I suppose anyone reading such a blog would want to know more about who is writing it. So I’m going to share my faith experience.
First off, I’m not a church leader. I don’t possess a ministerial title. I’m not ordained. I don’t lead worship at my church or even teach Sunday school (though I’m hoping to get more involved in ministry soon). I don’t even have a degree from a Christian college. I’m just a passionate follower of Christ.
However, I did grow up thoroughly immersed in ministry. My dad was a Pentecostal minister with the Assemblies of God. I started singing in church before I could form full sentences. I officially accepted Jesus as my savior at 5 years old, led to salvation by my kindergarten teacher at a Baptist school. The only thing I loved more than my faith then was school.
The church I grew up in was very charismatic. Believers spoke in tongues–loudly. They danced during worship. They fell out in the Spirit. They rolled on the floor. Church wasn’t church unless there was a noisy altar call. There were also lots and lots of sermons about the rapture and end times. I remember feeling absolutely panicked multiple times at home whenever the house got too quiet. I thought I had been left behind.
At around 14, when my dad was pastoring a church in Tennessee, I began to notice problems in the church. People would speak in tongues on Sunday and then call my dad on Monday to complain about the sermon. They would wail about godlessness in the community, but then act aghast at the sinners who dared darken “their” church door. Racial prejudice? You bet. Testimony time was often an opportunity to groan about one’s trials and tribulations, or to spread gossip about a family member who was living in sin. Give more money to youth or children’s ministry? Not without prying open their purse strings with a crowbar. It was hypocrisy at its finest. It was then that the revolution began in my heart. On a couple of occasions, boldness seized me and I spoke up before the congregation concerning their hypocrisy. I couldn’t have been older than 15 at the time.
My dad was eventually voted out of the church, and we went elsewhere in a nearby community. The church we ended up at had a relatively new, progressive pastor. Everyone could dress casually for service. We sang contemporary worship songs. The youth and children had their own services and praise bands. It was great!
But things soon began to change. A doctrine that claimed God wanted to bless believers with wealth began to circulate in the church. The pastor began giving small teachings on seed offerings every Sunday before the collection plate went around. His manner during the lesson became more aggressive month by month. Some of his sermons began to contradict scripture. He asked that parishioners, including some of his friends, stop calling him by his first name because “it doesn’t show proper respect for my position.”
Youth service was no better. Every week, the youth pastor tried to whip us into a worshiping frenzy. “Get those hands in the air!” “Let’s dance like King David danced!” “If you’re not excited about God, you’re lukewarm, and God is going to vomit you out of his mouth!” “God says if you’re ashamed of me…” In that regard, we had stage lights, hard rocking guitars and a fog machine to help us along.
Soul-winning became a competition. If you witnessed to a friend or brought someone to church, you got to write your name on a special podium. On several occasions, we had prize nights for those who brought the most friends. Meanwhile, the core membership was entertaining all kinds of sinful activities. Real discipleship was hardly anywhere to be found. But we sure looked holy dancing around in front of our unsaved friends!
I, too, was struggling with deep sin at the time. Lust had long since been a problem in my life, and (at 18) I was involved in a very inappropriate relationship with an older man. I would come to service, beg God to forgive me, and then go right back into the guy’s arms. And he wasn’t the only guy I was dating. I sang in the adult choir, served as a volunteer youth leader, and took notes at nearly every sermon–yet I couldn’t get free of my sin. It was tearing me up inside. I hated myself. I had become the worst hypocrite of all.
After admitting to God (after 2 years of this emotional hell) that I didn’t know what to do anymore, He spoke to me very clearly:
Stop listening to everybody else. Get off the roller coaster and just follow ME!
So that’s exactly what I did. But it wasn’t easy. And the biggest challenges to my faith were yet to come.
Click here for Part 2.