For many years I just believed what someone told me was true, especially if that someone was in a position of authority over me. I heard the rhetoric, took it in, and towed the line on so many issues thinking that they must know more and I should just follow…blindly. Sooner or later, though, eyes open wide and the real truth is learned through struggle, heartache, and pain. I learned a great many things that I had was told were true were nothing more than preferences, and what some churches consider doctrines of the faith are nothing more than constructs creating divisions between the haves and the have-nots. Issues such as water baptism, laying on of hands, speaking in tongues, dancing or singing in the Spirit, worship, the hierarchy of church leadership, and many others, really have nothing to do with the salvation of our souls. The requirements for salvation are simply the admission that you are a sinner and the acceptance of Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. That is it…nothing less and nothing more. The thief on the cross did not get baptized, either in water or the Holy Spirit and he did not go through a series of classes to be included among the chosen few who were members of the congregation. He didn’t even say the words, “I’m a sinner, please save me”. All he said was, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom,” and Jesus’ response was, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” Nothing more than that. Jesus wasn’t looking at the criminal hanging on the cross, ragged and bloodied and filthy and waiting to hear the right words; he was looking at the heart of a lost soul crying out for healing. All too often churches, and Christians for that matter, focus more on the outward appearance and position of people in their midst rather than at the heart of a sinner hiding within needing mercy and grace. We are all sinners and we all need Jesus.
Churches have their place and purpose and serve a great need in training up believers so they can go out into the wilds beyond the four walls and reach out to those who are still lost. Some have asked over the years how my wife and I could have fallen so far away from the church, as if it was the church that kept us safe and saved. While it is true that we have not been tied to a church body for nearly 16 years, we have not lost our faith – and that is what really matters. We have learned over the past years as we attended different churches that the relationships we were forming had only one common denominator: the church. We were not becoming brothers and sisters in Christ, we were brothers and sisters in the church…if you attended all the services, activities, and functions. If you did not then you were not a part of the community, just a straggler and not committed enough to matter (I have heard that phrase spoken out loud). Christianity is not centered on a church, however. It is centered on a man, Jesus Christ, and that man did not live behind the walls of a church waiting for people to come and find Him. He lived out among them in the seedy streets and on the weary roads they traveled looking for truth, honesty, and hope. That is what we have been doing these 16 odd years. Trying to live out the example of Christ to the fallen world we live in, recognizing that we are fallen as well and just as much in need of a savior each and every day. We have learned far more outside the walls of the church than we ever would have within.
I have not gone back to pastoring and I doubt if I ever will. One of my earliest memories of church life was the older ladies from my childhood church always telling me that I should be a pastor some day. It was really their way of telling me they liked what I had done in Sunday school or what I had written, (yes, even at seven or eight I was writing!). My young impressionable mind, craving acceptance and longing to be loved, had carried their words through the years and made into a calling something that never really was. This is not to say that I do not have a calling. I believe that we all have a purpose and reason for being that was planted in us from the very beginning, even before we were knit together. I understand that I have gifts in teaching and administration and helping and that I also have a creative nature and a love for words and how they can be put together to convey meaning. These gifts do not necessarily add up to ‘pastor’ and I have realized that I do not have to be a pastor in order to fulfill my purpose. Maybe someday the Lord will lead us back to a church we can call home, but our gifts have not gone unused while we’ve been away. There are many lost souls out here in the wilds who will never enter or even approach the doors of any church.