish tendencies... Often I feel these practices are tied to the doctrine (mostly the doctrines that stress spiritual authority over anything else) but I think we'd be suprised!

It does, however, put/keep things in perspective.

My new church is nothing like that! We have our things but thank God I don't have a pastor who abuses his power! It's wonderful!

I wanted to add, though, that in addition to learning the Word, a lot of us need therapy or counciling when we come out of these types of situations. Sometimes it's traits in us that allow (some of us to stay) and what happens if those things aren't dealt with is we attract them WHEREVER we go... Even in healthy churches. So if the actual leadership is sane, we'll migrate to the folk in that flock who demonstate the same mess... I know because I've done it!

All in all, I pray we all come to know Christ in truth! Free of extra doctrine and rules that aren't necessary! Free of the Faith killer legalisim.

While it is true that we are all sinners; it is very unfortunate to experience authority abuse! Especially from a spiritual perspective. There are many to this day, from my former church, who've never set foot back in church... They were zealous followers of Christ who are so shaken and so confused (the Word was used as a weapon) they don't know if they are coming or going.

Heavy stuff! May God continue to show mercy!

Jennifer said...

God bless you anonymous! Yes, I do relate to your experience completely. But I was only in my "church" for 4 months, so I am glad you shared details of your situation here where others can see how bad some of these dysfunctional churches are. It really puts things into perspective when we have gripes about what color the new carpet is going to be or which songs to include in the worship service.

I want to share with you that I actually went to grad school a few years after my experience to pursue my Masters in Social Work. I graduated in 2002 and my "dream" was to be an exit counselor for people in these cultic groups. Of course, there aren't many jobs for exit counselors, so I just worked with hurting people for a while. I then took a detour from traditional social work and have been in the field of education for the past 7 years. Very recently (within the past week actually) I feel God calling me to take up social work again and pursue the LCSW credential in the state where I now live. Your comment is encouraging to me, as your story reminds me why I pursued that profession to begin with.

God bless you and I will keep you in mind as I pursue my license.

Renee said...

Hello Jennifer and anonymous;

Been a while since I've been around - my whole family was in a car accident on Easter Sunday - but anyways.

I'm sorry to hear about your experiances in these seriously messed up churches. I too was in a cult type religious group once - but my experiance was not like yours.

Jen - I'm glad you are going ahead to pursue your Masters in Social Work. I think it's true so many people need help out of these types of situations. And yes; I think many of us would be surprised at a lot of "churches" dirty little secrets.

Any how; as far as churches go - I'm pretty happy where I am. I'm in an Orthodox Presbyterian church and this particular church is one of the few I've been too who's actually endevered to help me with my Autistic child as oppsed to accusing me for his behaviors. That is another area I think people get stuck in legalism - tryig to have the perfect looking family. All the kids are all lined up - nicely dressed and well behaved. (While mine is running around like a maniac - lol. That used to bother me a lot - but it doesn't so much any more.)

So yes, I think we have to be more greatful for the "good" churches - even the "mediochor" (sp?) ones for that matter!

Any ways - what a grace it really is that we aren't lost in these types of experiances!