Imagine calling yourself a Christian who struggles to go to church.
“Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile.”Billy Sunday
I often heard the Billy Sunday quote from many Pastors & Evangelists; in an appeal to the unconverted to make a choice to become a Christian and follow the teachings of Jesus. The quote was light hearted and made the obvious point. I’m not sure how things morphed as the years went by as Ministers no longer believed the quirky but obvious illustration.
Growing up as an ignorant and superstitious migrant in Australia, I’ve had a fundamental belief in God as long as I remember. Perhaps epic movies like 1956 Ten Commandments or the 1977 Jesus of Nazareth gave me a sense of God in a fresh way when I was in my early teens. It never had anything to do with church or doctrine.
Up until the age of seventeen, I would go to church once a year at Easter. Firstly I would go to the morning service to partake of communion followed by midnight mass along with the rest of the Greek Community. This experience was a great bonding agent as many of the new migrants assembled through this and other festive seasons. These get togethers definitely didn’t classify me and the rest of the crowd as followers of Jesus but simply bonded us from the displacement of our mother country.
At seventeen years of age I made a conscious decision to become a devout Christian, I’m not sure if there is any other kind. I joined a local Pentecostal Church and this caused all sorts of complications with my Greek / Macedonian family and extended family. The church seemed progressive, with upbeat music, brilliant speakers and an outreach program second to none. We were all young and zealous about our new found faith.
For the next few years I kept my innocence and loved the community I was part of. We walked it, talked it and promoted the simple message of Christ and the new life that we can experience through Him and His gift of redemption.
How did they become a cult, and how did I get so brainwashed?
Simply, it became a matter of a misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular thing: WHAT THING?
CHURCH AS THEY DEFINED IT
No longer did Billy Sunday’s quote make you laugh, but now it was part of the indoctrination. They wanted you to be a car locked up in their garage.
No longer was the appeal to the seeker, or the unconverted, that, we Christians exemplify Jesus through our actions of unconditional love, service, perseverance, mercy and every other beautiful attribute of Jesus. It was as though, CHURCH, became the measuring stick of a persons service of faith, not faith itself in the undeserving gift of God’s salvation through Jesus. No longer was God the judge of all humanity, but, the CHURCH was now the judge of someone’s eternal soul.
Why did I allow them to manipulate me?
The best way I can describe the abuse is through a simple idea, I slowly gave away my spiritual birthright to maintain my place in the Church community. It’s as though I reverted back to being an ignorant and superstitious migrant and it reminded me of my Greek community that I left in my teens. We assembled to belong until we no longer felt like we belonged. We outgrew our poverty, we outgrew our village mindset and we outgrew other peoples expectations of us, yet we all remained being Greek / Macedonian.
Back to the toxic church, I questioned the leaders and they couldn’t give me any cohesive answers. They questioned my loyalty, my motives and my integrity.
When I challenged the leaders about what makes us Christians, they rallied together to demonize me as a heretic. They didn’t even take into consideration my twenty one years of unblemished Christian service.
This was my first encounter with a Toxic Culture that would leave me completely at odds with organized religion. Even after twenty years, I’m still effected by the ruthless behavior of the leaders of that organization.
It made me question my personal faith, ‘The Faith’ and the faith of others.
Let’s Fasttrack to today, and what has happened over the last twenty years since I was ostracized by the Leaders & the Church Community. What happened to my Christianity?
I can honestly say, I am still a devout Christian, meaning I have never been more committed to my faith in Jesus. As for CHURCH, well that’s another story. I have more Christian friends than I have ever had, even Ministers. I joke with many of them why I can’t dedicate myself to their church communities, saying “I can’t join your church because I will take it over” or, “You don’t want me in your church, I’m too overbearing when it comes to wanting things a particular way”. All these comments are shared with a light heart as I seek opportunities to bless these church communities and their ministers.
What I learned through my horrendous experience with what was once beautiful community of believers which evolved into nothing more than a gentlemen’s club on steroids! This church group makes the satirical movie Anchor Man seem true rather than a mockery of absolute absurdity.
Lessons I learned and was able to use in my current business of LEADERSHIP & Personal Development,
- Families can and do develop similar toxic environments to the church I left twenty years ago. Parents don’t know when to let go of their children in their desire to be the ultimate parents. They end up being overbearing and controlling as their children become more inquisitive about life. I know I went through this with my children and am forever learning to let go of them, trusting that my wife and I raised them with the right values to make a great life for themselves.
- Corporations can and do develop similar toxic environments to the church I left twenty years ago. Business owners, managers, founders, leaders who started with nothing and end up developing something significant can become toxic. These individuals often believe the world owes them something and forget where they have come from. They don’t allow those coming through the ranks the wings to fly for themselves.
- The key lesson I learned through my horrendous Church experience is, we are free to believe what we want to believe and there are consequences to our actions.
As for my faith, it continues to get stronger as I go back to basics.
I do believe in a benevolent God who is the architect of the Cosmos.
I do believe that He sent His only begotten Son, Jesus to live among us, teach us the full nature of God and die on a cross for our sins.
I do believe the words of Jesus to go into all the world and spread the Good News and train others to do the same.
I believe that Jesus is coming back again and He uses the vehicle of the church, His body to serve humanity in the ways of God.
I also believe the Devil and Evil is real who seeks to destroy all that is wholesome in the Cosmos. One of the most insidious tools of the Devil is to create a counterfeit message of the Truth. I believe I am a witness of this counterfeit message and it’s lie that leads to destruction and hopelessness. The lie begins when we break the first commandment, loving God with all our heart mind and soul. Subsequently we create idols or substitute a throne where God belongs. When Church, or anyone else’s approval is the prerequisite of someone’s good standing with God, the rest is a slippery road to hopelessness.
From Genesis to Revelations, God has always made it simple. By faith and nothing else, let God be true.
Hebrews 11:8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.
If you are a Christian who struggles to belong, God has never left you and He will continue to lead you even though you feel like you have no idea where you are going. That’s not a bad thing!
Everything has a context, so does my story as does yours. Here is little bit of my context,
Over the last forty one years. I was a Pastor for eighteen years who pioneered three churches. I was an Evangelist for three and a half years who travelled around the world teaching and preaching to over one hundred church communities. I took over a split church that destroyed families and I tried to pick up the pieces. I was a Corporate Chaplain for seven years in the high rise construction industry. I worked with Christian a orphanage in India for three years trying to understand the curse of poverty and children being used as financial fodder. I still preach from time to time wherever I am asked to help build wholesome communities. I am passionate about men’s mental health, in particular high achievers, drug addicts and prisoners. I am CEO of a Chamber of Commerce and mentor to young men in leadership. In everything I do, I hope to reflect Jesus and lead people to His eternal Hope.
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Your brother in Christ
The following is a short 12 minute message I shared in a local church during the Lock Downs in 2020. Your best days are always ahead of you, if God is first, no matter your circumstances.