I quit being part of a church for a few months when I was in my mid-twenties. I had been a regular churchgoer my whole life, so it wasn’t something I (or those who knew me) expected. It happened after I moved to a new city and started looking for a church. Every time I’d visit one, I felt lonely and lost in the sea of congregants. And I found no comfort in the familiarity of the services — if anything, it felt too familiar. I had the evangelical liturgies memorized — from the call to worship to the benediction….
One time I was talking to a friend and she mentioned that when she first started following Jesus, the Lord greatly used sermons from a certain TV preacher to help her grow in her faith. Personally, I wasn’t impressed with the televangelist. Granted, I hadn’t actually listened to any of the preacher’s sermons, but that was beside the point. Everybody in my circle agreed that the preaching was little more than motivational speaking with scriptures thrown in.
I was about to start my freshman year of college, and I was afraid I wouldn’t have any friends at school. While there were plenty of people my age at the local charismatic church I was attending, I wasn’t sure I wanted to hang out with them. They struck me as being a bit on the wild side (spiritually), especially this guy named Gerald. He worshiped God like he was drunk on the Holy Spirit, and if you struck up a conversation with him, he always found a way to bring it back to Jesus. It made me uncomfortable, but…
When I was in high school, I attended the funerals for two classmates, one of whom died in a tragic shooting accident. I have a vivid memory from his funeral: sitting in the packed funeral home listening to Michael W. Smith’s song “Friends are Friends Forever” as teenagers sniffled and wiped tears away.
Several years ago, I attended a church retreat during which I wrote and performed a skit that I now regret. It was basically a stand-up routine in which I played the part of a megachurch pastor, and to be fair, it wasn’t all bad. Some of the skit was just gentle ribbing of big, seeker-sensitive churches. But there were other parts that included not-so-subtle backhanded insults and biting sarcasm. Those parts got the biggest laughs from my audience, and therefore, I considered the skit to be a big success.
During my junior year at the University of Southern Mississippi, I invited a Yugoslavian student to a campus worship service that was organized by my church, which was predominately white. After the meeting, we were talking in the hallway, and he noticed a group of mostly black students meeting across the hallway. Then he asked something that caught me off guard. “Why do the white Christians and the black Christians meet separately?”
Several months ago, my wife and I began the process of looking for a new church. We hoped to find something much closer to our home, which automatically made the search more difficult. That wasn’t the only thing that made it harder though.
One time, we had this cable guy over to our house, and I really liked him — at first. He was doing everything he could to figure out why we couldn’t get the Internet to work, and while he did, he talked a lot about Jesus. But then things got weird.
Up in Washington, D.C., there are plenty of ignorant folks who assume evangelical southerners like me are judgmental, closed-minded, and prejudiced in all kinds of ways. It’s sad and frustrating, but it’s reality, and I’m sure my friend Macie Anderson has been on the receiving end of it as well.
Well, I learned my lesson: If you want to tick off a bunch of people and lose some subscribers of your personal blog, write a post that encourages readers to appreciate the positives in a church like Hillsong NYC.
I didn’t expect an article from GQ magazine about a megachurch to get me choked up, but recently, it did.
“Margaritas, everyone!” said the worship leader from my new church as she filled plastic cups for the partygoers in her home. I was mortified, and I figured God was too. Then I walked outside where I found our Austrian pastor making conversation and smoking a cigarette. All I could do was put on my best fake smile, bid farewell, and ease away from the party in confusion.
The last 25 years have been monumental for the evangelical subculture — it was a time in which we saw the explosive growth of megachurches, the prominence of the True Love Waits campaign, and the end of dc Talk.
I originally shared this post in the summer of 2015. Update: my little girls have grown up quite a bit and ￼are now Vacation Bible School volunteers.￼ To all my Vacation Bible School Teachers: My girls began attending their first Vacation Bible School yesterday, and throughout the day, I was excited for them. They’re only five and three, so they can’t really appreciate why I love VBS so much. But let me make it clear: it’s because of you.
Last week, I was vacationing in South Carolina when I drove past a billboard with a Confederate flag in the background and the words “Never Forget” emblazoned across it. I was embarrassed then, but as I thought about it this week, another thought crossed my mind: “How must African-Americans in South Carolina feel about that billboard as they grieve the murder of nine black church members in Charleston by a white supremacist?”