I am a pretty outrageous personality. That is something you learn about me pretty quickly. I don't do well in the shadows. I am loud, and opinionated, and in most settings, a front-and-center personality. So there are many things I am known for, because well, everybody knows me.
Here are just a few of the things that people are known to comment on in my life:
* My worship, and the way that I desperately chase Jesus, no matter what anyone thinks.
* The extremes that I will go to in order to do what I believe God has spoken to me.
* My know-it-all confidence and refusal to compromise on what I believe without a long and hard-fought battle.
* My dedication to making disciples and raising biblically thinking Christians.
* An absolutely uncompromising belief that community is the central focus of the Church
* I am the guy that spent ten years in leadership, only to abandon the Church.
I know, I know. Those last two don't really go together all that well, do they? Yeah, I see it too. And trust me, I have struggled plenty with it. And I don't just mean that I have had an emotional afternoon or two where I rationalized my hypocrisy. I mean that I have lost sleep countless nights. I mean that I have cried. I mean that I have wrenched my soul and come before God desperate for answers. I have studied the Word for hundreds of hours and read books by some of the most brilliant minds of the Church. I have studied, and prayed and fasted and sought God's voice and I have made decisions that I never thought I was capable of making. Not because they were decisions I would have chosen for myself... but because I saw no other option.
I hope it's OK that I am being real with you. Because, as you'll find out soon enough if you follow my blog, another well known fact about myself is that I am an over-sharer by nature. But the truth is, I have spent the entirety of my adult life fighting for a more manifest unity in the body of Jesus. I have purposely chased relationship with the most intense Pentecostals and the most skeptical dispensationalists. I have stood against denominational affiliations for years and actively campaigned for more harmony between Churches in my area. I have made dozens of disciples, spent a decade of my life raising Christians to approach Christianity with the understanding that community is the foundation of our religious practices, and I have been a central leader in more ministries than I can name off the top of my head... and yet, my life will be defined by the fact that I abandoned the Church.
It boggles the mind, doesn't it?! The two driving passions of my life, apart from my desperate love for God, are my belief that the Church cannot be healthy without community, and my belief that I cannot be healthy while being a part of the Church.
Hypocrite. That's the word you're looking for.
Yeah, I heard you think it. We're cool though. I get it. But hear me out. Community is more than a group of people listening to the same teacher and then splitting up for separate brunches. We all had that in school, but for the vast majority of us, the classroom was not an experience of intimacy and community. And although we tell ourselves differently, because we know how things should be, neither is the average Church. Now, I am not saying that Church can't be that. It can! And if you are attending a Church that has intimacy and community and genuine love for one another, great! Don't let go, no matter what! But, if you are like the majority of us, that has not been your experience. And I would dare to say that, as a general rule, it cannot be your experience within the structures we have in place in the Western Church. For many reasons, including:
* Our structures do not allow for everyone's gifts to flourish in the assembly.
* We treat leaders as if they are above the body, rather than servants to it.
* The assembly has become about personal growth, rather than community.
* We teach that spiritual "covering" is responsible for shaping our understanding of God, rather than God's Spirit, Himself.
* The vast majority of the body is feeding off of its life without contributing to its life.
Because Western Christianity has become about self, instead of the collective, the "assembly" has largely become a collection of individual families who are not actually interested in knowing, or caring for, one another. They are either there for their personal growth, their family's health, or to follow a personality or gifted teacher. And that, my friends, is just not what community means.
When I left the institutionalized Church, it was not with an intention to divide God's body, but with a desperate passion to actually find it.
My heart has always burned for unity in the body. To see the people of God actually walk in intimacy. Not just to coexist without tension, but to actually chase God together. For over ten years now, I have been teaching Christians the importance of community. Anyone who spends any great length of time with me will, at some point, adopt this lifestyle of loving people more than loving programs. In fact, I can't even tell you how often I hear someone say, "Man, I finally get what you meant by this whole 'community' thing!"... because this isn't just something I teach. It is the great passion of my life. Unity is not a joke to me. It is not a theological concept to me. It is not a Christian discipline to me.
Community is the lifeblood of the Church. Without it, we are not who Jesus died for us to become.
Community is what I am after. A unity that goes beyond a lack of tension and actually transforms us into a people "of one mind". A unity that is more than peace, and actually translates into intimacy. I am not satisfied with chasing God beside other people. I want to chase Him together.
So how can I justify leaving?
Easy. Those two concepts... intimate community and institutionalized church... they don't coexist.
Don't get me wrong, we have our small groups and our cliques, but as an entity, we do not prioritize the actual knowing and loving of one another. We are not pouring into each other and baring each other's burdens. Christians no longer sell their possessions to make sure their brothers and sisters have everything they need. We no longer esteem one another as higher than ourselves. When we read the Word, we don't immediately think about how important that teaching will be in someones life at Church on Sunday. We do not focus on chasing Jesus together, because the truth is, the way we have structured the Church, we do not chase Him at all when we come together. We sing some songs about how great He is, and then we all abandon our responsibility to contribute to the body so that one man can use his gift to explain to us how we can chase Jesus alone once we leave.
The Church has forgotten that it is not just a training ground. It is a family.
Community is the thing that I am after, because community is the thing I was made for. Long after prophesy and healing and deliverance will never be necessary again, our united love for God will remain. Our community will remain. So, if community is the central practice of the Church, and community is the thing the Church has no time to bother with, my only choices were to abandon the design of God, or to abandon the faulty systems that were preventing us from living out that design.
I chose option B, and I have no regrets.
***I FEEL IT IS IMPORTANT TO CLARIFY THAT I DID NOT LEAVE THE FAITH. I JUST ATTEND A HOUSE CHURCH NOW, AND AM PURSUING A MORE COMMUNITY-CENTERED WAY OF CHASING JESUS. I WILL BE ADDRESSING WHAT COMMUNITY LOOKS LIKE ON A PRACTICAL LEVEL IN A FUTURE BLOG***
I would love to hear your thoughts. Please comment below!