Since stepping out of the organized church system, much has happened. The Neighborhood Transformation Project was birthed. I have communicated with many churches, ministries and believers around the country. Many churches have come and gone. Megachurch leadership falling like dominos and people leaving the organized church system in droves. I have found many believers outside the system who have a deeper faith than when they were inside the system. Former elders, pastors, mover and shakers including myself have left a system that can suck the life out of good people. Lots of pain, lots of hurts, yet a sense of relief and freedom from the bureaucracy and politics of maintaining a church system. You can still find them contributing to the local community, but titles are gone and once again they can live as human beings. It can be very lonely not being in the business or limelight of a system that can elevate you to hero status one moment and bring you down the next. The one thing we all miss most is not having a place to congregate with other believers. It is tempting to go back, but when we attempt to go back to a church, we see and run into the same trappings that caused us to leave the system in the first place.
Thom Shultz article called “Rise of the Dones” crystalizes what I have been saying for years. Check it out. It is a good read. http://holysoup.com/2014/11/12/the-rise-of-the-dones/
As I continued to look for solutions, As I visited and researched a myriad of different churches from traditional to the new megachurches, church startups at the middle school of your choice, denominational and independents, the the oddest thing happened. Someone invited me to a sunday breakfast at a little congregation on an acre of land in the middle of the orlando. I didn’t have anything better to do so I showed up expecting the same thing I had seen a hundred times. The meeting building was an old modular. In another modular they had a tiny kitchen and eating area. The front and back were unkempt. People were milling around, saying hi to me like what you might experience at a family reunion. O no I thought. A cult. You know. Real friendly on the front end and mass control on the backend. I expected something behind it, so I was cautious and ready. It turned out it was quite to the contrary. This was real.
I picked up a plate of not the best tasting pancakes the men made for the ladies of the congregation. I sat down at a long table, in an old metal chair located where a group of men were sitting. I listened as they were talking about their experiences with their faith and how they had to leave because they asked the “wrong” questions. These were former leaders in their churches who became dissatisfied with the controls, politics and lack of biblical discourse. I began to interview them one by one asking why did you leave and why are you here. One by one they began to tell their story. All of them had been challenged by their leadership when they began to ask uncomfortable questions. Why are we doing things this way?, why are we ignoring church history. They had all left the church system trying to find their way.
They all ended up at this gathering, from many backgrounds, various ages, young and old, a mixture of ethnic cultures and from various church congregations. It must have lasted two hours at minimum. No one seemed to be in a hurry to go anywhere, which I thought unusual in itself.
The gentleman who was the natural leader in the group did not refer the title “Pastor” to himself, but you could clearly see had that gift and was the spiritual leader of the group. He never dominated the conversation or lead it. It was like being at a neighborhood barbecue where the guys were hanging around talking about football. except these men were talking about life and the scriptures. Nothing scripted, no book study, no time limit. The respect they had for me as an individual caught my attention. I know the difference. I had been greeted at the door of so many churches. Most felt like a sales pitch. Heck I used to do the same thing. I know the process.
At this breakfast I didn’t have to prove anything. There was no sales pitch, no agenda thrown at me. They didn’t try to sell me on their Ministry. This was different than anything I had seen in a long time. This gathering did not behave like a church, but a community of believers who just wanted to be free to follow their creator. This got my attention.
I had to find out more.