My own church history, that is. How much of my perspective on Christian living is wrapped up in the three types of churches I attended? I may never know, but I’d sure like to understand a little better.
The first church I attended was of the mainline denominational variety. It had almost 8000 members, although probably a third of that attended each week. I went there with my twin brother, sister, and mom every Sunday. My dad attended rarely, usually on Easter or Christmas, and what I remember of that was that we had to make extra sure we behaved, as he would get mad at my brother and me for talking or goofing off. I liked it better when dad didn’t go.
The youth group was entirely different than the church proper. The staff consisted of college-age kids who were evangelical Christians (although of course I wasn’t familiar with that term as a teenager in 1980), led Bible studies, showed how to live as a Christian, and — more than that — shared their lives with us. In fact, the theme verse of the leadership was 1 Thes. 2:8.
A Move of God
Midway through my junior year in college, I started attending a church where the members were convinced that revival was going to break out any minute, and we needed to be prepared. I attended services, went to prayer meetings, learned spiritual disciplines, experienced the supernatural, and met my wife there. I also saw leaders fall, witnessed mistakes, made some myself, and in general learned how to be a charismatic-prophetic-end-times-bible-believing-hand-lifting follower of Jesus.
The people I met there were among the most dedicated believers I have found. Bible knowledge was everywhere, as was an emphasis on prayer and fasting as a lifestyle. They were passionate about their love for Jesus.
After 15 years, we felt the tug of God to leave, so we took the opportunity presented by a move across town to look for a new church. The second one we visited was a seeker church in the Willow model. An absolute 180 from our previous experience, it was refreshingly different. Evangelical but not confrontational, devoted but not quite discipling, filled with new/young believers, I had never seen anything like it. We immediately got involved, volunteering in different places in an attempt to meet people.
And the answer is….
So, I go from mainline ho-hum to prophetic fringe to seeker-friendly. What does this make me?
From my first experience, I learned that every church contains followers of Jesus. Whether the preacher is bible-friendly or more of a social worker, whether it’s mainline or hardline, God still calls people to himself.
From my second experience, I learned that it is possible to be a fully committed believer, willing to spend my life and resources on an unseen kingdom. However, it must be done in community with other like-minded folks, or I cannot succeed. I also learned that great reward only comes from great risk. Of course, great risk also involves the possibility of failure, embarrassment, and even doctrinal error. I discovered that I am a risk taker.
From my third (and current) experience, I am learning that it is not enough to talk about “reaching the lost”, I must take an active role in doing just that. Prayer without action is, apparently, the same thing as no prayer at all. I am also learning that without a vision, the people really do perish. As humans, we must be challenged to something more than we can see with our eyes, or we will spend our lives toiling for things that have no eternal value.
So is one expression better than another? I am tempted to say Yes, but each time that happens, I am reminded that God called us to our current church for a purpose. I felt very clearly that He was telling me that while I had something to offer this church, it also has something to offer me. I am encouraged in knowing that God has some things he is putting in to me, to make me something that can be used by him. I feel like Onesimus mentioned by Paul in his letter to Philemon: “Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful.”