Updated: Feb 19, 2019
Over the last year and a half, a lot of information has been spread about what I believe and why I left main-stream Christianity behind me. Some of that information is hilarious, some of it true, and some of it is quite vicious. What it all has in common, however, is that it didn't come from me. So I thought I would take a moment to clear the air.
Before I get to why I left, and what I actually believe, I want to take a moment to clear up a few miscommunications.
I DID NOT LEAVE THE CHURCH BECAUSE....
I left Jesus
Theologically, I am still qualified to teach at your Church. My biblical understanding has not changed. I am still the same man of faith I have always been. The only thing that has changed in my thinking is how the Church should operate among themselves. Meaning Church Practice, community, love... this is not an issue of me changing my denomination (not that I approve of denominations even existing. I don't.), it is a matter of me trying to call the Church into a deeper, and more effective, love for one another. The only difference is that we now worship with a House Church instead of a traditional Church.
I was asked to
No. It's as simple as that. No one asked me to leave the Church. In fact, many asked me to reconsider my decision. I was not in sin. There is no scandal. Move on people.
I am rebellious
Quite the opposite. I was not in sin and I did not leave on bad terms. I was very open with the pastor of the Church my family was attending, as well as many other ministry leaders that I was in correspondence with. I spent over a year studying the Word, learning from other people who were on the same journey I was, and seeking God's voice. And I was very open about what I was learning and where God was taking me the entire time. None of my leaders were surprised when I made the decision that I made, and none of them condemned me for it. Though I will not pretend they all agreed with me.
I felt left out
Yes, I've had a number of people accuse me of leaving the Church because I felt I wasn't being appreciated. The truth is, I left at a time when I was very appreciated in the Church. I was celebrated regularly for what I contributed to the Church's worship, for the effort I had put into raising Christians and for my personal depth. I was, and am, fully aware that not only the Church I was attending at the time, but many local Churches, appreciated me and the gifts God had given me. I didn't feel underappreciated, and I saw the many opportunities in front of me if I wanted to become more. My decisions were based off of what I saw God doing, and what I saw in the Word of God. Which I will share a little bit more about in a just a moment.
I wanted to do my own thing
Reasonable, but no. The opportunities I have in the mainstream Church are far greater than the opportunities I have in my little house Church. Trust me. I had incredible influence over a very large number of people. And if you know me at all, you know that I was already doing my own thing. With a far wider reach than I have now. No, my decisions were about obedience to God, not furthering my reach or growing my platform. Neither were benefited by my decision to leave. And I knew they wouldn't be. I remember talking to my closest friends before I announced my leave and telling them that this was such a hard decision for me, specifically because I knew once I had made my move, the reputation and influence I had built would be completely gone.
I LEFT THE CHURCH BECAUSE...
Please keep in mind that my reasons for making the decisions I made are cumulative. It was all of these things working together that convinced me it was time to be an active part of change.
This generation is dying
According to the Barna Group, Generation Z is the least Christian generation in American history. During the course of their research, they concluded that only 4 out of 100 teenagers holds a true biblical worldview. And furthermore, they concluded that "The percentage of people whose beliefs qualify them for a biblical worldview declines in each successively younger generation: 10 percent of Boomers, 7 percent of Gen X and 6 percent of Millennials have a biblical worldview, compared to only 4 percent of Gen Z."
Think about this. In the last hundred years, the Church has changed in unbelievable ways. Some of it good, some of it bad. All in the name of "innovation" and "relevance". We have grown churches that can seat thousands now. We have created programs and sounds that are attractive enough to entice communities that were previously resistant to the gospel to come and be exposed to the truth. We have developed youth programs and children's programs that reach young people in a way that is relevant to them and understandable where they are in life. We have more dynamic preachers, better theologically trained leaders, diverse programs for every area of struggle, small groups to fit the lifestyle of every type of believer, ministries for married people, singles, divorcees, teenagers, children, urban believers, inter-city believers, and the list goes on and on.
In just a century, we have advanced the design of the Church immeasurably. And on the surface, it seems that that has been mostly for the good. And yet the statistics say that barely 60% of teenagers that have been raised in the Church actually believe the Bible is accurate on a large scale and only 85% of those same churched teenagers believe that Jesus was a real man who lived and died by Roman hands and was raised from the dead.
These aren't unbelieving kids I am referencing. These are the ones who identify as Christians. The kids who are representing Jesus, this generation of the Church, and you in their schools, families and work places. These kids are the next leaders of the World, and not only are more of them outright rejecting the gospel than any generation that has come before, but an unacceptable portion of the ones who are embracing the gospel are woefully unaware that they don't actually know it. That is devastating. So somehow, amidst our innovation and campaign for relevancy, we have somehow failed to actually reach the generations that we have fought so hard to change in order to reach.
Please understand, I am not condemning the Church or the men and women that have fought so hard for the spread of the gospel. I respect the men and women who lead the Church, and I love the body of Jesus desperately. Which is why I refuse to ignore the need for change. Which brings me to my next point:
(Here is a link to purchase this research report: https://shop.barna.com/products/gen-z?variant=1578188898316. If you cannot afford to purchase it, though I would recommend it, here is an article that summarizes it nicely: https://www.christianpost.com/news/gen-z-is-the-least-christian-generation-in-american-history-barna-finds.html )
The Church has abandoned its responsibility to community
I like to say that in one blink, everything we know will vanish. Despite the fact that it feels like forever, this life is barely a blink in light of the eternity we have in store for us. And when that blink has finished, the majority of what we wrap our lives around will no longer exist. In one blink, we will never have to evangelize again. In one blink, we will never have to heal the sick or cast out a devil. In one blink, we will no longer need accountability or teachers. The vast majority of Christian ministry will no longer exist. So how can those things possibly be our identity?
The Western Church has excelled very deeply when it comes to our service to the lost. Our service projects, food pantries, homeless ministries, children events and outreach events are absolutely excellent. No one can look at the Church of the west and say that we do not care about the poor. And when it comes to evangelism, our gospel has spread so far that it is shocking to come across a person who has not heard it. However, there is an area that we have deeply failed in, and it is, in my opinion, the chief reason that being "saved" and being like Jesus are not synonymous in this part of the world.
When you read the Word's record of the early Church, you are going to notice that they interacted with each other on a much more intimate level than we do. Acts 4:34 paints a picture of a community so deep that there were no longer people who had need among them. Not because of a prosperous economy or an effective entrepreneur conference, but because those who had gave to those who didn't. Luke even records homeowners selling their homes and laying the proceeds at the feet of the Apostles to meet the needs of the poor. The early Church cared deeply about one another, and it was not only demonstrated in the financial sacrifices they made for one another, but in the fact they never got tired of fellowship. Acts 2 ends with an account of the early believers meeting daily to learn together, and then to break bread in each other's homes. Community, for the early Church, meant more than a weekly bible study for those who are interested in going a little deeper. It was just who they were.
In Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, he takes the twelfth chapter to paint a picture of unity so tight that he says, in essence, that our differences exist to unite us, not to divide us or group us. A foot cannot say to a hand that it is not necessary to the body, because the body is only whole with both a hand and a foot. And before that, he teaches them that the Holy Spirit gives each member of the body different gifts for the sake of the edification of the whole. Meaning that God designed us to be intimately different so that we would be unquestionably dependent on one another. Then let's fast forward a few chapters. In chapter fourteen, he goes on to say that when we come together, "each has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up....let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another still sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged..."
God's intention was that every part of the body would be uniquely designed to contribute to the life of the body. Everyone designed differently, to satisfy a different part of the body's design. An identity that is intimately dependent on every part. So much so that each and every part is necessary. It should be impossible to go unnoticed in the Church, because who you are should be intimately contributing to the Church's life and identity. And it should be impossible to not feel the loss of any member, because every part is necessary. Every member is a part of who you are as a people.
That is community! Seriously, Paul told them that if someone else has a revelation, the person speaking should sit down! Can you imagine if your pastor was preaching and someone just stood up from the audience (because that's what the lay person has become) and expected to be handed the microphone? Would your pastor hand it over? Or would the tall guy in the back of the room quietly escort them out? Furthermore, Paul taught that it was the responsibility of everyone listening to weigh what is said. What would happen in your church if your pastor was teaching and one of the older men in the Church stood up and said, "Ahh, I think you need to rethink your stand on that, Bruh". Seriously, what would happen? Would your Pastor ask for clarification on his error, or would Joe Backstage be back for his next bouncer appointment?
Guys, community is more than coffee and cheesecake. Its more than wrestling with the teenagers and having a cup of joe in the Church cafe with Mother Jane. Community means we are doing this thing called life together. It means I desperately need you and you desperately need me. It means that once God has put us together, no man should be able to tear us apart. It means that we are all responsible for the identity of our Church. We are all responsible for the direction of our Church. We are all responsible for the health of our Church. We are all responsible for the way our Church represents Jesus. It means that my time is yours if you need it, my money is yours if you need it, my food is yours if you need it. It means that if I am broken and in need, I don't have to worry, because I can show up at your house and eat a warm meal and have somewhere to lay my head. And it means that no one person is responsible for hearing from God. We may all hear from God, and when we do, we may all address what has been heard
Going back to my opening statement: in one blink, the majority of our efforts will stop forever, but community will remain. Forever. My love for you and your love for me... it will never end. Because it's not just something that has become necessary because of our circumstances, as other ministry. It is who we are. We are the body. But unfortunately, because of legitimate abuses that took place in the Church, we are afraid of this kind of community. So we hide behind a handful of people and let them be the Church while we sit and watch the show. And I don't know about you, but I am challenged by the thought that the answer to abuses in the body is to strip the body of its identity.
(For more information on what I mean by community, check out my earlier blog on the subject: https://www.michaellaborn.com/post/10-things-you-won-t-hear-at-church-part-1-you-exist-for-community)
I realized how much of our tradition was not what Jesus designed
Life would be so much easier for us if the Apostles had written down the structure of the Church for us in a little book that ended up in Canon. But they didn't, so we have to rely on how they handled the abuses of that structure. Here's what I mean by that. The Apostles taught the early Church how to function, and the New Testament Epistles are largely their reactions when the early Churches did not function in the way they had taught. For example, the Galatians were allowing a group of believers from another city to convince them that they needed to behave more Jewish if they wanted the Jewish Messiah (Jesus), and Paul wrote his letter to remind them that Jesus came to bring freedom and that circumcision (the main point of contention between Paul and the majority of the early Church) was not only unnecessary, but offensive in light of the finished work of the Cross. 1 Corinthians was written because... well, to be honest, because the Corinthian Church needed to get a whole lot of their act together. Let's just be real.
The foundational teaching of the Church is not recorded for us in the Word. What we have is the Apostles responding to their teaching not being honored. Which, if we read it with that in mind, we are able to figure out what that foundational teaching is by identifying why the Apostle's are correcting the early Church. I'm not going to spend too much time on that thought because it's not really my point and this blog is already much too long. But what I will say is this: As you read the New Testament, and pay attention to what the Apostles are calling the Church into, you will notice that there was clearly an actual design for the assembly. Now, this is not a house-church vs traditional-church issue. I have done plenty of study and I see absolutely no reason to say that either option is the only design of God. If you can honor the design of God while meeting in a Church building, sweet! I will gladly worship with you. And if you do it in a little two bedroom apartment like we do, sweet! I'll gladly worship with you. It's important that you understand that this is not about where you meet. This is about who you are.
With that said, there are many of our traditions and practices that have fallen short of the design of Jesus, but I cant possibly talk about them all in this already overwhelming blog. So let me just address the biggest:
1 Corinthians 12-14 - The entire body should be contributing to the assembly. This isn't something that seems negotiable in Paul's statements. God's intention was that the body's pursuit of God and its very health would be dependent on the entire body contributing its gifts, talents and identity. But because of heresy and apostates that found their way into the Church and into the Church's theology, leaders of the Church began pushing for a heavier clergy-led experience in the assembly. And although that has filtered out a great deal of the theological issues in the church, the war for identity has steadily moved in the wrong direction since. This is, by far, the biggest issue that I cannot ignore. There is nothing wrong with meetings where a spiritual leader teaches, but the actual regular assembly, where the body chases Jesus together, was never meant to be about learning to become a better me. It was meant to be a family time of pouring into one another, loving on one another, and chasing Jesus together. This revelation, more than anything else, stopped me in my tracks and broke my heart for the body. Its been a fire in my bones and I can't ignore it.
Many would argue that because of the growth of the body, we can no longer make room for that level of intimacy and involvement in the assembly. But the truth is, the first Church grew to over three thousand in a matter of days, and they still managed to maintain intimacy and involvement. My city may have three thousand believers, but we have far more spiritual leaders than the Church of Jerusalem. If we wanted to follow their example, we certainly could.
Others would argue that the Small Group has replaced the assembly in this way and that so long as Churches provide small groups for the more involved experience, it is ok for the weekend assembly to be less involved. But let's be honest with ourselves about two things. First: the average small group may allow everyone to share their thoughts, but it is still guided by an agenda that only a few have contributed to. Where is the atmosphere that says "What God has put in you is just as valid as what God has put in me. What is the Spirit doing??" Where are the individual cells of the body of Jesus allowed to grow and develop and actually contribute to the body. I am not talking about the areas of service where a small percentage of the church have decided there is need, and everyone else is told to to shape their gifts into something that fits. I am asking what happened to the entire body being not only welcome, but expected to come to the assembly with a determination to contribute of themselves? What happened to the whole body shaping the direction of the Church, and the Church's service to the world being a culmination of the gifts freely offered?
The second thing I want us to be honest about here is this: though the western church is becoming more and more aware of the need for small groups where people can go deeper, they are still being presented as secondary goal of the body. Primary to the Christian experience is the weekend assembly, where the majority of the body is expected to sit under the gifts of four to five people, who alone are charged with developing the body.
Once again, I am not against you or your church. I do not dislike your pastor. I do not think he or she is fake just because I am against the structures we have put in place. This is about a system that was put in place hundreds of years ago. I am not against pastors or worship leaders or churches in general. I am not calling anyone into condemnation or judgement. I am just calling the body into something deeper. The thing that Jesus made.
Think about it this way: your lungs, your brain and your heart are your most noticeably useful internal organs. Your lungs are constantly working to keep you breathing, and in partnership, your heart works tirelessly to keep your blood flowing and oxygenated. And while all that is happening, your brain is keeping every function of your body in health and operation. I would daresay that your lungs, brain and heart have more noticeable use than some of your other organs. But can you imagine if they decided that because they have been given the highest responsibility in your body that the rest of your organs could take a back seat and focus on what they had been commissioned to do?
You would die. Maybe not immediately, but your body would become slow, and broken and eventually the strain on your heart and lungs and brain would become too much and your entire body would die.
We are in an age of the Church where the brain and the lungs and the heart are working in overdrive because the rest of the body has been instructed to sit back and let them do their work. Maybe they had good intentions. Maybe they were genuinely trying to help the rest of the body become something truly incredible, but in the process of helping them "become", they were unintentionally told to stop being. And the result is that the body has slowed, become less effective, and is on the verge of collapse. But noone notices, because the brain and the lungs and the heart are pumping away, working in overdrive, constantly collapsing themselves because of the strain of sustaining a body they were never equipped to sustain alone. (Ever wondered why it seems ministry leaders burn out faster and harder than everyone else? It is not because of their deeper anointing. It is because they are being pressured to carry a body that was always supposed to carry itself.)
This is why I left. Not because I was angry or frustrated or upset with anyone. But because I saw a need for more. And I could not sit still without making a stand for something more. I could not, in good conscious, see the body suffering and say nothing. So, with my words and with my life, I addressed it. And now I am devoting my life to reminding the other organs of the body to get back to their post so that we can bring the body back to her former glory!
(To study for yourself, meditate on 1 Corinthians 12-14.)
Before I close this out, it is so important for me to say that this is Not. About. People.
I love the Church. I love the Pastors who sacrifice for this generation of the Church. I love the elders who fight for churches across the nation. I love the worship leaders who seek God's face and desperately pray for you to see Him too. I love the Church that I spent a decade of my life pouring into. I love the youth groups I have served in. I love the congregations that I have sat in, and sung before, and preached to, and occasionally napped alongside (don't lie, you've done it). I love the people of God. The Pentecostals and the Baptists and the Reformers and the Catholics and the Non-Denominational and the House Churches and the backsliders (that's right, they don't get a capital first letter. Come home if you want one!). In all seriousness, I love the people of God. I did not abandon the Church... I am fighting for the Church.
I have spent the last year keeping a relatively low profile, afraid of losing more friends, having more rumors started, losing more of my good name. But God did not call me to leave for the sake of leaving. He called me to leave so that I could fight for the body of Jesus. So I can't be quiet anymore. I can't hide anymore. I can't be satisfied with my small group of faithful friends anymore. We have to do more. The body matters.
In the soon future, I will be posting much more of what it is, exactly, I believe. I will share what I see in the Word, what history has taught us, and what God is speaking to me. I would love to share it all now, but as I've said multiple times, I am fully aware that this blog is approaching the size of a small booklet. So I will leave it here for now. But I hope you're still with me, because we're not done yet. There's a lot of work left to do.
Many of you will think less of me because of my stand here. Some will question my life, my past, my gifts, my fruit. In advance, I want to say that I understand and I forgive you. This isn't something that anyone could have talked me into before I saw it. You have to see it yourself. So I want to challenge you. Before you dismiss me outright, run to the Word. Study, pray, seek God's voice. See what happens.
Here is a small list of resources I would recommend to anyone wanting to search a little deeper:
Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00APOW7JI/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1
The Naked Gospel by Andrew Farley: https://www.amazon.com/Naked-Gospel-Truth-Never-Church-ebook/dp/B002LHVDLU/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=naked+gospel&qid=1549818097&s=digital-text&sr=1-1
Letters to the Church by Francis Chan: https://www.amazon.com/Letters-Church-Francis-Chan-ebook/dp/B07CF3ZHQ1/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=letters+to+the+church&qid=1549818145&s=digital-text&sr=1-1
Insurgence by Frank Viola: https://www.amazon.com/Insurgence-Reclaiming-Kingdom-Frank-Viola-ebook/dp/B07933R33B/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=frank+viola&qid=1549818183&s=digital-text&sr=1-1
Reimagining Church by Frank Viola: https://www.amazon.com/Insurgence-Reclaiming-Kingdom-Frank-Viola-ebook/dp/B07933R33B/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=frank+viola&qid=1549818183&s=digital-text&sr=1-1