My name is Jenni, and I’m a recovering Pentecostal. If you haven’t been involved in one of the more extreme “fringe” varieties of the Charismatic / Pentecostal movement, the idea of “recovering” from it might strike you as a little odd. After all, people change church affiliations all the time. What’s the big deal? Honestly, I never expected it to be a big deal. Choosing to leave my former belief system was a very difficult and very personal thing, but once I had made that decision, I thought the hard part was over. I’d cut some ties, make some adjustments, and that would be the end of it. Right?
Well, in a word, no.
When I go to a church service now, I hear the same words as the person who is sitting next to me, yet those words can have completely different connotations to me–things that the speaker never intended to say. When I read the Bible, I hear echoes of things I’ve been taught in the past just as clearly (and sometimes even overpowering) the words in the text. I relate to others, especially pastors and leaders, and even God differently. It is so much a part of me that I don’t always realize that it is happening.
I’ve decided to share some of my story here because so much of what I’ve found on the ‘net hasn’t been that helpful to me on this journey. In many cases, it seems like ex-Pentecostal is synonymous with ex-Christian. This is sad, but I can understand why. I’ve known many former Pentecostals who walked away from Christianity when they walked away from Pentecostalism. I didn’t want to be one of them. I just wanted to get back to basics, to rediscover a genuine relationship with God that wasn’t based on performance, emotion, ritual, or pretending.
I’m not the typical “former Pentecostal.” My introduction to charismatic / Pentecostal things came from the “laughing revival” of the early 90s (a charismatic revival also known as holy laughter, the Toronto Blessing, etc). I met some former members of the United Pentecostal Church (probably the most common background of those who now consider themselves former pentecostals or ex-pentecostals) through one stream of the laughing revival, and — to make a long story short — that’s how I wound up in the UPC myself for a short time. But the majority of my Pentecostal experience comes from churches that would consider themselves “Word of Faith” – churches that taught heavily on authority and positive confession. Churches that, in retrospect, weren’t healthy places to be.
But I wasn’t just a helpless victim of strict legalism and flawed teaching. I am guilty of imposing unrealistic standards on others. I am guilty of judging them. I am guilty of doing just about everything that was done to me. One of the most painful (and most important) parts of my “recovery” so far has been realizing that and taking steps to change it.
Ex-pentecostal groups tend to be extremely negative towards Pentecostals (and Christians in general). I can understand why they feel that way, but I’m trying very hard not to go that route myself. As far as I’m concerned, bashing is a very good way to accomplish exactly the opposite of what you intend: it strengthens the group you are attacking because it gives them one more thing to unify them, and it reinforces your connection to the group because you are allowing a portion of your time and energy to be directed to (and controlled by) them.
Unfortunately, it is inevitable that this site will bring attention to some of the negative aspects of my Pentecostal background… but I took away some very positive things as well. I met some very sincere, very wonderful people whom I still number among my friends. They helped me to grow as a person. They helped me recognize attitudes and character flaws in me that needed to be addressed. I owe them a lot.
Finally, this is not a “how-to” site. I won’t pretend to have all the answers. If you’re a part of a charismatic/Pentecostal group, I’m not going to tell you that you ought to leave. But if you identify with my story and are working through this process yourself, maybe you can find a little encouragement and strength here.