At a recent conference, I was outlining what I had accomplished since I decided to follow Jesus 12 years ago. When I first started following Jesus, I automatically attended a traditional church. I assumed it is what I had to do. This lasted seven years before I became frustrated and disillusioned. In that time, I never shared the gospel with anyone, healed anyone in Jesus’ name or baptised anyone in water.
Since I abandoned the traditional church, I had lost count of how many times I had done those things.
After recounting all this, someone who attended the conference asked me this probing question:
“Why do you think you only started sharing the gospel after leaving your church?”
As I contemplated that question, I considered all that I had learned since leaving church. I didn’t have time to explain all that God had revealed to me in that time. I was at a loss for words, but I opened my mouth and trusted that God would speak.
This is what I said,
“We do what we see modelled.“
What I Learnt to Do in a Traditional Church
As a new believer, I attended church assuming the people there knew how to follow Jesus. I was a complete novice and had no idea how to follow someone I can’t see. I was in the church to learn from the people there. Whenever I was around other believers or at a church service, I soaked up everything I heard and saw. I didn’t question whether it was right or not.
When they prayed, I listened to them and learned how I should pray. When they rose out of their chairs to sing, I copied them and learned about God from the lyrics. When they had fun events on, I was there with bells on (not literally…). I got involved in everything the church was doing.
- part of the worship team,
- a youth group leader,
- events co-ordinator,
Anything the church was doing, I was a part of it.
When I Discovered What the Bible Says
During my seven years at church I was also reading the Bible in my spare time. I realised that what we were doing in church was very different to what Jesus and the early disciples did. They preached the gospel, healed the sick and baptised people in water. Those things rarely, if ever, happened at our church so I started trying to find out why.
I asked the pastor why but he was more interested in how I could help run a jubilee the church was organising.
I asked the associate pastor why and he sent me an e-mail with something he’d copied and pasted from google. It didn’t help.
I asked one of the elders why but he couldn’t give me an answer.
I asked a visiting speaker why and he told me to ask God.
So I did that. I asked God why people in the church were not doing the things that Jesus and the early disciples did.
To my surprise, God answered me! He spoke to me through his word.
“Then as He went out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, “Teacher, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!”
And Jesus answered and said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”
I may not be the sharpest tool in the shed but it didn’t take me long to work out what this meant.
God was telling me not to focus on the building.
Buildings don’t last, no matter how amazing they are. After seven years of frequenting a man-made structure, I made the decision to leave. I thank the church for instructing me in their ways, but I wasn’t prepared to be a part of it anymore.
How I Started Following Jesus and Not Man
After I left my church, I didn’t know where or what I should be focusing on. At least I knew that it wasn’t the church building and all the activities that go with it.
I wanted to do what Jesus did, not what church did.
Now that I wasn’t focusing on matters of the church, I tried to work out how I could do what Jesus did. I couldn’t talk to a pastor or elder anymore so I had to rely completely on God for help. It had worked in the past when he showed me not to focus on the building. From now on I decided that I would ask him first in all circumstances. If he led me to a specific person then I would learn everything I could from that person.
Now I look more like Jesus
Over a period of time, God showed me where to find fellowship, how to heal the sick, share the gospel, baptise people and even cast out demons.
All the things I learned happened outside the traditional church.
Although the traditional church was a stepping stone for me towards God, it became stale and stunted my spiritual growth. I learnt to be busy with activities that looked ‘Godly’, but I was not maturing in Christ.
The model I am following now is the model of Jesus and the early disciples. If I need to know something, I ask God directly and expect him to answer. The more I have done this, the more I started doing the same things that Jesus did (like he said we would).
I didn’t learn these things as head knowledge alone! I put them into practise and it became experiential knowledge.
There is so much joy and fulfilment in this! I will never go back to being a passive religious spectator ever again.
If your church isn’t helping you look like Jesus, please get in touch. We would love to hear from you!
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