The Struggles and Triumphs of a Former Church Hater9:41 AM
I was a church hater.
Before I explain in more detail my reasons behind this, I would like to preface by saying that this entry comes only through quite a bit of prayer and a spirit of almost hesitant reluctance. And yet, something probes me to go on, to write one of the hardest parts of my story because I believe that it is reflected in quite a few people’s lives.
As I said, I hated the church. However, it wasn’t always so. My parents have amazing testimonies of their own that brought them to the church I grew up in, but as Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia would say, “that’s their story”. Suffice it to say, that until the age of six, church was great! I grew up in a church somewhat revolutionary for it’s time. Stemming from the “Jesus movement”, our church was one of the very first Vineyard churches in the world. Our pastor, a gangly man well over six feet tall, with fantastic vision, spiritual prowess, and a down to earthiness that is quite frankly hard to come by, was loved by the whole community. He believed in a Jesus you could reach out and touch and a Bible that was meant to be read and taken quite literally as a guideline for one’s entire life. His sermons were far from hell fire and damnation but they were also cutting with their truth. The church was also completely laid back. They didn’t believe that a church should “pass the plate” for an offering but on those rare occasions when there was something special they were collecting for, they would pass a KFC bucket instead. There was a real emphasis on missions and famous missionaries from all over the world would come and speak at the church. There were also countless churches being planted through the Vineyard around the globe. There was a magic to church, a real, authentic hopefulness to every meeting that, even as a child, became embedded in my memory. It wasn’t perfect, sure. It was still a very human structure with very human moments, but God’s presence was there every Sunday.
And then it happened. It was like a bolt of lightning. Our pastor got cancer. I’ll never forget one of his last sermons in which they dragged a recliner on the stage from which he then preached, inhaling with ragged, unstable breaths. And then he was gone leaving a wife and two kids and a church that simply didn’t know how to cope without him. Soon after, a new pastor came. He was young and vital and there was renewed hope in the church, but it became apparent very quickly that his vision was far different from the vision of our former pastor. Sadly, as often happens, the church was torn in two until finally there remained at most three or four families from the original church. It became a mega church that served Starbucks and Krispy Kreme donuts. The music was fantastic, the sermons catchy, but at times it seemed as if someone very important had left the building: a normal guy, without any catchy moxy who went by the name of Jesus. It was the “cool” church in town and within the cool church were the cool people. It was not all bad but it certainly was a shock for a church who had formerly invited in the lost, the hurting, the not so cool people. One day my father had a question about a sermon and decided to ask the pastor if he had meant what he said in the way my father understood it. The pastor took this as a severe criticism and affront to his authority and from that point on, our family was labeled as dissenters.
In the new church, I made some new friends. They were sisters; lovely, sweet, girly and everything I was not during my tomboy stage. We became best friends and did everything together. When we were all in our early teens, they got asked to be on the worship team. I was so excited for them! It was so great to see my best friends on stage singing for Jesus even if it did hurt my ego that I had never been asked. It was fine for the first few months and then suddenly, they became rock stars at our church. Whenever I would try to talk to them, people would run me down or knock me out of the way. It was simply annoying at first and my friends really did try their best to keep up our friendship, but it became harder and harder. Their father became one of the assistant pastors and soon the strategic people in the church made it clear that it was not good for the daughter of the “dissenters” to be friends with the daughters of one of the pastors. Sometimes it’s the things that aren’t ever clearly spoken that give the lasting pain.
We stayed in that church for ten years after our original pastor. Every Sunday got harder and every week was a little more torturous. The moment we walked in the door it seemed as if we were met by either piteous or annoyed glares. In truth, our entire family became quite bitter about a situation we had little control of and we remained far longer than we should have. Looking back, I can see both sides of the story with better perspective, however at the time, the rejection of the church seemed to me to be a rejection straight from God Himself. After all, the church is supposed to be the body of Christ, isn’t it? If the body didn’t want me then God must not either. Every push out of the way, every look and whisper gave me more reason to hate the people who claimed to love as God loves.