My ministry for most of my adult life has been focused on men who have walked away from church, and by that I mean the structural church experience. These would be men who still have faith in the God of the Old and New Testament. They just have lost faith in man and how man goes about doing church in the flesh.
I first got involved in Men’s Ministry back at our old church in the early 80’s when we lived in Mission Viejo,CA. We had the fun experience of being at SaddleBack Church when Rick and Kay Warren were just starting up that amazing ministry. The church had a great Men’s Ministry and they met once a month for a breakfast on a Saturday morning to have a guest speaker share his testimony. Those breakfasts had a profound effect on me.
When a job change brought my family to Littleton, Colorado 25 years ago, I decided to start serving in a Lay Leadership role in the church that we landed at, in where else, the Men’s Ministry. In those 25 years since that foray into ministry, I have learned a lot about men. What I learned is that we are not that different from each other. Especially in the way we process things and in the way we struggle with a lot of the same issues. I discovered that if you get guys alone, where they can be vulnerable, you will hear many of the same themes about what men struggle with in the area of sin and faith. Men will talk openly about what turns them off about structured Christianity if you give them a safe place to vent and be real.
I want to be clear and transparent here. I have struggled mightily with certain elements within the Christian landscape and certain attitudes in Christian community for most of my life. Serving for all these years alongside men and hearing them share about many of the same issues that I have been dealing with gave me the courage to write “A Simpler Faith.”
Writing this book was my cathartic, mid-life crisis moment where I wanted to bring to light these issues that I felt, way too many men struggled with, but were not sure how to bring them up in the Christian community that they fellowship in. Organized religion does not make it easy to have conflicting views on scripture or disagree with what your individual group or denomination feels “this is what the Lord means by this verse”. We have such Spiritual hubris when it comes to biblical interpretation. It never ceases to amaze me how right we each think we are when it comes to “what the Bible say’s about that”. We can become so sure of what we believe that we lose respect for those who have a different take on Scripture than us. Let me give you a personal experience from my past.
I had just moved to San Diego from New Jersey as I started my junior year in my college journey. Two years at a small school back east had gotten me ready for the big time of San Diego State University. I was walking on there to attempt to play college football with the SDSU Aztec’s. Being so far from home and dealing with the stress of school, workouts and work made me seek out a Christian group on campus to get some fellowship and support. I found a great group of fellow believers and started my spiritual relationship with them.
It did not take too long after engaging with them that I found out that they had a lot of critique for me on my childhood faith. You see I grew up in a Catholic home in NJ. Catholicism was my family’s faith expression. That was the home I grew up in. It was all I knew. The other thing that I knew was that Jesus Christ was the Savior and that he was my personal savior. This I knew.
My friends at this new Christian group on campus that I was connecting with felt I could not know that or feel that because I was Catholic. That my childhood faith group would preclude me from being able to have a personal relationship with God through Christ. This news was shocking to me. I tried to keep it from bothering me and just worked on growing in my faith at school that year. I was in a Bible study and meeting with other students one-on-one to talk through life’s struggles. Fellowship and discipleship. How dare I?
I went home that winter for Christmas break excited to tell my family and my priest about my spiritual growth and my Christian community experience. But to my dismay, Father Anthony told me to be careful about what I had been doing for the past couple of months. He warned me that I was not experiencing the Sacraments and that not being in a Catholic Church was putting me in jeopardy of not receiving the fullness of what Catholic community can and should give to you. In essence, if you are not practicing Catholicism, you are not really growing in your faith.
Holy shit! I just got shot down from both of my faith groups that I had finally found exciting after 19 years of life. 6 months earlier, I could have given a rip about my faith, now I had two groups I was perusing and they were disrespecting each other. What is a young believer to do?
I am going to stop here and let you yearn for the next installment of the blog. My hope is to unfold the book as we move forward and explain what my hot buttons are, and hopefully give those of you who struggle with church also a reason to come back to community.by