Find, attend, and work in a quality church.
As previously stated Jen and I grew up in an extremely strict form of the Plymouth Brethren. The women wore dresses, we were expected to marry in the group, no TV, no organized sports, and no Christmas just to name a few of the more unusual rules. We have many family members that still attend this church group. I left at age 26. Here is the story as to why we left.
As a young man I’ve always desired to build. I wanted to build our church to have a positive impact so I worked hard with the youth group in my own goofy way. My huge light green Ford LTD car was a classic. Dozens upon dozens of the “young people” aka teenagers in our church were transported to camp, the beach, sings (gatherings to sing Christian hymns), Bible conferences, and Bible studies in that green car. Despite a lot of immaturity and zero training I wanted to see these kids appreciate God. However, nothing I did felt effective as teenager after teenager left the church. Many not only left the church but left God altogether. Still I was very dedicated to this group. For example, I typed out in a pre-PC computer more than 250 hymns and published the groups hymn book with my own money. Our group didn’t believe in accepting other hymnals from outside Christian groups. A few years later I made another and expanded the hymn book to around 350 hymns. I also made Gospel door hangers and distributed them throughout the community. Only one person showed up.
Around age 19 and before engineering school, I started a company in CAD Drafting which resulted having a bit of money ~$4K/mo. Since I didn’t pay my taxes more out of sloppiness than real tax avoidance I was able to throw money around by funding various outings for the church kids. I also bought a new red sports car when my parents took a trip out of town. Later I move out of my parent’s home and into a nice apartment with one chair and a massive stereo system. I started to grow very pessimistic about church. Then I met my awesome wife and my life changed.
I shut down my little company to attend the University of Washington in Electrical engineering and working part time for my father. My life became engineering school, writing love letters, long phone calls, and then marriage. Jen and I quickly grew the family to two daughters much to the consternation of the engineer I worked for. He was a hard core environmentalist biking over 15 miles to work each morning. After our 2nd daughter he sat me down and asked how many kids we intended to have.
I was very busy and so I participated only lightly in church which was held in a dilapidated old building in Marysville, Washington. Most Plymouth Brethren assemblies have no set pastor and so men of the congregation speak and so I started to take advantage of this freedom – pessimism and all. I began to only see the failures in these simple Christians.
When one brother (a brother is a fellow Christian man) would say that God does not require us to give a 10% tithe, rather God wants are all (which is true) I would follow by saying, “yes but, based on the estimated weekly donations in this assembly and our estimated personal income we appear to be giving less than 1% so apparently our all is less than 1% of our money.” Silence followed my inappropriate comment.
Through our political and charitable work on Pro-life issues I grew to appreciate other Christians and less tolerant of the “exclusive” attitude. I went to a Billy Graham crusade knowing full well it was looked down upon to attend other “church” events since this group claimed to be the only group the Lord “gathered” to. Another brother took me to task in a special meeting for the crusade attendance – so I snapped back “Is Billy Graham of God or not?”
However, despite my increasingly and sinful pugnacious attitude mixed with hubris and inappropriate comments, I never seriously considered leaving. The end came surprisingly quickly.
Groups that are rigid tend to be brittle and fragment when faced with common problems and so it was with our little strict sect. There arose a debate about head coverings and church authority in two churches in Eastern Canada by people I barely knew. Many debates are not fought based on the rightness or wrongness of an issue but rather on who has the authority to make the decision. So it was that not only were the original churches divided but other churches in our sect were forced to choose a side including our church. My family was kicked out by the conservative side in a special meeting. My father and I attended the final meeting where they announced our removal. In the grand scheme of things it was a nothing, but it felt massive at the time. So a word of advice is to keep God’s big picture in mind and small minded politics will be easier to handle.
It was very painful especially when family groups were split. Even though my family was quite conservative we ended up with the liberals and were shunned by the family members on the other side – even by some of the most decent sweet people you could imagine of whom I have nothing but positive memories. Now I use the term liberal very loosely because we were still more conservative than 99% of Christian churches.
It seemed like only a few months had passed post-split when my liberal group decided that an evangelist in a different town needed to be kicked out of the church because they didn’t agree with his method of evangelization. Many of the people who took this position I loved and appreciated (still do) but I wondered had they lost their minds? I’d finally had enough and believed that with this attitude nothing of value was going to be built. I highlighted the following verse.
Psalms 133:1 “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”
I wrote this new PB splintered church a letter reaffirming my belief that unity is not only a doctrine but a pretty important one at that. It’s critically important in marriage as well. The letter stated that if they kicked out the evangelist, I would leave with my family. They proceeded. We left and my sin of hubris started to turn into a sinful slow moral corrosion. I had to learn that it is possible to be both right and wrong at the same.
Hebrews 10:23-25 Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
Jen and I then went church shopping.
We first attended a little Missionary Alliance church near our home. The church was such a blessing as the young pastor Bryce and his wife were very kind and genuine people. Here is an example of the reality they brought to the church. The pastor started a series on marriage. After two weeks he announced that his wife told him he needed to work on his marriage before preaching on it, so he promptly switched series. I was surprised and happy to see someone unafraid of the truth.
After moving to the Bay Area we found a church we started to call home. The teaching was good and the people were great. However, the church leadership was hyper focused on money. They actually decided to do a complete financial analysis of their giving patterns. In their financial meeting they had giving broken out by age, location, and service. They determined that those between the ages of 45 and 55 gave the most in a particular neighborhood. Therefore, they decided to target that neighborhood advertising and programs that would be attractive to this age group. This church got so focused on money that my friend Mike and I spent time coming up with sarcastic funding ideas during the break. For example: A giving basket with integrated Square-style credit card reader, being the first church to have an initial public offering, living wills, the first internet church with on-line tithing (the internet was new back then). Sadly, most of our hilarious ideas are now implemented somewhere in the USA.
Jen and I decided to search for another Missionary Alliance and found another delightful church in the Almaden Valley pastored by Ted Swinburne.
A little off topic, but I really shouldn’t be too critical of money and church. It was Thanksgiving time around 1977 (age 9) and our Toledo Plymouth Brethren assembly was holding a Bible Conference at the University of Toledo. My buddy Ernie and I decided to sell the free coffee instead of walking around and serving it to the 1000 or more Brethren in attendance as we were required to do. Most of the locals laughed when we asked for a quarter and refused, but we scored on the out-of-towners. After an hour the crowd started to thin out so we could count our earnings. I’m pretty sure we split less than $20 but we felt filthy rich. That’s when the Cafeteria Boss, Scott, showed up and read us the riot act and told us to return the money. So we went back to the first couple of folks that paid and they laughed and refused to take the money back – so we stop trying and pocketed it all.
Back on topic, after our 2nd move to California we went to a great teaching church for about six months but it was so big and had so many services we weren’t able to connect with anyone. We eventually left because it was more like a seminar than a real church.
As we moved from one church home to another following my employment I left significant gaps in my Church attendance. I drifted away from God much to Jennifer’s dismay. Through the years I had drifted into two people at the same time – a straight up Christian and a morally deficient executive. It was clear I needed God back in my life and the support of his Church. I had to come to the realization that I was not a man of faith. In me, in you, and in everyone else there is an Old Man, a little socialist, trying to get something for nothing, unappreciative, and in constant rebellion.
During this low spot in my Christian walk, we found Hillview. A great church should teach the Word of God and have a first love for the Lord. It should feel and offer support like a family. A great church needs to have ample room for the gifts of a deficient high tech executive and the gifts of a high school dropout struggling with drugs. A great church has unity and a common purpose filled with hard workers. Finally, don’t seek the perfect church or a church you agree with on every point. Seek a Strong Church – more on that later.