Even though I didn’t want to leave Christianity entirely, I was very faithful in church avoidance for several weeks after I left that large, mainstream Pentecostal church. I think I just wanted a vacation. I struggled with many things in the immediate aftermath of my departure(s). Initially, I felt like churches in general, and specifically the ones I had been involved with, had let me down in some fundamental and unforgivable way. I was bitter. I doubted the integrity of everyone who was even remotely associated with those kinds of groups. I was glad to hear about anything difficult or publicly embarrassing that happened in their lives or ministries. I said and did things for the purpose of hurting the people I used to consider part of the “family.”
In short, I was turning into exactly what I didn’t want to be… and I was miserable.
I didn’t have one of those dramatic turn-around moments. I didn’t see any bright light or get knocked off my horse. It didn’t take any great revelation or deep insight… I just realized that going from one situation where I was miserable to another situation where I was miserable wasn’t really an improvement.
It was time for a change. I wanted to start over.
I wasn’t even sure if I was technically a Christian anymore. I had often heard it said that Baptists believe in ‘once saved, always saved.’ For a Pentecostal, it was more like ‘once saved, barely saved.’ Losing your salvation was a daily danger, something to be vigilant against… and leaving the church was one of those sins that pretty much guaranteed the loss of your salvation.
I also wasn’t sure what I believed about God anymore. I had a lot of conflicting teaching floating around in my head. What about all that supernatural stuff? How much of it had been real? Was it even important?
When I started looking for a new church again, my expectations were very different. During my last church search, I had focused on the things I wanted to avoid… and obviously that hadn’t worked. This time, I took the opposite approach. I started making lists of things that I thought were important to have in a church. I came up with quite a collection. Some were reasonable, some were just silly. In the end, I boiled it down to three things that I felt were most important to have in a church:
- A worship style that I could relate to, appreciate, and participate in
- Preaching that was practical and based firmly in the Bible
- An emphasis on building relationships & opportunities to do so
You’ll notice that “speaking in tongues” didn’t make the final cut. I wasn’t completely opposed to attending another charismatic / Pentecostal church, but this time I wasn’t going to limit my search to them. It was easy to find churches that had two out of three, but surprisingly difficult to find one where all three were covered. Don’t get me wrong — I liked many of the churches I visited, and probably would have been content to go there if I wasn’t looking for something so specific… but I’m glad I held out for one that met all three criteria. Once I found it, I attended for more than six months before I felt comfortable enough to officially join.
I still had questions and even some doubts… but now, instead of expecting them to melt away or feeling compelled to hide them, I was in a place where it was safe to question… and strangely enough, some of those old questions don’t seem quite so big or intimidating anymore. I knew that I had a long way to go. It was still a process… but it was an honest process, and that was a wonderful place to be.
I thought that I had finally found my “happy ending…” but it was only the beginning!