Three Things I Need to Say

I left First Baptist Church just over three years ago. I had had enough.  I was tired of inefficient committees.  I was tired of worship wars.  I was tired of what I perceived as passive leadership. I was tired of the infighting. I was tired…of the church.  To be clear, I was not just tired of FBC; rather, I was tired of the institutional church.  I grew up at a rural Baptist church in central Missouri that, while smaller, operated much like FBC, the first church I’d really planted myself in as an adult.  A bit of history might be helpful here; there are more good memories associated with the church I grew up in than I can recount, but I most closely associate it with the tumult and upheaval that prompted my family’s exit. It’s probable that the sour taste in my mouth left over from that negative experience may have subconsciously figured into my eventual exit from FBC Bolivar, but I don’t want to over-analogize the two instances.  Though I won’t go into the gory details, my family left that rural church out of necessity (and for what I believe were the right reasons). As an adult, I left my church completely on my own volition.

And it seemed right. I convinced myself  I was leaving for the right reasons. The church was the one with the problems; I was just one of the few with eyes to see them, right?  Of course, I hid my inflated sense of self in a lot of “churchspeak” that allowed me to quietly sneak out the backdoor while my mind continued cycling its laundry list of accusations and complaints on a permanent loop, my own personal negative news ticker.  Funny how my inflated sense of prophetic zeal spent more time in a self-polluting inner monologue than actually working to confront or resolve any issues, real or imagined. How noble, right?

So, off to a new church I went, a frustrated child taking his ball and going home because the game hadn’t played out to his liking. After a few weeks of searching, I landed at Freshwater Church, a new  plant in Bolivar, and by the grace of God, I didn’t poison it with my presence.  On the contrary, many of the lies I’d bit into hook, line, and sinker began to be revealed for what they were, devilish deceptions.  Through the distance obtained by leaving; the humility I gained by entering into a new fellowship of believers in which I had no preexistent identity, status, authority, or say; and a severe work of the Holy Spirit in my heart, I began to realize where my issues with my former church had originated: my own self-serving, self-glorifying, self-worshipping heart.

What I had created in my mind was a church in my own image.  I knew how it should operate; I knew how its leaders should lead; I knew how decisions should be made.  So when reality didn’t line up with my fantasy, my ego balked, my heart hardened, and I stopped seeing the church as a place where God invites us to serve one another and instead commenced to critique it through a me-centered, consumerist standard against which no institution comprised of human beings could measure up.

This time was like a rebirth.  Once I admitted this to myself and repented of my arrogance, my foolishness, my brash egotism…I could breathe again. I could pray again. I began to hunger for the word again. I began to see God’s church once again as a motley assemblage of imperfect saints drawn together not to demand their own needs be met, but rather to celebrate and model the selfless servanthood of the bridegroom, Christ, who is coming back one day to present his church, made holy and blameless through his sacrifice on the cross, to his Father.

Though I’m firmly planted in a new place now, I have since returned to worship with my former church on at least two occasions, both marked by a rekindled love for the people there, a deep and sincere respect for its leadership, and a freedom to worship that had previously been choked nigh unto to death by my own sinful pride.

A revelation like this is a tough pill to swallow, but a beautiful thing.  Repentance is difficult act, but a beautiful thing.  However, only now, years later, am I realizing that somewhere along the way, I left out a necessary step.  I’d like to take care of that today.

Church, I’m sorry.

There is nothing impressive about my proclamations of love for Jesus that came while lobbing stones at the church he died to save.  There is nothing impressive about it at all.  It takes little to no effort to be a fault-finder among the people of God.  If one walked into FBC, Freshwater, Southern Hills, Second Baptist, Saddleback, Mars Hill, or (insert name of any church large or small) searching for issues about which to complain, I have no doubt that person could find success quickly.

But the Bible calls us to something far greater than finger-wagging denigration of his church, his body here on earth.  In the gospel of John, Jesus says to his disciples that the mark by which they will be defined as his body is not their high and mighty ability to condemn; no, he tells them they will be known as his by the love they bear for one another.  And what is love?  As the writer says in 1 John 3:16, we come to know what love truly is by looking to the model of a man who laid down his life for imperfect people and, in turn, laying down our lives for others.  What would churches look like if we were simply too busy fulfilling this calling, laying down our very lives for one another, to even find the time to bemoan, accuse, and condemn from atop our illusory pedestals?

This is not an easy calling; it is part of what Jesus meant when he said that as believers we follow him by taking up our cross daily, an act whose inevitable culmination is the death of our own self-worshipping hearts.  In all reality, it does at times feel much better to eschew Jesus’ command, drop the cross, give release to our own spiritual immaturities, and spew venom rather than giving grace to the church.  But, trust me, such release is a short-lived and hollow pleasure.

Derek Webb, an artist I often find to be one of the most prophetic voices of our time, recently released a new album whose title track has been on a constant loop in my head for the last 24 hours. Webb, whose history with the evangelical church is an interesting one to say the least, needs only nine words of a chorus to sum up everything I now know I’ve needed to say not only to the church I left, but also the institutional church as well.  To borrow from Webb, I just have three things I want to say:

I was wrong, I’m sorry…and I love you.

*Thoughts?  Feel free to email me at eandrewlove21@gmail.com

*All content is property of the writer.  Please feel free to share posts so long as content is not altered, misrepresented, or used for profit. 

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16 comments

  1. Ryan McMillian · ·

    awesome…

  2. Thank you for sharing- I have taken a lot away from your blog lately!

  3. The Lord Jesus loved the church at Laodicea, but had some harsh words for it. In fact He was not even in it. He was waiting at the door for them to let Him in.

    1. True, Steve. Even Jesus’ harsh words and reproof to this church were an invitation driven by the unfathomable depths of his love for the church. To be sure, there is a time for righteous rebuke, but at that time in my life, I was not righteously rebuking; I was poisoning the well with sinful attitudes. As I recall the words you reference, it seems the words spoken to Laodicea could (and perhaps should) have been spoken directly to me in that time of my life. Thank you for your thoughts, brother. God bless.

  4. I cried then and I cried today. God is at work in the world and the lives of friends. It is His body, his church. A body renewed by an unconditional love and lavish grace. I just wish growth did not seem to be proceeded by pain.

    E A Love, words well spoken a truth well exposed.

  5. sherry shoemaker · ·

    Great wisdom, or perhaps it would be better called revelation, Andy. I became convicted in young adulthood that if I spent as much time praying for my church family and those that God had placed over me as I did critiquing them, it would allow the Spirit to more affect change in my life as well as theirs. Humbling, but bathing me in Grace, and washing out some dross.

  6. […] heart, as it did mine.  I remember being in the same place Andy talks about and regretfully in https://edwinandrewlove.wordpress.com/2013/09/04/the-time-to-apologize-has-come/ moments can still drift there.  But by the grace of God, I love the church.  May we love her more and […]

  7. Sheri Beersman · ·

    I don’t even know you. But I wish I did. That was beautifully written, and I am a “newer” person at FBC…but I was there when you left. I think it took some guts to put this out there. I pray that people receive it well…and I esteem you for your willingness to share this. I want our church to be known for its love and how it brings fame to Jesus–nothing more. Thanks for a well-written blog post.

  8. I read this with a lot of interest, as I am in the same boat as the writer of this article. I have one question that I keep asking myself though — at what point do these churches be made to be accountable for these actions and behaviors? I get that we are to confess, repent, and forgive. I really do get that. However, at what point do churches take an honest look in the mirror and say “You know what? WE were wrong?” You see, I have no issue taking responsibility for my individual actions, but I grow real tired of the line “Well, you know the church is made up of imperfect people and we are trying to do our best.” To me, that has become an overused, crutch of an excuse for churches that are more interested in their will than in doing God’s will. Sorry, but I see a great need for corporate repentance rather than always throwing it back on the individual.

    Yes, I know there are plenty of times when a person is wrong, but as I see it, just because the shingle says CHURCH on it does not make that body infallible. Just throwing it out there from my own personal experiences. I’m curious to hear some input and viewpoints on this.

    1. Truly, there are times when the body must be called to repent corporately, but in my situation, my own self-centeredness was making me see problems on a magnified scale and miss the beauty of so much work God was doing in and through the people there. My perceptions became my reality, no matter how imagined they actually were. Thanks for posting, brother. God bless.

  9. Rev Alistair Cook · ·

    Excellent

  10. Good post. I am dealing with a lot of dissatisfaction with the church as well. Will definitely read and re-read this in the future.

  11. Thanks for sharing, Andy. Your family is precious and they have been blessed with a wise and Godly man leading them along the way. Your presence is missed on the stage, but God had better things for you, and for the folks at Freshwater.

  12. I would encourage you to read the book, “A Tale of Three Kings.” It helped me greatly in dealing with similar issues.

  13. sherry shoemaker · ·

    Tom, I guess I want to ask, “What are you wanting a church to be held accountable for?” Are you talking about blatant sin on the part of church members that is being ignored, or applauded? Are you talking about a lack of love, no heart for ministry, or being unfaithful to teaching the Word? Those are much different issues than music style, perceived lack of innovation, and organizational weaknesses. When we have “righteous indignation,” what part is righteous, and what part is just personal indignation?

    In the American church especially, if we aren’t careful, we fall into the general culture’s bent toward consumerism: what meets my standards and fulfills my desires? Community isn’t as important as the individual, namely me. What would church look like if we committed ourselves to a local body not because they fulfill what we are looking for or want them to be, but because it is where we are called to serve?

    Is there a time to “buck the religious system”? You bet. Jesus did. But he wasn’t operating out of self. He was in tune with the Father because of time on his knees and humble obedience, and he modeled a servant’s heart.

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