Written by Charles Mercer
I have been out of the traditional church structures for four and a half years now. When I say traditional I mean the charismatic variety, which claims the freedom of Christ for its members and adherents and the “Priesthood of all Believers” but in reality is based on the old wineskins of clergy/laity -leader/non-leader.
My journey has been one of unlearning. I was an elder among team of men for eleven years and previous to that, ran my ‘own’ church among inner city folk on the streets. My philosophy was hard sacrificial work for the sake of “Kingdom Advancement”, even at the cost of the emotional well being of self and family.
I am not bitter about the past or towards the people I worked with in the old systems – yet I often wonder why it took so long for God to lead me out of manmade systems based on traditional understanding of church. It could be that my ears were stopped, as I often had the sense that what I was doing was somehow tainted, especially by ego and the desire for approval – and the more approval I received, the more I desired.
I have had to enter the job market, a huge challenge in South Africa being white and of mature age. I have been constantly in debt and struggling with the knowledge that there is no viable pension. Yet my greatest challenge after leaving the ‘pastorate’ has been psychological.
I have discovered that my seeming inability to make enough money for my family and myself (or at least sustain ourselves in a way that provides enough) is rooted not in the political realities of this country but in my own psyche – and this is where I think I can help ‘professional’ pastors who are coming out of the old wine skins, to renew their mindsets to their new realities.
I hope the following makes sense and can help you, my courageous friend:
-What if I am wrong?
You have left the system and to go back, (which to many is an anathema), means returning to the old ways. Have faith in your decision and work with the results of your decision, both seemingly negative and positive. If you have doubts about your decision, remember the thousands who have left with the same convictions – and these are not men and women who are lightweights, but people of considerable integrity. Stand firm and do not let yourself be burdened by something God never intended for you. Your freedom in Christ is at stake.
-Why aren’t’t I being blessed if I have taken this step? Isn’t that a sign of God’s disfavour?
Becoming a disciple of Jesus cannot be done for the motive of God’s blessing – and in fact we are warned that we will face hardships of many kinds. Your present struggle is in your mind and you can turn this around and make the very struggle the blessing! Paul speaks of his discovery that contentment can be found in any situation. I read an article recently (in a secular magazine!) that true contentment is a slow demanding process, but can be obtained over time through instituting four elements in your life: Giving, absorption (learning an activity or skill leading to a state of unselfconsciousness), meditation (meaning prayer for us, but perhaps with a meditative and kinder style than aggression and ‘strong men take the kingdom’) and gratitude.
Practice these four elements consistently and you will find that your mind will be transformed and your life take on new meaning.
These are all strongly biblical elements and apart from the fact that the article was secular (and I have lost the source of the article, but can find it if you are interested).
-Am I a betrayer?
It is often difficult when you see people from your old community and look at the hurt in their eyes. The words, ‘we miss you so much’ (along with a barb of guilt) will often bring up the old emotions – and this can lead to self-condemnation and unhealthy self-examination.
I had a call on Christmas day from a member of the community I belonged to. “I just wanted to let you know that I have forgiven your betrayal and am praying for your return to Jesus”. Needless to say, I had a rush of anger, but realized in time that this man was trapped in a community that has enormous cultic elements – ‘groupism’ at its worst.
No, you are not a betrayer. The only thing you have betrayed is an old wineskin. In fact you have great integrity and courage, because your heart is set on finding the true church, the new wineskin for a new move of God. You are seeking greater understanding of these vital issues. You have put God, and not people, first!
For myself, I could never have done this in the old wineskin. It has taken me four years to overcome the brainwashing, the ‘Christianese’ language, the assumptions, the unstated belief that the group I belonged to was the only true one; the divisions in the body, the rote and the boredom, the fleshly planning of events in order to whip people into the ‘one true church group’. It is now that my eyes are lifted and I am beginning to see with a clarity that is astounding. The cloak of religion has fallen to my feet and I am loving those who have never heard the gospel, in ways I never thought possible. And Jesus has become so real, almost tangible.
This might also seem strange as well and might be misunderstood, but I am far more in touch with self, and beginning to love what God is doing in my life. No longer do I have to be the hypocrite, the actor, the pastor with a title – I can be me. Because of this, I am beginning to discover my own sinful nature, now not concealed by legalistic intrigue, but out in the open for all to see. This does not mean that I am in sin, but my gratitude to Jesus who came to rescue those who needed rescuing, has increased exponentially. Although I belonged to a so-called ‘grace movement’, and preached the grace of God as if I really knew it in my innermost parts, I now realise that religious people have no concept of grace. It is always the other person who needs the grace. Now I know it’s me! I desperately need it and my joy is made full in receiving it!
May the God of all life bless you on this exciting journey of faith.