Our Journey Out of Institutionalism
My testimony is unique in that I really do not have an exciting story to tell – at least not in the sense of someone who has been delivered from drugs, alcohol, or something “dramatic.” I have been a Christian as long as I can remember. By the time I was 26 years old I had already spent half of my life in some kind of ministry – pastoring, teaching, preaching, or leading worship. I met the girl (who later become my wife) in church when I was 12 years old. Years later we were married and our lives continued on in service to the church, together. It was our calling, and we dedicated our lives to it. So my testimony is not so much deliverance from sin as much as it is deliverance from religion.
After many years of ministry we began asking questions and challenging paradigms which we had held for most of our lives. What is the Church? What is ministry? What is revival? Are we doing the right things? And more importantly, what does God think? Is what we’re doing pleasing to Him, or are we missing it in a big way? I realized I had devoted everything to one denomination, and knew very little about anything outside of it. As the Lord began to burden me for the entire Body of Christ, I began asking questions about denominationalism: is this right? Is this God’s purpose? What are we building here? What about the rest of the Body of Christ? Is division from the Lord?
Slowly the Lord began to answer my questions by giving one piece of the puzzle at a time. Outwardly I continued to go through the motions of ministry – preaching, teaching, leading people in prayer, ministering from the platform, having all the answers. But inwardly I knew something was wrong: “like a splinter in my mind, driving you mad,” as Morpheus said to Neo. As the Lord began to share Truth with me I realized that it was not just that we were doing the wrong things, but our whole idea and concept of “church” was just that: our idea, our concept, our ritual, our tradition. It was not the Lord’s intent, or His thought, or His mind. I still didn’t know what the real thing was, but I knew that in spite of all my years of service, I didn’t have it yet.
I remember the first time it dawned on me that the entire church “service” was not for the Lord at all; it was primarily, if not wholly, for us. The singing was for us, the preaching was for us, the prayers and ministry was for us, everything was “me” and “I” oriented. This awareness was shocking to me, and I wasn’t sure how to express it. I wrote down what the Lord had shown me and titled it, “The Loneliest Man In Church.” The Loneliest Man, of course, was Christ.
This growing revelation of Christ marked the beginning of the end of my career as a preacher for Organized Religion. Making these thoughts known by putting them in writing would seal my fate. But I found that writing not only helped to chronicle my search for the Truth, it became part of my own spiritual and emotional catharsis. And, my writings seemed to benefit and bless about as many people as they disturbed. So I kept writing.
Christ as All in All. This is where we ended up, after exploring and traveling the rabbit trails of ministry, traditional churching, house churching, and various expressions and flavors of Christian custom and practice. We learned that if we clearly have Christ in our field of vision then everything else can be judged by its relationship to Him. All things, be they spiritual or natural, inward or external, either bring us deeper into the full-knowledge of Christ, or they do not. Whatever we are “into”, whether it is house church or prophetic ministry or pastoring or preaching or teaching, it is either bringing us into a deeper, experiential, personal union with Christ, or it is just another piece of excess baggage we must be rid of:
“I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ” (Philippians 3:8).
These days, knowing Him is (to me) more important than explaining Him.
So now we have our Answer.