[Word count: 721. Approximate read time: 2-3 minutes]
What would we do without “us”?
In 2003, I found a group of amazing people and together we started a church. These people were especially helpful through my twenties. Peers could commiserate with me about challenges encountered in a life of faith. Middle aged members helped guide us through missteps and unfamiliar territory. Elders with a wealth of life experience sailed out ahead of us all to offer wisdom.
As long as I had them, I felt sure to win! Not only were they great resources, I also came to genuinely love and respect them. When someone becomes that dear to me, I often tell them, “I don’t know what I would have ever done without you.” And then I thought “what if I HAD to do without them?” As strong as we felt together, I always believed we should have a plan… just in case we were ever apart.
I felt I should know how to be a Christian with or without community support, just like you might take a self-defense course in case you’re attacked while alone. I wanted to know I could “survive in the wild” if necessary. Though a fleeting thought, it was my premonition that such a day would come. True enough, it came for me in June 2011 when, after much consideration, I decided to leave my church.
Though I marveled at how much our organization had grown since its humble start in the pastor’s living room, it began to feel uncomfortable. Our church experienced rapid growth for many years. The more it grew, the harder it was to keep the intimate, familial feeling that made it a home. We had to institute more and more rules and guidelines to prevent utter chaos. That process makes for a very stable structure.
I was very proud of it all, but in the growth it seemed something was lost. The good thing about a strong structure is that it doesn’t move easily. The bad thing about a strong structure is that it doesn’t move easily. A large animal can’t be very quick on its feet when it has so much weight to carry. Because of our “weight gain” in membership and attendance, we were developing an intricate network of policies, procedures, authority, and hierarchy.
This would have been a fascinating and stimulating environment where someone’s best gifts could come to the forefront and shine, but not so much for me. A distance from the surrogate family it once was, it began to feel starched and political. And I hate politics.
Is that all there is?
While there is immense security in churches and other communities of faith, an unexpected side effect was that mine became a crutch. I felt too safe. I was too used to our church culture, our perspective, our people, and our God in our way. The place that used to host a steady parade of new experiences had become too familiar, too predictable. I started to stagnate and disengage.
With capable leaders doing the heavy lifting of communicating with God and then preaching a one-hour sermon on what he said, it took away the urgency of my need to do some lifting on my own. Basics like reading the Bible and praying regularly had fallen by the wayside. I atrophied and needed to shock myself back into action.
I had seen a bit too much church service, church activity, church people, and I was honestly rather churched out. I was beginning to think, “Is this it? Is this all there is to God? I’ve seen all of this before. There’s got to be more.” Perhaps what I experienced was about all there was to church. But in my heart, I was certain that it wasn’t all there was to God.
That church today is still a place where people can encounter and get to know God. There are great things ahead for them. But as for me, my season had come to an end. So I decided I was going to take a risk and see if I could locate God in some other place outside the house I grew up in… and I left.
I left my convenience, I left my security, and I left my history… searching for God… without a map, without a plan, and without a church.