If you are reading this post, I have some guesses about why you made this decision to leave your faith.
I am writing this to people of all ages who were raised in a Christian home and who have decided to leave the faith of your childhood. I hope I can support you in making an educated decision about what following Jesus really is. It’s not about have the perfect beliefs, or following rules. I hope that you might look at these resources which can describe what I believe that following Jesus is about.
I wish that I could have read a testimonial similar to what I am sharing because it might have helped me avoid 30 years of what seems now like wandering in the wilderness. My hope is that these words I share will inspire you to at very least be willing to open to a new way of experiencing spirituality, and at most that it will help you to return to the faith of your childhood with fresh eyes and an open heart that will yield peace.
I need to make it clear right now that I am not encouraging you to go to church. Most churches do not demonstrate the kind of Jesus following spirituality that I want to share with you. In fact, I encourage you to stay far away from any church where people will pressure you into believing a certain way, or which is so open that Jesus teachings are actually discounted. Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.
If you want to learn about various resources that I wish I could have found when I first left the church, I invite you to go here. But if you want to hear my story, read on.
I can understand your decision to leave the church. It was one I made when I was 16, in 1970. I still remember clearly that I just could not put up with the hypocrisy and the teachings that just didn’t make sense to me. I told my parents and my pastor I was letting go of my membership in the First United Methodist Church in National City. I had been chairman of the Methodist Youth fellowship, a member of the choir, and my parents were active lay leaders. I still can’t figure out why no one tried to discourage me from leaving. But when I was free, what a relief I felt. Yet the next thirty years of seeking for something that could satisfy my soul’s longing for meaning and peace was so full of pain and disappointment.
I am imagining that you may be feeling the way I did. I yearned for peace, and peace escaped me. I was never an atheist. But I called myself agnostic, then I decided I could follow a guru, and found that after 15 years this path was just as disappointing as my childhood religion and I left. I yearned to find a community where I could feel a sense of belonging and purpose.
I finally found the peace I was looking for when through a series of what I would call unlikely and miraculous situations, my family and I found a little house church in the middle of nowhere near Kingston, Arkansas. None of the people there were native Arkansans, but most had come from all parts of the country to buy land that was part of a 600 acre parcel that the owners envisioned would be Christian community. We felt unconditionally loved by these folks, even though we were not Christian. and shared many values. They did not push their faith on me, which gave me a chance to be more open. After about six months of being part of this fellowship, I reluctantly surrendered my life to Christ. I say reluctantly, because my words to Jesus were something like this, “I don’t know if surrendering my life to you is going to work–but I am so sick of my life, and not having peace, I am give you a try. I want you to know that if you don’t come through, I will just give up.”
Since that time, I have had an increasing sense of peace in my life that I yearned for. But there were times when I once again wanted to leave this faith because some of the people who were part of the fellowship were elected into leadership positions and they transformed our informal, leaderless, egalitarian group which was like an extended family into a church where if people did not subscribe to some rigid beliefs, they could not be in leadership positions. I could not go backwards and say things like I believed the Bible was inerrant, or people are going to burn in hell for eternity if they don’t believe what these folks believed. I had actually tried to believe such things for the past year, but now that we had official elders who demanded that we believe such thing, I knew I had to do something different. I needed to be honest with these people who had grown to be like family to me, and let the chips fall where they may.
I almost left again. I read all kinds of books about liberal theology which discounted Jesus claims of divinity, and the reliability of the Bible. I read books by atheists, free thinkers, and others who wanted to prove that God did not even exist. But the more I read, the more I realized that there was something in my path of following Jesus that really was giving me peace, love and joy. These folks who I was studying didn’t seem to have that peace, love and joy. Most of them seemed pretty angry, judgmental, self-righteous, and dogmatic–just the things I did not like about many Christians.
So for the past 13 years, after 1 year of trying out being more fundamentalist in outlook, I have been searching for a way to embrace this beautiful Jesus path that gave me a foundation upon which to grow that I had not had before. Even growing up, I only knew a religion comprised of do’s and don’ts–not what it was like to have a relationship with Jesus and to understand the value of his non-violent, enemy loving, yearning for justice for all-especially the poor, needy and defenseless-teachings. Even in the past two months or so, I have opened up to a view of Jesus that, because of continued need for security, I had a hard time looking at.
I now embrace the mystery that is inherent in my spiritual path of following Jesus. Embracing the mystery, instead of clinging to security, has inspired me to relate to Jesus in a more humble way than ever before. Being able to tell him in one breath, “I don’t really know you,” and then in the next breath, “I just want to give my all to you and be your hands and feet to those who you want me to help,” works for me. Even though I can’t see Jesus, or God, or the Holy Spirit, being willing to focus on this path as a kind of container in which to pour my yearnings, sorrows, and dreams just keeps yielding peace and even revelations like no other path that I have ever followed has given me.
I have finally found a church where the teachings of Jesus are shared and practiced in a way that embraces people wherever they are at in their journey–from atheism to total commitment to following Jesus. Even though I have only been getting to know the folks at Good Shepherd Lutheran in Fayetteville, Arkansas for the past 3 weeks, I have thoroughly immersed myself in learning the history of this church and its denomination, Evangelical Lutheran Churches of America. I appreciate the fact that this church provides an environment where people can learn through both experience and study in a loving faith community where they can decide for themselves what they believe and how they interpret the Bible.
If you resonate with my story, I hope you will visit this post where I list a variety of mostly short podcasts, videos and reading which I hope you can relate to and which can give you hope that following Jesus is not an outdated, boring, dogmatic path. The amazing thing is that now, 2016 years after his death and resurrection, people are finding that his teachings were so far ahead of his time, and we need his teachings of non-violence and enemy love, justice for all, love combined with wisdom more than ever before.