4 Things I’ve Learned After A Year Of Not Going To Church

I nearly forgot about this blog, as evidenced by my not posting for almost a year, but it’s been quite a year.  I left the prayer ministry I had been on staff at for four years last June amid a nearly-disastrous stormy time in my life. I made many mistakes, and I believed many lies about life, religion, and love. I felt spat out on the cold beach of unemployment and uncertainty about the future, wondering how I was going to make any thing of my life. My entire social scene was at the prayer ministry, my income was from there, I had skipped college to be on staff, and suddenly all that came together to stressful apex. I languished for several months, staying cooped up in my room when I wasn’t working odd jobs to make rent and buy groceries. Thankfully I still had some friends and my family, and I got a retail job and was given money for an extremely cheap car. For a month or two before leaving staff, I had stopped attending church services, and throughout my unemployed state I made excuses about not finding a new church (I didn’t have a car, which would’ve made it difficult, but I could’ve done it). When I got the job and car, I reconsidered, and almost went out to find a new church, but I would work most Sundays and if I was off or started work late on a Sunday, I’d sleep in (both are still true). I was okay with this most of the time, but would play it up to people as if I was totally missing church and wanting to get back into the church experience or whatever.

I haven’t had grape juice with an oyster cracker in sooooo long.

The truth is, I didn’t want to go back to church. Part of me still doesn’t. I’ve been hurt a lot by people in the church and spiritual leaders in my life. In my case, a lot of it resulted from my own boneheaded mistakes, and throughout the years I’ve changed my mind about some of the situations where I felt mistreated. That doesn’t nullify them all though, nor does it mean that I’m not apprehensive to the thought of finding a church. This experience has taught me some things though, and maybe you’ll learn something from this too.

4. Religion Is Poison To The Soul

I’m not saying that Christianity is poison to the soul. What I’m talking about is the guilt, shame, and propaganda that can be slipped into what Christianity really is, a relationship with your Creator. From definitions of sin that condemn a healthy social life, pursuit of goals and dreams, and self-preservation in the name of holy living, to prophesying national (or personal) doom and destruction or blessing and prosperity depending on what will garner the desired reaction. I’ve seen it, I’ve been in those church meetings. It’s intense, and I ate up a lot of. I felt so badly that I couldn’t raise support and relied on the “staff stipend” and my parents to pay my rent and have groceries. I felt so guilty when I watched films or shows that were considered too [insert bad thing] for a Christian to enjoy (“Even a little bit of poop spoils a brownie mix, so even a little bit of cursing spoils a movie!!!”). I felt like I was dying/should die when I watched porn. But I felt like that was all a good reaction, I wasn’t doing my part, I wasn’t doing what was right, so I should feel guilty. I should live in condemnation because I was living in sin. God was angry and disappointed in me all the time.

“I’m sorry!” … “No really! I am sorry!”…”Please stop looking at me like that.” — My internal dialogue

After about three years of this, I started not to care as much. I saw my staff designation as a job, not a ministry (I was being told that I was being a missionary since I was strengthening evangelists through prayer, and strengthening the prayer movement through service on the media team and then the bookstore warehouse), and I simply wasn’t being compensated enough to care. At the same time, I didn’t really see any other options, since I had no means to save money, and (for most of my time on staff) no vehicle to go find another job. I started skipping my hours in the prayer room, and began being passively (and sometimes outright) rebellious. At the end of my time on staff, I was told I could leave or undergo an intense inner healing class and be under close supervision for months at least.

“Yeah no, I’ll leave staff.”

Over the last year, I’ve become somewhat comfortable around alcohol, made friends outside of the church, and grown to appreciate quality secular music. I’ve watched many more shows and films that I would’ve been condemned for. I’ve made decisions concerning my life direction that I did not incorporate how many people I could reach for Jesus through or whatever. You know what? I still have a relationship with God. I still believe in Jesus. The Holy Spirit hasn’t left me. It’s not as good as it could be, but more on that later.

3. Love Is Not Found Exclusively In The Church

I learned from my friends that people are capable of love while rejecting God. It had been drilled into my head that since God is love, that no one that doesn’t have God doesn’t really love. Well that’s a myth. There is a unique love seen from those who have a good relationship with God, but that doesn’t mean that all those who do not believe in God are hateful, awful people (they do exist, but so do hateful, awful people who claim a relationship with God). I’ve experienced great encouragement and great friendship with people who think Christianity is whack.

You believe what? SQUIRREL!

I’ve found that people are capable of selflessness, humility, empathy, and acceptance, all without having read the Good Book. I’ve found that people are capable of selfishness, arrogance, callousness, and condemnation, all having read the Good Book for their whole lives. It’s nuts.

2. Things Are Not Always Black And White

I’ve heard that America is going have more disasters and economic troubles because of gay marriage. I’ve heard that enjoying secular music is basically devil worship. I’ve heard that cursing (or enjoying a movie/song/book/whatever with cursing in it) is a sign that your salvation either isn’t real or it’s going to be cancelled. I’ve heard that it’s impossible for a film to have a sex scene without the film being demonic. I’ve heard that jokes are basically lies, and liars go to Hell (Revelation 21:8). I’ve heard that if you aren’t reading your Bible and praying every day, your salvation could be inauthentic or cancelled soon. I’ve heard the Devil is hiding in that bush over there.

The Devil smiles when you’re outside doing life, rather than being in your prayer closet.

Some things are legitimately evil, and Christians should abstain from them. There are reasons why, other than it’s wrong/evil. If you love God, if you believe in Him, that will guide your choices. I don’t believe that you can do anything to cancel your salvation besides renounce it yourself and change your core beliefs. I don’t think anyone else, any other action, any other words can separate you from God besides your own conscious decision, and even then, it’s nigh impossible. Everyone has their own relationship with God, and just as inter-human relationships are all unique, so a person’s relationship with God is their own. What’s wrong or right for that person can look slightly different than others, and that’s okay. I’m not saying that you can do whatever you want and call it right.

1. Attending Church Is Important

Yeah, I’m saying that the thing I’m not doing is important to do. Sue me. I did Mock Trial in high school, I’ll take you on. Finding a local church is important not only for a steady stream of new things to consider spiritually and encouragement to a tired faith, but also the community. There really is no community like a good church community.

But not THAT kind of church community.

That’s the main thing I look forward to whenever I finally go find a new church. A group of people who can relate on more levels than just living in Kansas City and some other things. A group of people who don’t find spiritual things to be insane (or who don’t believe insane spiritual things). A group of people I can look forward to worshiping with and conversing with every weekend that I’m not working. A group of people who can help me grow, even as I help them grow. That’s what I miss. Also Hillsong songs, I miss those too.


8 comments on “4 Things I’ve Learned After A Year Of Not Going To Church

  1. I love this. Thank you so much for your honesty. Having been involved in the ministry you were writing about, it is so helpful to hear your thoughts after a year of being out. I want to encourage you that as you inferred, some things were taught about the Body of Christ, His church, that aren’t necessarily true. I’m so excited for you to consider other churches, and I’m excited for God to heal any wounds through His beautiful Body, a bunch of sinners who are saved by Jesus and live their lives for His glory. And I agree, church community is the STUFF.

  2. It was two years ago I have my life to Christ. Before this journey began, I never thought I would go back to church. I thought many Christians where hopocritical and churches were businesses.

    I was wrong. My wife wanted to go back with our two young kids. I agreed to go.

    We started attending Church of the Harvest. A genuine, no pressure, church. Overtime my heart opened to God and I gave Him my commit two years ago.

    I too had concern and doubt about church. Now I do not want to think how my life, marriage, and family would be without it.

    Please check out live.churchoftheharvest.org or come see us. We would love to have you.

    – Blane

  3. Hello 🙂 I did Fire in the Night several years ago and when it was over I wanted to stay to join full time staff at IHOP. Fortunately my mother wouldn’t let me stay, she made me come home and go to college. I am now immensely thankful that she did that for me. But I had MONTHS of culture shock, going from living in The Bubble to spending my days at a university campus…I would spend hours sobbing in my apartment because I didn’t fit anywhere – most of my FITN friends stayed on staff, and all of my former friends weren’t holy enough to “connect with.” Four years later, I am still dealing with the aftermath of all the “secular” friends I lost because I was constantly posting such elitist and weird statuses on Facebook. I’m in your same boat, trying to figure out how to live a normal life and still have a relationship with God. I think living radically for God is wonderful, but for me it came at the expense of losing all the friends I was once ministering to with my simple love for God. So now I’m trying to build that up again, though I don’t really know how to do it.

    Thanks for posting! It has been helping me sort through my own thoughts to read other IHOPer’s views and stories.

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