Never did God promise us that every day would be Sunday or every Sunday would be easy like the Commodores intoned. By the time I finished seminary in 2000, I did not even attend church anymore. Not only had I experienced spiritual heights I could not have imagined, but had also seen the bowels of the church. I felt like I couldn’t trust anyone anymore and was even giving God a closer look.
This was very hard because for some strange reason I still loved God and felt God loved me. From the days of forced Sunday School attendance by my bunned-up parents, to a closer personal walk and my eventual call to ministry, worshipping and serving the Lord provided coherence to my life. For in him we live, and move, and have our being (Acts 17:28a). However, dealing with God’s people was draining my soul. My New Testament professor used a term to describe the early church’s religious experience that captured my angst precisely.
Cognitive dissonance is the tension when personal experience is not consistent with one’s learning, beliefs, opinions. The first-generation church struggled to reconcile Jesus promise of abundant life with their suffering and persecution. I had to decide whether God was indeed reconciling the world unto Himself by the perfecting work of His spirit or this whole church thing was a ruse.
In the meantime, I was going crazy trying to pretend my eyes were lying and faith could move the monumental black ball Rev. had placed me behind. All of the conflicting notions were pushing me to the edge.
God’s word, however, commands us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves (Hebrews 10:25). God also invites us to (t)aste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him (Psalms34:8). Yes, He gets us coming and going.
Then about a year after graduation, God told me to go to this particular church in downtown DC. Yes He did. So, I went and felt something that I had not felt in a long time. Can’t put it into words, but I got my mojo back. Without deliberation, I went again, and again, and again. However, I had no intent on joining and being the same fool twice.
I subsequently began to ask around about the pastor. Almost nobody I asked knew anything about him. Then, I knew he had to be clean. One Sunday, God sneaked up on me and had me taking the walk down the aisle I had been resisting for over a year. I had a new church home. And the people were not crazy. Or so it seemed.
During a series of private sessions, I told Pastor my story. He received me well and nursed me back to spiritual health. Through all our meetings, his wife, who sat outside his door as the church secretary, never raised an eyebrow. Although I bared my soul, not a word of those sessions was ever uttered publicly by him. He subsequently allowed me to flex my gifts of teaching and preaching, without reservation. Some churches act like you have to get a Top Secret security clearance to access those privileges, although the quality of what comes from their pulpits and classrooms does not reflect due diligence.
What happened next simply blew my mind. Some of the members had grown restless. They wanted a leader with more flash and pizzazz. With a stroke of the District Superintendent’s pen, the congregation went from stellar to cellar. Pastor was reassigned and a new joker was appointed. I kept an open mind, but The Joker looked strangely familiar. The quality of the teaching, preaching, and administration began to decline immediately. Then I remembered: Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world (1 John 4:1).
Meanwhile, the congregation went wild in response to his theatrical antics in the pulpit in spite of his words having no redeeming value. “Did you see how he jumped around shouting today? He was on fire!” could be overheard after Sunday services. Not once did I hear how the anointing on the message (or lack thereof) impacted their lives. Not only that, I never—in five years—heard him provide a single account of how God’s spirit manifest in his life personally. Recounting second-hand testimonies is not credible witness.
Then at the beginning of last year, I resolved to be more receptive of The Joker’s ministry. This was not the result in a change of heart, but rather justification for maintaining my social ties at the church. The year couldn’t even get off to a good start before The Joker stated one of the most antithetical statements to the gospel I have ever heard from the pulpit. The crowd said “amen.” I turned around in the middle of his message and asked “did you hear what he just said?” The man behind me responded in the negative. “Well you said ‘amen’” I stated. He responded “it’s just a habit.”
Trying to give him the benefit of the doubt, I went to The Joker’s office after service to discuss the theological implications of what he stated. Maybe I heard him wrong. Maybe his words got twisted. He stood beside his ignorance and defied my right to object. I broke out my bible and went point-by-point through the inconsistency of his message not only with the gospel of Christ—which he acted like he was hearing for the first time—but also with the denomination’s discipline. He looked at me with that “who the hell you think you are” look that I know so well. I wrote the bishop to express my concern about the weak pulpit and spiritual decline of the congregation. He basically told me to kiss his hindquarters. Add one more denomination to the list of churches who would never ordain me.
It’s a wonder how God takes us to heights spiritually only to drop us back in the valley. Why can’t we build tents on the mountain tops and let the mere mortals fend for themselves? Then God revealed to me that He did not call me to sit under someone’s spiritual teat for the rest of my life. The change in altitude was part of His plan. There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens (Ecclesiastes 3:1).
That’s where the madness jumps off. Just as members of the military swear to defend this country against all enemies, foreign and domestic, disciples must battle His enemies from within and beyond. That does not make me too many friends in the church because its worldliness not only suits counterfeit preachers, but also provides comfort to spiritual slackers. If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you (John 15:18-19).
We must rid God’s house of darkness so it can bear light to the world as it should. It won’t be easy because a lot is at stake on both sides. The enemy is always seeking who he may devour especially those who are called according to God’s purpose. Well, ever since childhood, I have never been able to resist a good fight. Gird me up Lord and bring it on! Who is with me?
You are on FIRE!!!!!!!!!!
It is true. We are not provided with the information so we can sit around on our behinds and enjoy ourselves. The church is in the state it is in because we haven't done the work. Before the church can take on any movements it needs to do the work of cleaning house. We are too busy looking at other people's windows and bringing judgment yet the church's own windows have been broken for decades.
This is so insighful and so full of truth. Thanks for writing about this. I've been to so many churches and have left so many in disappointment. I finally feel like I've found the right church but I won't get my hopes up too high yet.
Thank you for being so candid about your frustrations.
I'll be praying for your journey as you discern how God is calling you to serve. Ever consider moving to central Africa? You could teach in a seminary here. 😉
It's a sad day when we AMEN to everything and anything. One much remember,some are called and some are choosen.
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