Tuesday, May 12, 2009

My Performance-Based Acceptance Story

For me (US really – because it included my wife and also my children to some extent), we were happy in our small Independent Baptist church that we had been attending since 1991. It was the only church our children knew. All of our close relationships were grounded in this assembly. All of THEIR friends were there.

I had a Spiritual awakening in 1997, and soon became very involved in the ministry at that church. They were excited and encouraged to see me finally come alive. Previously, I would just attend the service and would not speak to anyone. I don’t know why I was awakened then, but immediately started to work in doing SOMETHING as I was told that I SHOULD do and I was eager to since I believed these people knew the correct way. I want to say that at this time, we were a spirit led church and God was blessing us with closeness in fellowship and (I know this is an external) growth.

Over the next year or so, I became a Deacon and, gradually, our work load increased. My wife is one of the hardest workers I know. Understand, we were never asked how we were doing as a family, or if there is too much work put upon us. Not only that, we were told, from the pulpit, that we could never do enough to pay back what Jesus had done for us. Therefore, we always felt like we had to do even more in order to maintain our right standing before God. It was not as much expressed, as implied.

We were considered FAITHFUL because we were at every service –and I mean EVERY service. Sunday’s became so stressful for us, that we came to dread them. This was a typical Sunday: arrive at church at 9:15 since we both taught Sunday School, go to choir room to practice before the service, service ends at 12:15ish, lunch, home at 2 (if we were lucky), back at church at 4:30 for choir practice, service at 6, service ends at 7:15ish. If it was my month to count the offering and lock-up the building, then I would not leave until 8 or 8:30. And THAT was a TYPICAL Sunday. If there was a special event, then it was squeezed into the middle of the day somehow.

Wednesday’s, we were there at 6:55 (since, of course, we taught AWANA) and didn’t get home until after 9. We did all of this for YEARS! And keep in mind, there were Mission’s Conferences, and revivals also.

At some point, we began to say to ourselves that something was wrong. Christianity was not supposed to be this way. Where was the Life that Jesus promised – and not JUST Life, but ABUNDANT Life? Where was Jesus easy yoke? The light burden? I looked around and all I saw were people just like us. Empty eyes, hungry souls, tired spirits. But we soldiered on as we were told. “Finish the race”.

At first, we thought it was us. Then, slowly – over the course of a few years, we began to realize it was the fact that we were exhausted – spiritually, emotionally, and even physically.

The beginning of the end for me there was a few years ago. I had led a group of wonderful people through Henry Blackaby’s “Experiencing God”. It was life-changing. Our small group of 10 people grew in the Lord so much, it affected the entire church. People could see a change in us and recognized the quickening of our spirits.

Since this was a Sunday School class, and also since it was a limited study, when we finished, a few of the people had to get back into their classes since other people had to step in for this short time.

I went to the pastor, and asked (the whole group WANTED to continue) about doing another study Sunday evenings DURING church. He thought a minute and said, “No, I don’t think so. It would take too many people out of the service.”

At that point I knew that the TRADITION was more important than the spiritual condition of the people there. I guess at that time, the door closed in my heart for the affection of the ministry at that church. BUT, we hung on saying that we loved the people too much to leave. So we stumbled on for a couple of more years – all the while growing deader and deader spiritually. We became wearier and wearier.

Finally, in June of ’08, I told my wife I was ready to start looking for another church. We did not know it was going to change our lives so radically.

I won’t go into the details of the exit, but let me just say it was not pretty. We lost A LOT of friends – people who we thought really loved us. It was then that I learned about conditional love. For some there, THEIR love was conditional to where we fellowshipped. If we didn’t fellowship with them, then we were disloyal and deserved their scorn. It has been, and continues to be, heartbreaking. I probably think about it every day.

BUT, God is good. The next week after we left, we visited another Independent Baptist church in the area. That Thursday, two wonderful men visited us, and we talked for about 2 hours. One of them, in passing, mentioned the book “Grace Walk” that he had really enjoyed. I don’t know what peaked my interest about it, but I went to the bookstore the next day and bought it.

That was on a Friday – I finished it on Sunday. I couldn’t put it down. It answered questions that my heart had been straining to get an answer to.

My life will never be the same. NEVER again will I be under bondage to a system or a single man’s teaching. I believe that God wants us to seek Him out for ourselves. He knows the outcome, but enjoys our reaction to revelation, nonetheless. He enjoys OUR journey.

Peace and blessings to all

This is part of a synchroblog started by brother Joel. Here is his link.


Anonymous said...

It is helpful to see into the process that God takes others through. It is encouraging that you share the positive of the ministry as well as the negative. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous is PTB. Don't judge me because I am blog challenged.

Bino M. said...

Thanks John for sharing your journey! Amazing!

John Fincher said...

Hey PTB. Had another thought, it might be Pass the Biscuits. ;)

Might have been hard for you to hear. Thanks for the kind words.

Bino, I enjoyed your story VERY much. Very interesting, especially since BOTH of your experiences (EO and Pent) are something I cannot relate to. ;)

Jamie said...

HA! When we left Ryan's childhood church our leaving was likened to DIVORCE! Well, DANG! Since when was divorce the unpardonable sin anyway??

Thanks, John-O!! :D

I keep you in my prayers...

Joel B. said...

A few years back, when Tracey and I told a group of friends that we were thinking of leaving that church and going to another, the collective GASP!!! just about sucked us into their mouths and down their throats! There wasn't any "we would miss you" or anything like that. Just the sense that we'd be doing the absolute worst wrong thing if we left. Fortunately we didn't go through all the stuff you went through, but my main thought was that if people want to "keep" you, let them at least "keep" you through the bonds of love, not the bondage of legalism.

Prior to this, at our wedding rehearsal, a leader in the church happened to have a short conversation with my parents. Of all the things he could've spoken about with them in his short time with them, he told them what a faithful tither Tracey was. "She's so faithful with her tithe, right down to the last penny," he bragged. At the time, we both "tithed." I worked three part time jobs, and my paychecks were never consistent, so my "tithing amount" was never consistent, but it was always 10% plus. I tithed better than my bride! LOL :) It was nobody's business anyway, but I knew right there and then that I was being called out on my seeming unfaithful tithing, and Tracey was being lifted up for her faithful tithing. I was gonna bring this up in my own story but time got away from me and I needed to cut it short anyway.

I can relate to the Sundays that you talked about! We were there bright and early, and remained there till 12:30 or 1pm, and then were back around 5:30 so we could take part in the evening service. At one time I really liked all this, but burnout wasn't too far behind that.

After we left I remember running into a woman from that church, and she asked us about our new church. It was nothing about how we're doing, or even what types of things we're learning at the church. It was, "So do you have a Sunday evening service?" When I answered "no" she gasped and told me "I just don't think that's right!"

Anyway... on the other side of things... I'm very encouraged to hear more of your story, and how God has worked in your life to bring freedom from works and performance as a basis for your walk with God and others! Thanks for taking the time to write this!

Matthew Campbell said...

Good stuff, John. I had heard bits and pieces from you when we ate together about what went on at your Church, but it's good to hear more of the story.

Sounds like you chose the red pill. ;)

The Lewis Family said...

IT is nuts how freaked out and scared people get eh. Nasty lies do mighty weird things to people! Neat to read some of your story!! What a relief to be in the Truth and freedom of Jesus!!!

- Becky

Free Spirit said...

Really loved reading your story, John. Could relate in many ways. Glad you're free from all that yuckiness, as I, too, am glad to be free from it. Glad I met you... have been encouraged the times I've spoken with you.

John Fincher said...

Joel, Matthew, Beck, and Lydia, thank you for taking the time to read MY story. I often wonder if anyone cares as much as me, or if it is even interesting to someone else.

Just glad to be OUT of all that and walking in FREEDOM!

Peace to all!

Joel B. said...

John, to me a large part of this was the sharing of our stories for the benefit of each other. It's good for us individually to talk about our stories (or at least that's how I feel about myself) and it was a HUGE blessing to me to read all the stories. There are so many ways in which we can relate to one another. And also when our experiences have been different, I think it helps us to better understand one another and empathize with others who are dealing with similar things