When I think about my time at TYC/GC, I have so many mixed feelings, but one thing always comes to mind; It is the place where I made the 3 best, most important, defining, God-directed decisions of my life…
- To put my faith in Christ.
- To marry my spouse.
- To LEAVE.
Isn’t that crazy? And confusing? I’ve struggled with this perplexing fact for the 8 years since we’ve left. How could a place full of GOOD, God-loving people, be BAD for us? Why would God lead us AWAY from a place that initially drew us TOWARD Him?
Our story isn’t all that different from the others who have shared. But maybe sharing it will help to answer these questions.
Towards the end of my Sophomore year at CMU, I accepted Christ while at a Young Church service. The experience of allowing God to come into my life, and being set free from my sin was like nothing I had ever known. Peace, joy, and clarity immediately replaced the depression and confusion I had spent years struggling with.
In an instant, I was “all in” for God – and I wanted to be a part of this church that helped me finally find Him. I wanted to grow, learn, serve, and share my new faith with others. Within weeks I was “plugged in” to a ministry team, meeting new friends in the faith, and learning the “DNA” of my new church family. And it was awesome. It’s a time of my life that I look back on fondly, and gratefully. Jesus Christ was my foundation, and God was building my faith…
But something else was happening… While God was using His Word, His Holy Spirit, and His people to build up my faith, a number of things were laid into my faith foundation that were not from Him. I think of these things as faulty or weak “bricks” and “beams” that were being added to this “structure” that sort of housed my faith. Over time, the building was not fully “up to code” – not true and accurate to God’s Word or His nature. Most of these faulty “bricks” and “beams” I now attribute to the subtle messages and practices that made the Grace Church “DNA” unique.
These subtle messages and practices included things like:
- Always submit to your spiritual leaders, and defer to them when making decisions.
- Your leaders can sense what God wants for you more than you can for yourself.
- It’s bad to spend time with people that are not part of TYC/GC.
- We must distance ourselves from immediate family if they aren’t a part of this church.
- It’s unlikely that the Christians outside of this church are really walking with God.
- If I do things that draw criticism from my leaders, such as arriving late for a meeting or messing up a lyric to a song, it’s likely that I’m in sin or falling out of favor with the Lord.
- The earlier I wake up, the harder I work, the more I exercise, the healthier I eat, the more hours I spend on doing tasks for church, the more money I give, etc., the more of God’s favor I will earn. (The less I do these types of things, the less God will love and accept me).
- I know my leaders are speculating, and probably gossiping, about my sin and the state of my walk with God. But, it’s OK because they know what’s best for me and they’re just trying to help me grow.
- We are not to question leadership. If we do, it’s likely there is sin in our lives.
- Making judgments about other people’s faith is a form of discernment, so it’s not really a bad thing.
- And If I’m leading someone, it’s my job to search for sin and failings in their lives and fix them.
- When people leave our church it is because they aren’t obeying God’s plan for them, or worse, they aren’t saved.
I know these things sound crazy, and extreme. How could I have really believed all this so willingly? Why would anyone just blindly comply and not question? A few reasons come to mind:
- It’s where I found Christ, so I assumed it must be “the right way to do church.”
- I’m naturally a people-pleaser, somewhat insecure, and I hate confrontation.
- And sadly, I think this is what the leaders want you to believe – and they are VERY GOOD at helping you to believe it all.
Thankfully, after many years of serving and leading at Grace, God eventually opened our eyes to the unhealthy, spirituality abusive practices. It was very clear to us that we needed to share our concerns with leadership. And, when our concerns were dismissed, it was very clear that it was time to leave. And for the last eight years, we’ve been “re-building”. My foundation isn’t the Church, or the rules, or the leaders – it’s Jesus. I’ll be honest though, I’m still replacing some of those weak and faulty bricks. Replacing them with truth.
Thank you for sharing. All of your bullet points are accurate. The one that hits home for me is the one about “earning God’s favor.” A big scar I have from GC is thinking that God’s love for me is conditional. I hope and pray that someday I can fully believe that He loves me no matter what. I hope and pray this for everyone.