I was brought up in Church on a lie.
I never had a lot of friends growing up. I guess I never had that ‘magnetic’ personality that came naturally to some.
I cannot remember a time when Jesus was not Lord of my life. I know that to some, that comment doesn’t sit well – and that I should be able to pin-point a definite time, place and date where I was saved. But I can’t, and I am, so there!
I grew up in that church around the corner. I was there at Sunday School, Church services twice a day, & Youth Group outings. I was baptised by my Pastor and my father when I was 14, and was accepted into church membership the same year.
|Joe 90 (courtesy classicfilmtvcafe.com)
I was a bit of a loner at school – a lanky, walking skeleton. No matter how much I ate, I never put on any weight (oh how I wish I had that problem now!).
One year later my father remarried a woman who had 7 children of her own, so I went from being the youngest of 6 children to the youngest of 13.
There was a wall around me that no one could penetrate. I worked hard at keeping this wall up, and in frustration, people gave up trying to break it down.
I hurt a lot of people during this time – people who genuinely cared about me, and wanted to get to know me more personally. This was especially so when it came to girls: any reciprocated affection towards me eventually turned into irrational suspicion on my part; that if I gave my heart away, it would inevitably lead it to being crushed when the person moved on, dumped me, or at the extreme even died on me.
I did yearn for peoples’ affection, but as far as I was concerned, I was being set up, only to be dropped like a bag of spuds.
Those people moved on. They got on with their lives. I brooded in regret and self-pity.
They were indeed pretty dark years for me, made all the worse when I turned 20, and my older sister died of medical complications.
It seemed that at every turn, my world was beginning to suffocate me, and I did not have the ability to do anything about it.
Even recounting those times now, I can almost feel the dark clouds moving in over me, and a tingling down my spine.
I moved from my parents home in my early 20’s to live with my sister across town. This meant a 20 minute bike ride to my church that I was a member. This gave me a good excuse for not turning up to church every Sunday, especially when the weather was rough.
So I became a Christian layabout.
When I moved to Wellington from Christchurch in the late 80’s, I did continue in my reclusiveness. But there was always this nagging in my spirit to get back to church, which I missed. I still considered myself a Christian, but in reality I had ‘lost my first love’ (Rev 2:4).
I never really went off the rails as such, but it was obvious that my not being accountable and connected to the fellowship had caused my love for the Lord to wane almost to the point of walking away from the faith.
So I summoned up the courage and walked into the Baptist Church up the road on a Sunday evening. I figured that since I had a good handle on how the Baptist do things, that I would be more comfortable going to another one.
When I walked in the door, I was smothered, like bees around a honeypot. This really unsettled me.
I don’t particularly remember what the Pastor preached about, and music was a bit dated, but that suited me.
On the way out the Pastor cornered me, to introduce himself. He was English, and had a stutter problem, made all the worse when nervous. He told me of a course that the church was undertaking the next week, called ‘Alpha’.
Alpha was for new believers he said, to introduce them to Christianity.
I told him that I had been a Christian for 25 years, so I had a good grasp of what it was all about. He insisted, saying that it would be a good way to ‘get me back into church’. So I gave in, and signed up.
|Nicky Gumbel (courtesy twitter.com)
The course seemed a bit weird to me. The video presenter was a man named Nicky Gumbel, an Anglican Vicar, who seemed like a nice guy, but talked about Jesus in strange ways.
He said things like:
“Just like you have a hunger for food, you need to eat to satisfy it. Spritually, you have like another stomach, which can’t be filled with things of this world. Only Jesus can satisfy the hunger pains of this stomach.”.
I had never heard of anything like it. It didn’t really make sense to me, and I couldn’t put my finger on why.
More bizzare was the pinnacle of the course: the “Holy Spirit Weekend”. The main aim of this was to introduce the Holy Spirit, under the guise of that all believers should display evidence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
In our small groups we all instructed to line up. The group facilitator would ask each member if they wanted to be filled with the Holy Spirit. If so, she would pray over them, to the point which they would fall backwards into the arms of two ‘catchers’. On the floor they would pray, laugh, or cry, or a combination of all three.
I remember thinking ‘Oooo-kkkk, this could be interesting!’.
I agreed to be prayed over, but when she started praying, nothing happened. So she prayed louder, yelling for the Holy Spirit to come, but it didn’t. She said I needed to be taken aside for special prayer, as there must have been something inhibiting the Spirit’s work. Feeling a bit embarrassed, I let her pray over me again. She was cursing, binding and loosing all sorts of things. I have no idea what came in our out.
Then she asked again if I wanted to receive the Holy Spirit. Not wanting to feel left out, and wanting to get her out of my sight, I said ‘OK’. So I stood up, and we went through the process again. When she prayed, nothing happened again, so I faked a ‘spirit-slain’, to get her away from me. I was lowered to the ground, where I pretended to pray – all the time keeping an eye out to make sure they were all satisfied.
I remember years beforehand, a Christian man working for my Dad asked me if I wanted to be filled with the Holy Spirit. I told him I thought that being a Christian meant I already had Him inside me. He asked “But do you speak in tongues? Every believer filled with the Holy Spirit must be able to speak in tongues”. I didn’t believe him, but didn’t know the Bible well enough to refute him. All I could picture in my mind was the kooky scenes I had seen on TV of people “throwing” the Holy Spirit around, and people falling over as if someone had punched them.
With trepidation I said “OK”. He prayed for me, but nothing happened. He prayed some more, and he was acting pretty weird. I wanted him to get away from me, so I yelled out some mumbo-jumbo gobbledegook. He patted me on the back and said “There you go!”.
To my relief, I went back to school, and that man stopped working for my Dad not long after that.
I have to be a bit careful here when I speak of Alpha. There was another lady present, who was actually saved through that Alpha course. I ended up going to the same small group with her after the course dinner. She used to pick me up for the meetings. Her and I got on very well together.
Then I started to get that ‘uh-oh, better not let her get too close’ feeling again. So I avoided her, stopped answering the door and the phone to her.
But she was insistent. She was angry at my actions, and would not let me push her away. So I stopped pushing her away.
Now I can’t push her away any more, because that lady is now my wife of 18 years. I guess God can use any means He deems necessary to fulfill His great plan!
The church changed Pastors a while after that – the next Pastor being much younger.
The church had always had an outward focus, a desire to be more evangelistic. But it was like nobody knew exactly how to go about it. It seemed the only programs it was capable of running were to bring the people to us, rather than going out to seek and save them. The new Pastor wanted to address this issue, but whenever he spoke on Evangelism, my immediate reaction was always “nah, that’s not my gifting, I’ll leave that stuff to the extroverts”.
When I lived in Christchurch, I often saw a funny little man with a moustache who would stand on a step-ladder in Cathedral Square at lunch times. He would yell out stuff about breaking God’s law, sin & repentance. I remember thinking ‘I could never do that!’. It seemed to me that he never got a lot of return for his hard work.
As soon as he finished, a guy everyone called ‘The Wizard’, with a long beard, funny pointy hat, and a white robe would get up on his own ladder and poo-hoo everything he said.
I occasionally went into the Square on a Friday night with my sister (the one who would later pass away). Her favourite activity was to torment the Hari Krishnas. She would walk behind them when they sang and danced, and say things like “Your god doesn’t exist! Repent or the One True God will give you what you rightly deserve!”. They would plead with her to leave them alone. Some even got abusive with her, threatened to harm her if she didn’t quit. She would say “So, where’s your peace now? What a pathetic, useless god you have! Better repent and turn from your sins before it’s too late!”.
I used to cower behind her when she did that. She was a fiery red-headed, scripture-spitting dragon. I could never be as bold as her!
I used to wonder at the time, what the real reason was for the church pushing the evangelism message out. At every church business meeting (and there were lots!), we were constantly bombarded with the falling headcount – not just at our congregation, but the whole Baptist movement in New Zealand in general.
Stemming the tide out the back door seemed to take priority, as reducing numbers also meant reducing tithes/offerings every week. And wanting to embark on an ambitious church building project, money – or at least the lack of it – become the number one issue for us to tackle.
The answer was pragmatic and simple: more bums on seats, means more tithes and offerings coming in, means more money to expand our buildings, means we can do more to reach our community, means more bums on seats…and on it goes. I bought the lie hook, line and sinker.
And I pushed the lie as hard as I could.
…because at the time I was an Elder of the church.
We tried every product out there to draw the people in.
|Rick Warren (courtesy purposedrivenlife.com)
We tried more Alpha courses for the community.
We tried 40 Days Of Purpose, the so-called ‘evangelistic’ program based on the book “The Purpose Driven Church”, by Rick Warren. We even tried the small group studies afterwards.
We tried a Networking course, that defines our spiritual gifts to help us serve better in the church.
We tried Mainly Music, to draw the at-home parents on weekday mornings.
What we discovered was that everyone wanted to reach out to the community, but no one knew how. We were locked into an endless cycle of programs that were designed to draw people in, but nothing to help us go out.
I was a very naive Christian. Naive, that is, in the ways of church governance.
I knew I was saved. I knew I had to be a member of a local church. And when that mature Christian couple I respected asked if they could nominate me for Eldership, I believed through prayer and support from the Pastor that at that time I fitted the biblical criteria to fulfil the role.
But I was ‘green’. Not wanting to rock the boat through dissidence, I went with the majority when it came to ways of exploring ways of Evangelism.
The Pastor also passed on some training he had picked up. It was technique where you lead the conversation one question at a time. We were given these little mental pictures to memorise each step of the way.
For example, a picture of a man in a sun lounger would prompt you to ask ‘so what do you do in your spare time?’. These questions would get slowly more intimate each time, so that inevitably you felt you had earned that persons trust enough to ask about what they thought of Christianity.
You know, you could have bought up 100 different courses to help people share their faith, but to me they were all a waste of time.
Why? Firstly, I couldn’t find a way or a need to break out of my introversion, and secondly, the courses never seemed to sit right with me in terms of methods – but again, I couldn’t put my finger on why that was.
Someone bought up a course called ‘Contagious Christianity’, devised by Bill Hybels. Apparently his church was so huge, mainly due to putting the principles of the course into practice. So our church teamed up with another Baptist one down the road to run the course. But again, the same old people went to those courses, got the same old results, and the participants ran out of steam when their efforts were unfruitful.
And of course, I was still under the illusion that this was not my calling, so never attended anyway. It all seemed like a good idea, but again, it never lit my fire.
The sceptic in me was getting more bitter all the time.
The Lord put a series of circumstances in motion that resulted in us leaving that fellowship. I won’t go into the details here, as this is not the time, place, or forum to discuss.
Needless to say, it was becoming more and more obvious to us that our family should move on.
We left the fellowship without finding another home. This was both a good and bad move at the same time. Bad because it left us spiritually homeless and without accountability, but good in the fact that it led me to search for the real meaning of what a church existed for.
I started searching online for good biblical sermons to listen to, as I didn’t want to start falling away again.
I also searched for good Biblical Evangelism training. It occurred to me that I never thought of this before.
|Evangelist Ray Comfort (courtesy livingwaters.com)
I stumbled (providentially, of course!) upon one website called ‘The Way Of The Master‘. The guy called Ray Comfort on the welcome banner looked familiar to me, but I couldn’t put my finger on why. When I clicked on one of the evangelism videos and saw him witnessing on a soap-box (prior to him growing his beard), the penny dropped – that was the bloke I saw in Cathedral Square all those years ago!! And he had a big ministry in the States! Wow!
I lapped everything up, including Hells Best Kept Secret, True and False Conversion, Way of the Master Radio – all of it!
And suddenly everything seemed to make sense with regards to the real reason the church exists: to glorify God and to make Him known.
To steal the analogy from the Apostle Paul, it was like the scales were lifted from my eyes. I felt like I had been cheated, lied to, even spiritually abused. How could my Pastors go through all that Seminary training and miss this core fundamental truth of why he was a Pastor in the first place?
I also learnt the real meaning for Evangelism:
It isn’t to increase church numbers.
It isn’t to increase the church’s coffers.
It isn’t to make us feel better about ourselves.
It isn’t to fulfil my Christian ‘duty’.
It isn’t to make me look better to God.
It is to obey God.
It is to glorify Him.
It is to lift up His name.
It is to fulfil the Great Commission in all the world!
During this time of great revelation for me, we visited a few churches in the area to find a new spiritual home.
Now I had a much better appreciation of what to look for in a church. But you know what the problem was? The standard was way higher than it used to be, and all the churches we visited fell way short of that standard. Not my standard, but scriptures’.
It was like my spiritual discernment radar had been re-tuned from a crackling, squealing short-wave radio, to high-definition, fibre-optic clarity.
Sermons that I used to gobble down as staple every day bread and butter, were now as palatable as dog vomit, and I couldn’t stand to listen to them any longer. They made me spiritually gag.
My wife found it much harder than me during this time. She is a people-person – she needed fellowship – unlike me – I was content to keep to myself. In one church that we attended for a wee while, she got to know a few ladies socially. I was never totally comfortable there, and believed we should move on. She was almost crying, saying “It’s not fair, I’ve only just managed to make some new friends!”. The sermons were squishy, and always seemed to end up being like a 5-point plan to do something more efficiently, or a motivational talk to urge us to try harder.
Then one Sunday after church we went to pick up our son from Sunday School. They were running a bit late, and when we walked in, we saw they were watching a cartoon video that depicted Jesus decked out like a cool pimp. He was getting out of a limousine wearing a white robe and sunglasses. Camera flashes were going off, and everyone was looking for His autograph. We both looked at each other, and said at the same time “We need to get Him away from this place!”. We never went back after that.
I was driving down High St in Lower Hutt one Wednesday evening, and saw a sign outside a Girls’ College. It read ‘Calvary Chapel’. I had never heard of them before, but they had a picture of a dove on their street sign, which looked like the old Maranatha Music dove from those old cheesy 70’s Christian songs.
What sort of church has services on a mid-week night? I had never heard of that before in New Zealand.
I talked about it to my wife when I got home, and agreed I would go in for a look the next week.
The next week I took a big gulp, and sneaked in the back of the church while people were singing. A couple of people gave me a smile and the chin-up gesture as I sat down. Phew, that’s good, no swarm of bees around the honeypot this time.
The Pastor stood up and started his message. OK, he was American, that was different.
When he finished speaking, I realised that I had just learnt more from God’s word from him in the last 45 minutes than I had in the last 10 years in any pulpit.
It was as though I had found a place where the Pastor wasn’t scared to tell the truth. Scripture was rightly exegeted – i.e. in context with the passages around it.
Conclusions and applications drew folk to the Cross, not to our own inner strengths.
I didn’t feel pumped up to work harder to earn God’s blessing, or go out and kill a bear with my bare hands like David in the Bible, or ‘walk into Satan’s camp and take back what he stole from me’. This was so refreshing for me.
Afterwards, the Pastor chatted to me about the church, the Calvary movement in general, and the beliefs of the church. He was very approachable. I had a feeling our family would feel at home here.
I went along for a few more Wednesday night services. Then I started going on Sunday mornings as well.
I told my wife I was convinced that this should be our new spiritual home. She was quite reluctant, but we decided to give it time.
The folk at Calvary Chapel Wellington NZ are a conservative bunch. Quite dry and introverted – just like me (not that it’s a bad thing!) – so my wife found it very frustrating to make connections. I did too, but it never bothered me as much as her.
So at first we relied on the teaching to keep us coming back. The sermons were like an oasis in the desert. I felt like I grew from a skeletal lamb to a fatted sheep in a very short time.
But the teaching wasn’t going to be enough in the long run. We needed someone to be spiritually accountable to. We needed others to support, and them to support us. In short, we needed a spiritual family.
So after attending for a few months, we decided that this would be our new church home. Was it perfect? No. And even less so now that we were attending.
Over the last 6+ years we have been privileged to call CCW our home. We have laughed, cried, eaten, and camped with each other, enjoying true Biblical fellowship.
Four years ago, both my father and stepmother died within 15 days of each other.
Apart from our own immediate families – who do you think was there every step of the way – cooking meals, child-minding, and most importantly, on their knees interceding for us?
Our brothers and sisters in the Lord at CCW, that’s who! We will be forever grateful to the Lord for them.
Every week we are equipped with God’s Word, and encouraged to go out into our communities to seek and save the lost.
There is no emphasis on programs.
There is no emphasis on church numbers.
There is no emphasis on money (we meet in a school hall with minimum overheads anyway).
There are no smoke, mirrors, and light shows to con the public off the streets in order to attend our church services.
You are probably expecting me to now tell you that I boldly go out on the streets and grab every one I pass by the collar and plead with them to repent.
Either that or that I stand on street corners on a soap box, a bible, and a microphone.
That would be the fairy tale ending to this story, wouldn’t it?
Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I don’t.
But I do pass out Gospel tracts.
I do try my best to steer worldly conversations to the spiritual.
I am always ready to give a defense to everyone who asks me for a reason for the hope that lies within me (1 Pet 3:15).
I know now how to make a friend in 30 seconds, not 30 days, hours, months, or even years.
I don’t ask for permission to share the Gospel with people. I just do it.
And I have a deeper love for the Ray Comfort’s of this world. For the Tony Miano’s. For all those other people in all those towns, and all those cities, and all those countries – too countless to name – who take a faithful stand for the advancement of the Gospel.
I have learnt that real love means real sacrifice.
Real friends don’t pretend to love people with false bait-and-switch techniques.
Real friends don’t wait for permission to witness to them.
Real friends tell their friends the truth.
Isn’t that what the Bride of Christ exists for?