Finding Church

By | December 19, 2015

Back in March 2013, I resigned from the United Christian Church of Dubai. I had been a member for four years.  I see no need to rehash the reasons I left, suffice it to say that I was disillusioned and disenfranchised.

In September 2013, six and one-half months after I had emailed my letter of resignation to the church leadership, I was removed from their membership rolls. We never did receive any type of notification of this action from church leadership; my wife discovered the news from talking to a friend who had attended the membership meeting.

After hearing the news, I wrote a blog article that can be read here. In part I said:
“That chapter in my life is now closed.  Perhaps I will write about it in detail at some point, but for the present I am happy to move on.  I now have some strong opinions on what a local church should not look like, I am still formulating what it should look like.  I have some thoughts on this and am trusting God to lead me to other like-minded believers.  I will write more on this in the future.”

Baptized as a child in the Lutheran church, I presently attend an Anglican church.  In between I have attended scores of different Protestant churches, including Evangelical Covenant, Evangelical Free, Baptist, several different types of Charismatic churches-varying in degrees of craziness, Community Churches, and a Presbyterian (PCA) church. I guess after 57 years you could say I have been around the block a time or two.  I have learned from every church I have attended, and have probably learned the most at the churches I would say were the worst.

Included in this list would be Bethesda Christian Center, a charismatic church in Wenatchee, WA, where the Business Manager was robbing the church blind and, as a result, served some time in prison.  The building is now a furniture store!  See below.

1 Bethesda furniture

Here is a brief summary of what went down while I attended Bethesda:

“Bethesda Christian Center at Wenatchee, Wash. — a gospel church, radio station, school, magazine publishing house, college, and gasoline station — was jolted in January 1980, when more than $1 million was reported missing and administrator James Eyre was jailed on embezzlement charges. About $340,000 that members lent to the church has vanished, authorities said. So has nearly $1 million that members put into deals such as diamond investments.”
Source: “The God Biz” by James Haught

Another church included in this list is Sovereign Grace Church of Gilbert, AZ, pictured below.

2015-8-30 Sov Grace Gilbert front entrance

To my knowledge none of the sexual abuse that Sovereign Grace Ministries/Sovereign Grace Churches is infamous for took place at the Gilbert church. Generally, I liked the church, although I did find it a bit weird that men such as Steve Shank were called “apostles.”  (Apparently one of the jobs of apostle Shank was to seek legal counsel to see whether it was legal for the chief apostle, C.J. Mahaney, to blackmail people.

I also was uncomfortable the way church members and leaders worshipped C.J. Mahaney when he showed up as a guest speaker.

The straw that broke the camel’s back for me was when we were called in for a meeting with Glynn McKenzie, an assistant pastor in charge of Care Groups.  Our Care Group had been steadily bleeding members due to the intrusive “sin-sniffing” implemented by the new leader. (I should add that this “sin-sniffing” was common among all Care Groups in the Sovereign Grace Churches, to what extent it was carried out depended on the leader of the group.)  I along with several others felt quite uncomfortable with the overall tone of the meetings and over the course of time we all started missing meetings in an ever increasing rate. Attendance was so poor that church leadership made the decision to disband our Care Group.  McKenzie called in all the couples who were a part of the Care Group for a meeting in his office, couple by couple, to reportedly “explain” what was happening.  In reality, it turned into a chastisement for our poor attendance and lack of dedication.  Never shy to voice my opinion on matters, I raised some questions that McKenzie had trouble answering.  Apparently accustomed only to compliant subjects, McKenzie lost his cool with me and actually shouted at me, telling me that if I wasn’t going to attend Care Group regularly I should find another church.  McKenzie apologized to me the following Sunday, but his apology rang hollow.  Figuring I had seen the man’s true character I decided I wanted no part of a church that was that authoritative.  We quit a few months later.  McKenzie was apparently just the type of leader Sovereign Grace Ministries was looking for because soon after we left he was promoted to the position of Senior Pastor at Grace Community Church in the Denver area!

I got a brief break from institutional church madness as I attended a small Baptist church in my little town of Casa Grande, AZ.

Soon I moved to Dubai and started attending UCCD.  Originally I was quite impressed with the preaching of John Folmar.  I knew nothing of the 9Marks organization, church covenants, Mark Dever or their church polity of “congregationalism run by a “plurality” of elders.”   After 4 years attending UCCD I knew what the game was and I wasn’t liking it.  My wife and I had been Care Group leaders for about three years and we had decided we were going to end our involvement; to that end I had scheduled a meeting with an assistant pastor in charge of Care Groups to tell him that we would continue leading until the end of the school year, but then we would be done.  As Providence would have it, I had actually emailed our letter of resignation prior to the scheduled meeting.  We became just another number in an ever-growing list of disillusioned people who had formerly attended UCCD that, turned off by heavy-handed discipline and the authoritative atmosphere, left in search of a better expression of Christianity.

2009-7-31 Church row

As I mentioned in my article quoted above – after 57 years I have a pretty good idea of what a church should not look like.

Before I leave the subject of authoritative churches listen to this gem. Here is a former pastor who now runs a business which helps churches become financially sucessful. Do you think it’s OK for a pastor to be all up into your finances as this guy suggests? What he is suggesting, (and apparently many pastors are heeding his advice) sounds more like what you would expect in the Mormon church, not the Evangelical church.

In my search for a better way I  have come across this book:

Finding Church: What if There Really is Something More?

Finding Church: What if There Really is Something More?

What Wayne Jacobsen said favorably impressed me.  I think there really is something more than the typical way we “do church.”  I urge you to watch the interview of Jacobsen below.  I believe what he says will resonate with any sincere Christian.

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[…] wife grew up. I lived there for a few years myself and had my first bad church experience there.  You can read about that here. I do not know Josh McPherson, but I do know a few individuals that I attended Bethesda Christian […]

Bill M

Funny, I just finished “Church Refugee’s” and am a third of the way through UNleader. On page 35 was the following excerpt:

“To follow Jesus means to follow him in the way he treated people, regardless of their social status or what they could give him in return. It means to follow his gentleness, humility, kindness, and love in the most strident of circumstances. Following Jesus means treating the people that you work with on a daily basis with goodness and brotherly love.”

That simple formulation would have prevented so much of the mistreatment I saw in the church that I had attended for decades. I left because I couldn’t change it and could not continue association with such misuse of people.

Bill M

I also read Wayne Jacobsen’s book some some four to six months ago. I greatly favor what he describes but I don’t know anyone involved in such a non-enterprise. At 61 is it harder for me try something new, it is also hard for my wife and friends, even though many of them are similarly disillusioned.

The next generations of believers can do a lot better than the institutional church that absorbed so many of my years. Maybe that is one of the reasons for the success of the church in China, the persecution kept it small and stripped away the institution.

I’m more than curious where your journey takes you.

A. Amos Love

Todd

What a wonderful interview with Wayne.

Yes – What he said impressed me also.