Thursday, October 30, 2008

Pressure to Conform to the Legal Lords

Depending on which “tribe” you belong to in Christianity, there are certain rules (written and unwritten) that you are expected to conform to. In extreme cases it will involve the way you dress, personal convictions to hold to, what you do for entertainment, and the traditions you are made to observe.

Myself, I got saved in a church that was very strict. It was KJV only, women could not wear pants, very little makeup, movie theaters were forbidden, Friday night High School football was frowned upon, and the music was about 50 years behind the times. They were great people, loved God, served Him with all their heart. But they were also very legalistic. They were so set in their ways that they had a difficult time believing that anyone else was a true Christian. As long as you did church their way, you were okay.

After five years I eventually left this church to enter the ministry and ended up staying in this system for a total of eighteen years, pastoring two churches and serving as an associate pastor at one. But somewhere along the way God opened my eyes to a few things; (1) I was not living in the liberty of Christ because of the emphasis upon legalism, and (2) I finally realized how ineffective this system was in reaching lost people. This kept me awake at night.

Finally Renae and I made one of the most difficult decisions of our lives – to leave the only “tribe” we had ever known, and forsake everything we had worked for over eighteen years to start a brand new church. That church became Pace Community Church.

This came at a huge cost to us. Overnight we became preaching fodder for those who disagreed with our decision to leave. I lost an entire network of pastors. One hundred percent (100%) of our income was lost instantly. Suddenly we were the new target for every critic in town.

Was this a tough decision for us? Not really. I’ve got alligator hide. Besides, our desire to shake off that bondage was greater than maintaining my network of pastors. Our burden to reach lost people and see Christianity truly work (as it is intended) outweighed whether or not I stayed on the “fast track” to climbing our denominational ladder.

Change is hard. Making bold moves is not easy. It will cause you to lose friends and become public enemy number 1. But in contrast, the blessings of God are always far greater. This is not just theory to me, I have lived it. Every time I get an e-mail, or a letter, or hear another story of someone whose life has been radically transformed, I am reminded of how great this work is. When I show up at a church event and see hundreds and hundreds of people, who formerly were not in church but now are, the Holy Spirit confirms to me that Renae and I made the right decision. And when I consider all the new friends, allies, and supporters I have, I realize my life could not be fuller, richer, or deeper.

God didn’t call me into the ministry to keep the legal lords of Christianity happy. He called me so I could put a dent in hell.

When I get to heaven, I hope I have a mansion next door to some of those people, so I can remind them every day that I made it.