church thoughts – from April, 2003

I’m cleaning up a personal web site where I had the following story posted from April, 2003. I wanted to keep it as a reminder for myself, so I’m re-posting here. This was from the earlier years of our journey in rethinking what it means to simply, truly, follow Jesus, and I apologize up front for sounding a little “know it all” – ha! It’s kinda like the 17-yr-old who thinks he knows so much (naw, I didn’t do that! 🙂 ), and then he gets into his 20’s and realizes he’s not so smart. This post runs along similar themes as others, but I’m coming to believe the encouragement to “just gather” is worthy:

April, 2003

Christine and I are rediscovering the beauty, challenge, and adventure of being part of God’s church. We gather with friends in homes. We worship God, pray to him with others, and see his power change us. The words of the bible are read with fresh simplicity. We are finding ourselves walking through this life with newfound intimacy and dependency on God, ever growing, week after month after year. And we are learning the patient art of building loving, trusting relationships with others.

If you find yourself longing for these things, I encourage you to begin gathering with people and doing them. I have come to believe that if we are not experiencing the allusive sense of “community” with others, it may be that we have only ourselves to blame. All too often we willingly sign up to spend countless hours, energy and resources on activities that are not taking us where our hearts have been leading us. And many times as believers in Jesus we give incredibly to building church businesses, only to find that the really important things (above) are missing from our lives. I spent about 20 years doing it myself (starting ministries, churches, small groups, etc.) before finally stepping off the merry-go-round long enough to seek answers to the deeper longings in my heart. God is doing many great and wonderful things through church businesses, but don’t be fooled into thinking this is his endorsement of that model for gathering with other believers. He’ll use us imperfect humans any and every way he can, and there is no mandated model for gathering with believers in the New Testament. When you start taking an objective look at the popular church business approach, you’ll find it quite difficult to support much of any of it from scripture. And worse, many parts of the generic design are working against the essence of what God’s church is all about.

For the last several years my wife and I have been seeking God’s direction in this, and seeking out others with the same passion. We discovered something that we weren’t prepared for: God is quite free with encouragement on the topic, and the people are everywhere! We gather locally several times a month with them, and we even “gather” periodically with remote friends through planned phone calls who are also on this incredible journey of rediscovering the meaning of being the church as opposed to going to church. It didn’t happen over night, and in fact has taken several years to get to this point.

If you are at all inclined, I hope you begin such a journey. Or maybe you just need to get back to it. Either way, I’m convinced you’ll never be the same – for good! If you’ve spent a lot of years involved in the common church businesses of today, and you have many friends there, be prepared for a bit of a wild ride for the first few years. It can be downright frightening to seriously re-evaluate something you’ve held dear for so long, especially when it comes to the things of God. Our fellow believers will not always be kind, so you’ll have lots of opportunities to practice forgiveness. But press through till you get back to the core basics of what it means to be a follower of Jesus and part of the family of God. And you’ll see what I’m talking about – that God is putting this on the hearts of many. I won’t say it’s for everyone. In fact, if you have no inclination for this, and you feel God has put you in the midst of the life and times of a particular church business, then may you continue to prosper there in all that God has for you. But for the others, join us in going back to our bibles and taking a fresh look at the life experienced by the New Testament church – and seek it with all your heart! The rewards are deep and lasting – like coming home.

At first it can be tough to find resources on this, but they are there. We’re interested to know how others are finding success in this journey, such as:

  • how church gatherings and structure are becoming simpler and more true to the message of the gospel
  • how the emphasis on good relationships is being lived out
  • how leadership hierarchies are being stripped away to reflect a truer image of the church as Jesus and the first church modeled it
  • how the trappings of church businesses (buildings, equipment, payrolls, formalities, traditions, by-laws and non-profit requirements, fund raisers, over-busy evenings and weekends – all the stuff that has everything to do with growing a business, but nothing to do with being the church) are being avoided
  • how believers are experiencing worship, prayer, bible study, the power and gifts of his Spirit – in “new” models of simple structure with freedom (new to many of us, but not new under the sun)
  • how believers are getting freed up from a so-called Christian sub-culture and integrating more in the lives of those outside the church

In the grand scheme of things, we’re on the early stages of our understanding, but are very encouraged to press on as God keeps disclosing more. And when God brings you new life in some aspect of this journey (expect it often) – share it with us!

Blessings on you,
Page Hamilton

3 Replies to “church thoughts – from April, 2003”

  1. “God is doing many great and wonderful things through church businesses, but don’t be fooled into thinking this is his endorsement of that model for gathering with other believers. He’ll use us imperfect humans any and every way he can”

    Right there is the answer to the questions my wife would ask of me early on in our exodus-“is going to church *bad*? isn’t God working in the church and in the pastor?”
    She had a hard time with what is ‘God’s best’ and what is just ‘God working with people where they are’. I would share how Frank Viola says it’s like the Israelites when they asked for a human king. God wanted to be their King, but He gave them what they wanted and worked with them anyway. They did not have God’s best, but they still had God.

  2. Thank you, Page, for the grace which you demonstrate in your handling of this issue. I am one, like yourself, (although much newer in the process of ‘leaving religion and all of its shenanigans’ behind), who has grown gratefully disillusioned with “church”.

    I am a strong lover of Papa, and my family no longer attends any religious establishment. While this portion of my journey out of religion and into relationship, hasn’t necessarily been easy, it has been so rewarding for me personally. I am refreshed by your true attitude of grace, as it seems that many who’ve walked away carry a bit of bitterness toward the whole thing, and seem to want to “strike back” at their offender, the ‘church’ (which is really just the man-made system). While I DO understand that, I do not wish to do the same. I certainly don’t mind pointing out misguided beliefs and practices, and I do that myself, but I hope to express the kind of grace which I feel here. Now, I simply want to move on, and discover what lies ahead.

    As far as where we are… well, my only connection to others, who in this same boat, has been online. I’m praying for Papa to bring those real live tangible relationships, and trusting that He will.

    My husband is not exactly in the same place as me, as far as our revelation on the subject, but he seems to agree with my general conclusions. (not that he has to) Anyways, just wanted to say thanks for this post, and it’s nice to know of another free-believing family out there.

  3. Hello Free,

    Thanks for your kind words. But let’s be honest, we’ve dealt with a lot of anger and bitterness over the years, too. I’ve had a couple of my own massive heart munchings at the hands of men in church businesses (and I’m sure I did some munching myself). Once around 1985, and then again in 1996 with my wife. It was the second one that finally put me over the top and I realized something about this picture had to change. As we’ve been here in the Northwest gathering with others, we all nursed our bitterness in the early years. Lots of forgiveness, over and over again, and still I can bring back the pain if I really want to. But like you, I don’t want to. We don’t want to get to the end and wonder what life might have been like had we really let it go; had we really let him have it his way, eh? Somewhere along the way we all realized we weren’t so bitter anymore. Not really sure how it happened, just the grace of God I guess.

    Blessings on your journey. I glanced at your blog – lots to take in there, will take a longer look and let the Lord prompt prayers for you and family.

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