Fact of the Matter Is… I Been Kicked Out of Church All My Life

I was getting kicked out of church before I was old enough to remember.

Sound odd?

Yeah.  I guess it does.

And if you are still reading, I would like you to imagine for a moment just how many people in this old world couldn’t give a rip.  I mean, just as a category of issues to write about – church, Jesus, life in the Spirit (or not).  Who cares?

Yeah.  If you are still reading this, and if you care about these things in the slightest, then you are already in a minority.  If you are still reading here and care that I was kicked out of church since before I can even remember, you are in a truly small minority.  Glad to have you still with me.  Let’s get into it…

My dad wasn’t a preacher when I was born, and he is not one today either, but for a long stretch of my formative years, he was.  And he was a preacher among the ranks of the “churches of Christ” – a graduate of the esteemed Sunset School of Preaching.  And for those unfamiliar with the “churches of Christ” (or those who only see us as the group that does not use instrumental music), one of the key factors you may have missed is that preachers in this denomination* are not (necessarily) pastors.  In fact, they rarely are.

This difference is subtle, at first glance, but deep.  And in a very real sense, the preacher is a hired hand – his primary role an employee of the church (a “brother” only secondarily (if that)), and he is not the boss at all.  In most churches of other denominations, the pastor may well answer to a governing body of various types, but he also acts somewhat like an entrepreneur – a man who starts a business and runs it himself.  However, in the “churches of Christ”, there is what we call “a plurality of pastors”, but they normally go by the title “elder” instead of pastor.  (To be fair, congregational autonomy dictates that there may be subtle differences even between “churches of Christ”, but the uniformity is quite remarkable, actually).

Anyway, my reason for laying all that out is to show that the preacher in this denomination answers to the pastors/elders (or committees if no elders are currently appointed).  Typically the congregation enters into a contract with a preacher which may or may not be renewed in one, two, or three years (typically).  And this gives a church an employer’s leverage over a preacher who must then perform to their liking in order to keep his job.

Ironic, don’t you think?  The preacher, like a politician, is faced with whether to serve his altruist ideals or the voters whims.  But in this case, the model is more business oriented, and as so it’s more like a board of directors’ whims.  And if you don’t perform to the expectations the boss wants, then you are out on your ear soon enough.  And somehow that surely is not “biblical” – the very thing “churches of Christ” historically pride themselves on being.

What can I say?  Apparently my old man chose to honor his altruist ideals (serve God at all costs) rather than bend the knee to lesser forces.  I am not arguing that he was always in the right, though to my way of thinking he was and I will claim it.  But the dynamic that I am talking about here does not require me to argue his virtue.  It is the system I am putting on trial here, not the individual decisions.  Point being, when my dad, the preacher, chose to stand up for a woman effectively caught in the act and defend her expression of repentance, some of the men in charge (who likely had conflicted feelings of lust themselves) felt she should be shunned instead in order to discipline her thoroughly, and in the end Dad was canned.  (That’s just one example among many – MANY!)

In and of itself, that is pretty much an untold story, as are all the others that make up the “many” I describe.  But there is another story beneath them that also goes untold (until now).  And that story is of the son (and the rest of the family) of the employee (brother) pushed out.

I was raised in church.  Being the son of a preacher means I was there at every event, every week, of every year.  Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday night.  Weddings, funerals, VBS’s, Gospel Meetings (known in other quarters as “revivals”), summer camp and every other little function great or small.  I might not personally have been at the center of it all, but I certainly inhabited the inner circle of church life.

I learned early how important church is, how important Jesus is, and how it all plays into eternal purposes.  Even more, I witnessed groups of people numbering 200 – 500 gathering around to listen to my dad on a regular basis.  This stuff makes a certain kind of impression on young formative minds.  Jesus/church was the center of the universe and the meaning of life.  And it was all about LOVE – a community loving God and each other with uncommon, self-sacrificial LOVE.

And it made perfect sense to me too, except when my dad came home and announced that we would have to move – that he had been fired.

This meant we would pack up all our belongings, load them on a truck, and leave town.  All our family and friends from church, from school, from town would be left behind as we set out on the road looking for another town, another school, another church with other family and friends with whom we would do this all over again in a few years.

I have memory of living in eleven different houses in nine different municipalities involving seven different churches before I graduated high school, and most of that moving due to dad being fired.  Most, not all, but most of it due to being kicked out of church in one place or another – AND NOT because I drank, cussed, stole, lied, fornicated, or gossiped.  No.  Because of “religious differences” – which is the best term I can call it, but which in no way really describes the reasons at all.

Point being, I got kicked out of the center of the universe – the Jesus community of uncommon, self-sacrificial LOVE time and time again through no fault of my own from as far back as I can remember – all in service to Jesus.  All in service to the church. And like they say in The Godfather, “It’s not personal; it’s business”.  (A great way to describe “church” when you endure it this way.)

Don’t get me wrong.  The New Testament definitely authorizes a church to kick people out.  That is biblical.  I make no claim to the contrary at all.  But treating church like a business – a mafia business at that – and kicking out children as a matter of routine business makes for a strong indicator that this LOVE organization needs to do some sober reassessments about the carnage it is leaving in its wake.

It also gives me cause to reassess it.

The very organization that instilled in me from my youth the importance of Jesus, love, and church did not share any of that with me.  Who wants to be in that club?

Well, look around at all the church buildings boarded up, at all the empty seats in those still active.  And you tell me.

At any rate, I am an old hand at getting kicked out of church.  I have been there, done that.  You might say I was born and bred for it.

 

 

* (Churches of Christ historically eschew the term “denomination” and claim to be “non-denominational”.  There are so many problems with that kind of terminology that I will not attempt to sort it out, but merely acknowledge I am using it in a more mainstream sense.)

 

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15 comments

  1. Jared · April 4

    Just an encouragement, I too have been kicked out of “a church” but that’s not even remotely similar to being out of The Church! It actually helps you see the difference between them and be more compassionate to the “least of these” – those institutional churches reject. You’re right, that many modern American business church pastoral positions are people pleasing positions – akin to politicians compromising Kingdom values in order to keep their pay or benefits or popularity or contract renewal.

    Like

  2. I’ve always been a little curious about the Churches of Christ and the idea of no real governance. Haven’t really decided if that is a good thing or not. Lots of churches have governance and no Jesus!

    When you get kicked out, do they tear up your membership card? 🙂

    Seems like you are in good company with Jesus. He sure had a problem with the religious leaders.

    Be blessed. God is with you!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Agent X · April 4

    This comment sent in anonymously:

    My personal inner life… Since each of us is unique, so am I. I grew up being somewhat of an American Nomad. Mine was an oilfield Family in the earlier years.
    My early years included living initially in what was termed, “an unmodern trailer”. We didn’t have our own toilet. Trailer Parks then included common restrooms (1 for boys & 1 for girls) with semiprivate showers.
    I attended 4 different grade schools one busy year.
    Mom and my sister and I attended church everywhere we lived. Ours was a heritage then referred to as nondenominational, but time has revealed our party lines.
    Morality and church politics albeit very Book based was hard nosed and in those days our revival preaching almost always included a session the denounced communism. The Cold War had a temperature to be sure!
    Informal meetings and dinners were marked by men and women some 90% of the time segregated. Older boys like myself hung on the edge of the men’s group hearing them generally talk about their military experiences during WWII.
    The women prepared the already cooked food for serving and eating, cleaning away dishes afterwards. Men set up tables and chairs and complimented the women’s food.
    On some occasions songbooks were brought and an informal community sing sprang up. Most of the unchurched ex-warriors held their circle tightly.
    Workdays devoted to building and grounds upkeep and fifth Sunday afternoon sings were a change of pace in those times.
    As a youth almost all the adult men and women were like surrogate aunts and uncles with an occasional surrogate grandpa. I’m not so sure the elder women were as much surrogate grandmas especially if they were single in stead they were a sort of spinster old aunts. Likely that was uneven.
    My interior world continued.
    I was married and serving in the US Navy based in San Diego when I first had a series of serious incidents that began to awaken a deeper set of concerns pointing up a new curiosity about the work of the Holy Spirit in my life, also the discovery of an exciting notion of grace at the behest of what seemed like an angelic visitor, and I felt a powerful call of God to become an evangelist.
    Rather peculiar traits for a Sailor. My time was schizophrenic between the flower power on the one hand and my idealistic view of my national heritage.
    It would be in the aftermath of Vietnam I began to realize that the ideals my country seemed to put forward had not only short-changed blacks and other minorities but women too. Eventually I discovered that the wealthy enjoyed more of the American promise than the now disappearing middle-class and poor.
    I left the military in 1969 to attend a church based seminary. My years in the ministry paralleled the rapidly growing Charismatic Movement now much quieter today.
    My interior world, again.
    Vietnam had interrupted my college education. My return to college and university studies were repeatedly interrupted by work and moves: I attended some 8 colleges to gain my Bachelors. One for my Masters, and three more graduate schools as I kept trying to care for my family, ministry, and gain my education.
    I also took courses related to Child Abuse. Even Navajo Culture and Religion among others as a part of my continuing education.
    I counseled, worked with Hospice, Social Services, contracted with churches and schools.
    In all of this I’ve kept my eyes on the Cross, chased God, and attempted to better live out the Image of God in my life at every turn.
    My failings have been many, my life is a patchwork that becomes more clearly just that as years pass.
    Saved by His grace I attempt to keep my heart open to every soul that follows his star.
    Finally I keep reading, listening, watching to see and know God, his Christ and the Spirit better with each passing day.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Pingback: Agent X wins over the church – Hard Times Ministries
  5. laceduplutheran · April 5

    When church, or anything else becomes a fiefdom for a few in charge, it is has lost it’s way. If the preach can only provide comfort for the comfortable, then there is no preaching of the Gospel happening. The Gospel comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. If all we hear is what we want to hear, then we are placing ourselves above the need for repentance and forgiveness, above the need to be changed by Jesus, above the need to respond to what Jesus calls us to, above being uncomfortable and inconvenienced by the Gospel. I’m sorry this happened to you and your father.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. If all churches got rid of their big buildings and started meeting in homes again, church politics wouldn’t have any meaning. What you described happens in all religions that have accumulated enough people to need to get organized.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Debi · April 8

    I am so glad I took the time to “catch up” on my blog reading, and specifically, that I read this.

    I have never been kicked out of a church, but if I had been true to my own beliefs and stood for them, I surely would have been. Now I’m standing for my beliefs by not attending church at all, which I’m sure is not the answer.

    What has been rolling around inside my head for quite some time is something akin to what Katheryn talks about here. A church without a “preacher,” in a building that isn’t paid for by gazillions of dollars from “constituents” so that any money coming in could immediately go out to help those in need.

    Still don’t know what the answer is.

    Thanks for this. ♥

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agent X · April 8

      Debi!!!

      Glad to have you back. Been missing you.

      Thanx for the comment. You hit a nerve with me. I want to respond, but I am on the fly with a lot of thoughts just now. Should probably sort them out better…

      There are a couple ways to mitigate the damage that might be useful, I think. One is that all “preachers” might/should be paid staff from other congregations and not the one where they work. Effectively they would be missionaries from a different church and would answer to them not the local scene. This would require the congregations to throw their lot in with each other at a congregational level too.

      My dad has since championed vocational ministry – meaning the preacher works somewhere else for his pay and preaches on the weekend for free. St Paul made tents and supported himself that way, however he also said it is good to be paid, though he himself never took a paycheck (see I Cor. 9:14).

      I, on the other hand, have begun to wonder if preachers aren’t actually called to suffer this way. Look at Jesus who suffers at the hands of those to whom he ministers! Same with St Paul for that matter. It seems he had some severe trouble with some of his own churches (see Galatians and II Corinthians). In fact, I sense strongly that he never got his mojo back in Corinth. And still, I think God uses this in this ugly way. God seems willing to take the punishment we dish out, and his best ministers normally do to.

      Could it be that there is a deeper good going on there?

      I am not clear, but it seems worth exploring.

      Like

  8. Debi · April 8

    It’s good to be back, my friend!

    My most recent thoughts on this subject go something like this…

    Instead of having a typical pastor or preacher (or church, for that matter), everyone acknowledges her or his missional calling and they then stop laying it all on a pastor. If services are desired, everyone comes into the building (which is not paid for by the “congregation”) or the park or whatever, and they sit in a circle (or some such fashion) instead of having one person stand up in front and preach. It’s more of a meeting and sharing of the soul than being preached to by a single person.

    This serves several purposes. First, it reminds everyone that it’s not one person’s (or two or three) responsibility to make Sunday worship happen. Second, each person has a calling, and can step in when it seems appropriate. Next, there is much less of a chance that anyone feels they don’t belong, because everyone is invited to participate in any way in which they feel called.

    I’ll admit that smaller groups would probably be best served with this model. But why not [numerous] smaller groups instead of spending money to “recruit” new members?

    I’ll stop there. I think you get the gist of it. I look forward to your thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agent X · April 9

      The proposal you describe sounds very near Quaker to me – at least much like I have heard about Quakers. On the other hand, I experienced a Presbyterian church once (who employed a Methodist pastor) that practiced some similar ideals.

      There is no doubt that we need to empower “lay” people and/or regular church people to participate more. Church has turned into a consumerist product kinda like a movie or concert, where you go to passively experience it. The hope is that you enjoy yourself and/or find some spiritual meaning in it, and then you will support it financially. And church like that relies heavily on a sense of heritage and/or duty – a sense that you are supposed to be here and do these rituals (at least once or twice a year) because it FEELS right, because I grew up doing this, because my parents and grandparents did it. But the more sober the reflection on it, if that is all you have, the more people just slip away from it. And besides, so much traditional values conflict with modern/post-modern morality, and it all feels out of date and/or supports political agendas we might find repulsive. Point being, there is a net loss of people there over time. Still, I see that passivity of laity as being core to it all. If laity was more engaged and active and expected to lead, then there would be deeper investment in the purpose underlying it all.

      I actually appreciate people who devote themselves to a life in leadership (pastors and scholars etc). I would not want to see them go away. Even Jesus was Rabbi. Experts (as we might call them) are important. I don’t think church is a democracy, it is a monarchy. And so I think democratizing it is a mistake, and actually a sign that the culture outside is steering it. But, I think these experts need to empower laity more than they do, and worship should be active, not passive at all.

      But I would have to explore that line of thought a lot more before I am ready to offer firm proposals of what all that would look like.

      Like

  9. Debi · April 8

    Ok, my thoughts on another of your comments (about preachers perhaps being called to suffer)…

    I instigated a discussion on a progressive Christian facebook group recently that asked the question “If a loving God, as omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent, knew we humans would fail, or fall, whichever you prefer, why would God create us to begin with, knowing we would suffer so much?

    None of the answers satisfied me, because of course we cannot know why. But I wonder if it is the collective “our” calling to suffer in this life. That is, not just preachers, but all of us. We all suffer in many ways, some different than others.

    I still don’t have any answers to this “issue,” so I’ll leave it at that. ☺

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agent X · April 9

      The question you found on facebook is a variation of “The Problem of Evil” a philosophical/religious conundrum. How do you settle it satisfactorily?

      St. Augustine attempted to answer it with “Free Will”. He said God is all good, all knowing, and all powerful, but that he allows evil (suffering we might call it in this instance) because of FREE WILL. He wants us to have an honest chance to choose good or ill, love or unlove.

      Personally, I am with you. I am not satisfied with St Augustine’s answer, but that puts me in a very small minority.

      On the other hand, as far as suffering is concerned (not the same as evil, but they tend to go together a lot), suffering is also a measure of LOVE. Not the only measure, but an important one. And so the most famous verse in the Bible says…

      drum roll please….

      ….

      For God loved the world SO MUCH that he gave… (he suffered the loss of his own son to save the world).

      It is a measure, a yardstick, of love. And so in a world where the LOVE of God plays a part, then suffering does too. And his people who also love, suffer too…as part of loving a broken world.

      I could talk all night about that, but might not make sense to you. And anyway, I am busy with kids today… but if you wish to discuss this again – or more – then I am game…

      Thank you so much for these wonderful comments!

      Like

      • Michael Bolstler · July 10

        Hi. Been reading through your blog and enjoying it, especially some of the articles describing your work with and service to the homeless. Sorry to hear about all the churches you had to leave, I know each one is rough no matter how you try and look at the positive side

        Keep on being unsatisfied with St Augustine’s answer. God would not allow evil. He would not let even the lowliest of His angels fall, and would catch any that tried, before they fell an inch. The only thing that makes sense is that God created good and evil, and then delegated to us, the choice as to whether to allow evil and/or good.

        When He says ,”Please let this cup pass from me,” that is supposed to be our cue to act, we should not wait for God to take the cup from Him.” If you want to make an apologist for an evil god squirm, quote Isaiah 45:7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.

        Like

  10. Pingback: Getting kicked out and why not ? – Hard Times Ministries
  11. insanitybytes22 · April 20

    Great post. I’m sorry that the church was so insensitive and thoughtless.

    Liked by 1 person

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