What Form Does Your Christian Life Take These Days?

by Cliff Ravenscraft on September 19, 2012

in Our Blog

On Saturday, it will have been one year since I published episode 121 of the Encouraging Others Through Christ Podcast (Formally known as the About The Church Podcast). The title of that episode was “Not Going To church Anymore.

Last week, I had received an email from someone that I have come to respect highly over the past several years. In that email he wrote, “No doubt others have asked, but I would love to hear what form your christian life takes now that you have been detached from organized church for a while?”

I took some time to respond to this question this morning. Below is the response that I gave.

You are correct. Several have asked.

In fact, the answer to the question is that several have asked.

It seems that everywhere I go, I’ve been “asked to give the reason for the hope that I have.”

Over the past twelve months, I’ve had more than 20 conversations, one on one, with individuals that were between one and four hours in length about what it is like to pursue a relationship with a Heavenly Father outside of guilt ridden, performance based Christianity. Getting to the heart of understanding God’s love, grace, and mercy for us. Much of what is covered in EOTC Episode 131.

These conversations have had a profound impact on my life as well as the lives of each of the people that I have had them with. In EVERY circumstance, they brought up the topic and it seems as though God continues to put these people in my path everywhere I go.

Certainly, each time I visit a new city like, (Chicago, IL), (Orlando, FL), (New York City, NY), (Ft. Worth, TX), etc. I seem to get a request from someone who has followed me online who requests to have a private dinner or lunch conversation with me to discuss what it is like to live life outside of the gospel of good works and religious compliance.

These conversations have been a large part of the form my Christian life takes these days.

I spend a great deal of time in more sincere, honest, and heartfelt conversation with God on a regular basis. My “prayer” with God is so much more “real” than it has ever been before. I am finally feeling the “affection” of a loving Father.

Throughout my day, I sense the prompting of the Holy Spirit as I approach decisions that need to be made.

Conversations with my wife and children are downright REAL, AUTHENTIC and have NO PRETENSE. Though I sometimes wonder if we should not have more structured and/or scheduled time for our family to discuss matters of faith, I’ve not yet been so convicted to do so as to make that happen.

I feel that my Christian life is not too unlike the Christian life as portrayed by Michael Hosea in the fictional story of Redeeming Love. That was a man who worked hard, had family and a few people that he interacted with. He was a man who had certainly heard and followed the voice of God and who wasn’t tied to the regular attendance of a local church.

I don’t have all this figured out. I don’t know if we will always be unplugged from a local church. Then again, I don’t know if I’ll ever again commit to membership in such an institution as they exist here in the states. At this time, I feel no pressure, at all, to make such a decision either way.

I know that I am on a “journey” and I’m simply taking it day by day. I’m incredibly blessed by those that God does place in my path just at the right times.

It’s interesting. It’s sometimes scary. However, there is no question that the past year of my relationship with God has been amazing and I wouldn’t have traded this experience for the world.

Only God knows where I’ll be a year from now.

Thanks for asking!

Cliff

  • LuluC

    Cliff, I have unplugged for a number of years for (sounds like) some of the same reasons you have. The freedom to love God, to pray and keep things before the Throne of Grace is between God and I and not a performance for an institution. It’s very interesting; I had a church going friend refer to me as a “heathen” last week because I don’t “plug in” week after week. She’s also referred to different people as “mighty prayer warriors”–the only way that can be known is if the prayer is done before man and/or the “mighty prayer warrior” in question, let it be known how his or her prayers seemingly get answered all the time (because the Lord and that person are almost as one…). Perhaps this sounds cynical, but I tire of this holier than thou stuff. It wears me out and wears me thin. God loves us, period. He loved us so much He sent his Son on our behalf. His Son left specific instructions: to love one another as I have loved you. I don’t believe that means calling someone who doesn’t go to church a heathen. Take a look at my reading table–there’s a well worn Bible sitting there with my name on the cover. I still believe, I just do it privately.

  • http://PodcastAnswerMan.com/ Cliff Ravenscraft

     @LuluC you don’t sound cynical to me.  I’m happy to “be the Church” with you!

  • http://www.geoffgentry.org/ xforce11

    Cliff,  I’ve been praying for you and your family during this time.  I thought about you all two weekends ago.  My church hosted a Family Integrated Church conference with people from all over the U.S.   They came to find out about the FIC model, connect with others to start churches,  and strengthen their faith.  We are working to get the audio of the 12 sessions edited and up.   One of them we talked about the importance of being in a local body.  I’ll send you link to the session when it is up.  I’m also looking forward to reading this book as well.  (Why We Love the Church http://www.amazon.com/Why-Love-Church-Institutions-ebook/dp/B0037714TO/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1348066214&sr=8-2&keywords=why+I+love+the+church ).  I pray that one day the Lord would connect you with a good local body.  I know my local body can be challenging to me at times (being a single guy in a family focused body) but I know I need the daily & weekly fellowship, accountability, and protection that the local body provides.

  • Rebecca Livermore

    My husband and I have been in a house church for almost 2 years now.  I was seriously burned out on traditional church, so this was a good way to go for us. We meet Sunday PM, so no rushing in the morning to get ready. Eat dinner together as a church family (about 10 of us), check in (tell about how we’re each doing), pray, grapple with the Scriptures, etc.
     
    It’s been a great way for us to have that type of fellowship and community with other believers without all of the trappings of a more traditional setting. It’s been good for us. The only thing I miss sometimes is the corporate worship (music) of the larger church, because I really connect with God through that. But it’s amazing how much even worship videos on YouTube minister to me.

  • http://PodcastAnswerMan.com/ Cliff Ravenscraft

     @xforce11  I appreciate your prayers for our family.  I have a feeling that he may just end up connecting us to a “good local body.”  Though I have only have the faintest sense that it will look nothing like any “local church body” that we have ever participated in.  But then again.  That’s the reason that I created the custom image that I did for this blog post.  Our destination is truly unknown.
     
    I appreciate you my friend.

  • Doug Payton

    Hebrews 10:25 – Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
     
    That meeting together doesn’t have to be a formal church, certainly, but God wants us with the community of believers in one form or another. As He said through Solomon:
     
    Proverbs 27:17 As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. 

  • http://www.geoffgentry.org/ xforce11

     @Cliff Ravenscraft Well I know people who have moved across the country to be a part of a good local body.  And some who have moved to help plan ones.  We have helped send out one church and sent out 2 sister churches.  The most recent one a few weeks ago.  One of the elders moved from New England to help plant one.  Being in that FIC conference with people from denominations, non-denominational churches and more was great.  We all may do services differently but all have the same vision for keeping families together in worship, men leading and being the spiritual leader at home and building up strong believers.  It was great!

  • http://PodcastAnswerMan.com/ Cliff Ravenscraft

     @Rebecca Livermore I am so delighted to hear that you’ve found a way to get more deeply connected in relationships with others through the house church movement.  
     
    I spent most of my “professional ministry” studying the “cell church” movement which is not too unlike the house church movement.
     
    One thing I’m certain of.  Life is too short to waste it wallowing in guilt and shame and it is too precious to spend it gagging on the gospel of good works or religious compliance.
     
    Thanks for sharing your experience Rebecca!

  • http://www.geoffgentry.org/ xforce11

     @Doug Payton I agree Doug.  I do say that yielding to be under the protection and leadership of godly elders is hard but provides so much protection and peace too.

  • http://PodcastAnswerMan.com/ Cliff Ravenscraft

     @Doug Payton Great Scripture Doug.  The great thing is that since I’ve stopped “going to church” and began to have a laser focus on “being the church,” I’ve spent more time “meeting together” with other believers where we “sharpen each other” than I ever did when I was overly committed to the “institution.”
     
    Thank you for taking the time to read and leave feedback on the post here today!  I appreciate you!

  • http://DaddyLife.net/ Hank Osborne

     @Cliff Ravenscraft I know we each have our own convictions and so far I have not felt convicted by the Holy Spirit to move from a formal gathering of believers. I have struggled with this issue of church attendance and compliance for years.  At one point we even had a home church going with several other families and were all tithing into this home church. The problem was that the leader was without oversight and became very hostile when asked simple questions about how things were being done financially. I say this to emphasize what @Doug Payton said about yielding to Godly elders. As long as what we do keep us connected with the greater body and no one involved gets proud and puffed up, then we should be safe with “not attending church”. I would be interested to hear how you deal with giving/tithing. Do you believe in tithing? If so, how do you approach it with your current status?

  • Doug Payton

     @Cliff Ravenscraft That sounds great, Cliff.

  • http://PodcastAnswerMan.com/ Cliff Ravenscraft

     @xforce11  It’s interesting that no one gave Jesus more trouble than the elders and the Pharisees in Jerusalem.  
     
    I’ve been a part of a large number of local churches in my lifetime.  I have come to the place where I do question the conventional wisdom and spiritual infallibility of the religious elite.
     
    I have no doubt that there are many churches filled with godly leaders.  During this past year, one of the most influential men in my life had been Dr. David H Foster, who was a church pastor.  Ironically, he’d been one of my greatest cheerleaders entering the journey that I had been on over the past year.   He passed a way on April 1st of this year and I miss him dearly.
     
    However, every godly leader is also a sinner.  It’s only by grace that God has granted us the ability to speak anything of value to anyone.
     
    It’s been truly amazing to see the people that God has used to play the role of elder in this past year.
     
    Here’s some interesting information form a a book title “The Naked Church” which can be found here: http://share.gspn.tv/JZDM
     
    Here are some things related to “biblical leadership.”
     
    1. Leaders are equippers. the central role of leaders is simply to equip believers to an intimate relationship with God that will allow them to live together as his family. In the new testament we don’t have one in every group providing all the resources for the 
    body. The body grew as each part did its work.
     
    Part of the problem here is that we have combined biblical leadership with the need to manage the corporate structures that surround expressions of his body. because we own buildings, pay bills, and develop extensive programs, we have an institutional 
    structure that we mistake for being the church.
     
    The church is the people who are living under Father. Those that help people develop that relationship are its true leaders.
     
    Those who spend time managing budgets, constructing pro­grams and meeting people’s needs are not even envisioned in the new testament. That’s what the body does quite naturally as it lives related to Jesus. If we’re going to have the structures, we will need decision­ making machinery to maintain it. But we dare not confuse those who do so with biblical leadership. 
     
    2. Leaders are mature followers of Jesus. The body is not a democracy in which everyone on the spectrum has an equal voice. First Timothy 3 lists the requirements for leadership, and all have to do with personal integrity and spiritual maturity.  Unfortunately, church leadership is regarded more as a profession that one prepares for academically than as a role necessitating personal maturity.
     
    David Watson struggled with this same problem: “most of the mainline churches place too great an emphasis on academic training and too little on spiritual renewal and life.”  Even unpaid leaders in churches are too often chosen because they’re rich, have a good business sense, or are popular, and not because they are sensitive to God.
     
    3. Leaders are background people. since leaders are freeing the body to be all Jesus wants it to be, their work is temporary and usually in the background. We can’t even think of churches today without focusing on its central feature—the pastor. No such figure exists in scripture. Paul’s letters were almost exclusively written to brothers 
    and sisters in the body, not elders or pastors. he mentions leader­ship only seven times in his letters, and never as central figures leading the fellowship after their perspective.
     
    He also warns the colossians about anyone who would make rules and hold others accountable to them. True leaders set people free from bondage to follow Jesus, while false leaders weigh them down with burdens and expectations, demanding that they be accountable to them as God’s anointed.
     
    Those who seek that place demonstrate that they have lost connection with the head.  They do not honestly believe that Jesus is fully capable of doing it himself. the very fact that they have staked out a position over others, ought to be our first indication that they understand little about Father or his kingdom (cf. mark 10:42­45).
     
    4. Leadership is always addressed in the plural. Every example of leadership in the new testament is shared among teams of mature believers.  Shared leadership allows the body to be equipped without being manipulated, since no one person is projected into Jesus’ role. Furthermore, the confirmation of others is an important facet in discovering God’s will.
     
    This list shows how far our current thinking about church is far afield of Scripture’s model. Many cannot even conceive leadership in these terms because two thousand years of tradition have shaped a view of leadership that is beyond examination.
     
    This list is not given to condemn people who don’t subscribe to it. Most have never been exposed to any other alternative.  I like Christian Smith’s approach. “the problem with clergy is not the people who are clergy, but the profession these people belong to.”  Often those who suffer the most from our unbiblical forms of church leadership are the leaders themselves.
     
    Many began as people who sincerely wanted to help others to grow in God. By embracing unquestioningly a position Jesus makes no allowance for, they labor under the tyranny of expectations no one is able to meet. It’s as if we pay one person to represent the entire body of christ.
     
    We may not be able to change such a deeply imbedded structure, nor should that be the primary conclusion of this chapter. We would be far better off to begin to embrace our own accountability to Jesus as head of the church, whether or not others do. 
     
    By removing any mediators from our own minds that we’ve allowed to crawl between us and Father, we can begin to enjoy today the intimate friendship he designed for each of us. 
     

  • http://www.geoffgentry.org/ xforce11

     @Cliff Ravenscraft Many of those reasons and the biblical president for Elders (plural) leading the church are the reasons we are Elder led at Antioch.  Paul & Barnabas established churches on their journeys.  Then after a year or so they would return talk with the local body, see the men who were qualified and install several as elders.  Elders should be raised up with in the local body (because they know and love it and the people).  The requirement is not having a degree but on walking out the standards for eldership.  They are all flawed and sin, but sin is not a pattern in their lives.  They take on the responsibilities of listening to the Lord and shepherding the flock.  Yes some may be set apart to full time ministry but it is not a requirement.  (Great book on the subject of elders http://www.amazon.com/Biblical-Eldership-Restore-Leadership-ebook/dp/B004RRB3LW/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1348072168&sr=8-1 )
     

  • http://PodcastAnswerMan.com/ Cliff Ravenscraft

     @xforce11 I appreciate that you have found a local body that is structured in such a way that you are comfortable with.  Maybe one day I’ll also discover one as well.  Maybe even create one.  
     
    However, I have no current desire to seek either of these two options at this point in my journey.
     
    It’s very clear Geoff that you have found a “local body” that encourages, that builds you up in the faith, and that offers you an environment to help build into the lives of others within the body.  For that, I praise God!
     
    At the very same time, I praise God for the exact spot that He currently has me in on my own journey as well.

  • http://www.nashvillerealestatenow.com/blog stevejolly

    Cliff,
    As someone who walked away from Church 30 years ago, I understand exactly how you feel.  I know it is possible to have a relationship with God and not attend church on a regular basis. I may have even had a better relationship than some who attended every week.  I followed this path for twenty years.  Ten years ago, when my children were starting school, I felt the need to attend church again.  This time I was going to church for my family’s sake and not my own.
     
    We looked for the perfect church but never found it. We continued looking for the right one because I did not want to have any more hurtful experiences in God’s house.  We finally found a church home with some very loving people that felt like home.  We started slow, and over time became more attached and engaged. 
     
    And then it happened. My church home started to fall apart. Mostly over small, insignificant issues in comparison to the problems of the world.  Many times we felt like packing our bags and leaving.  However, God was telling me to stay put and to be a peacekeeper. Several people that we loved, left the church or stopped attending regularly.  It was very sad. 
     
    A core group of people held firm by focusing on God’s work and not the will of men. I was now attending church for the sake of my family and other members.  There were people who had attended this church for more than 50 years, and it was most of what they had left in the world.  I thought about the children who (like me as a teenager) would be left with scars of church fighting.  I did not want to be an accomplice to the destruction of a church.
     
    I am happy to say that four years ago, we came through the darkeness with love and a focus on God’s work. Like the parable of the vine, I think that our church needed pruning in order to grown.   We have been growing steadily and attracting members from other churches and new families.  My kids have grown into teens with a strong love for God and the strength to see them through tough times.   My children now have a strong faith of their own, and I find my self attending church for the sake of others.  I cross paths each week with someone who counts on seeing my friendly smile, a few kinds words or some encouragement.  From these moments, I am renewed.  Reflecting back, I think the whole time God was preparing me for the challenges that I would face and the purpose that he had for me. 
     
    I did not share my story to encourage you to attend church regularly.  The way you worship is between you and God.  However, I want to encourage you to follow God’s will for your life.  Seek out where he wants you to share your smile, your encouragement and His love. 
     
    Steve

  • http://PodcastAnswerMan.com/ Cliff Ravenscraft

     @Hank Osborne  Thank you so much for your feedback.  One thing that I want to make clear to anyone who might read this is that I am in no way trying to get anyone else to take on my own convictions as their own.   My sharing my journey has nothing about convincing others to leave the institutionalized church.  My purpose of sharing is to simply give an account of my own life as one who has done just that.
     
    I already addressed my thoughts on “biblical leadership” in response to Doug and Geoff (aka XForce11) below.
     
    Regarding your question about tithing, I don’t have time to write all this up in my own words at this moment in time.  I had done so in the past but have lost track of that old document over the years. I’m a huge fan of the materials that Wayne Jacobsen has shared about many of these issues that come up for those who live a life of faith outside of the traditional, institutionalized, church.  I’m going to simply paste two documents below.  I can tell you that my thoughts on tithing and giving are in line with what you are about to read. 
     
    =================================
    The short answer is that I am convinced that all old covenant forms are a shadow of a greater reality. For our giving that reality is described in 2 Corinthians 7-9, where we are encouraged to live in God’s generosity and give of our lives accordingly, not to pay some obligation to God to appease him.
     
    Tithing was a command given to Israel as part of their covenant and temple-system. There is nothing in the New Testament that would indicate it to be binding on any other group of people and the early church certainly saw their giving in far different terms.
     
    That said, I do think that Jesus’ followers who live in abundance (which in world terms includes anyone living in a developing country) will find God’s work in them showing them how to live generously with others who suffer in the world for lack of basic necessities and how to participate in sharing God’s kingdom in the world through projects or people God might call them to support.
     
    Living in the reality and not the shadow means that, unless we are in a time of great need, we will find ourselves giving well over 10% wherever God might lead us.
     
    Original source: http://gspn.tv/tdwb
    =================================
     
    Of all the questions I get about relational church life, “What do you think of tithing?” ranks right at the top with “What do we do about children?” Admittedly I traverse financial waters with great care since nothing has been more abused among God’s people in our day.
     
    Usually those who speak about it do so only to get their hands on more of it for themselves. So much of what has been said in this area either burdens people with guilt or bribes them with false promises of God giving them more money in return. I’ll risk being misunderstood because I want you to discover the joy and freedom of seeing Father’s hand in your giving just as much as any other area of your life. I don’t pretend to have all the answers here nor to offer a complete treatise on this subject, but I do want to share with you where the journey has led me in this area.
     
    Jesus and Money
    Jesus spoke about money as much as he spoke about anything except relating to his Father. He said nothing reveals our affections more than that which we compile as treasure, or that which we freely share at God’s bidding.
     
    Even a cursory reading of the Gospels reveals that he talked about it more than he talked about church, worship or even prayer. He warned us not to judge God’s fairness or generosity by it, and made it clear that the abundant life had nothing to do with the amount of money or possessions we have, but the simplicity of living in the freedom of his righteousness, the rest of his peace and the fullness of his joy.
     
    The pursuit of money and the worries it creates has the capacity to choke out the life of the kingdom in any of his followers. It is better to give it away to the poor than let it own your heart.
     
    He also said that wise hearts would use money as a tool for God’s purpose in the world. It can open doors and minister to the needs of many, when it doesn’t own you. Use it responsively to him and it can be a blessing to you and others. Hoard it and its promise quickly turns into a cage for a darkened heart.
     
    With capacity for such good or such evil, how does he want us to handle our money?
     
    To read the rest of this, I encourage to you go to the original Source of this post found here: http://gspn.tv/p81w   Start reading from the section that says “Storehouse Tithing”
     
    I promise, it is WELL WORTH READING.
     

  • http://PodcastAnswerMan.com/ Cliff Ravenscraft

     @stevejolly Thank you so much for sharing a little bit from your journey.  And more than anything, I sincerely appreciate your final few sentences of encouragement.  That, my brother-in-Christ, is exactly the type of comment that I’ve come to cherish and expect from those who are solidly convinced that God is capable of guiding each of His children on their individual journeys.
     
    Many blessings!

  • http://DaddyLife.net/ Hank Osborne

     @Cliff Ravenscraft Thanks for the resources. I’ll take a look. I do expect that we may see things a little differently in the end based on where you have headed with your initial statements. I personally do not believe, “all old covenant forms are a shadow of a greater reality.” “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Tim 3:16-17 
     
    I have found myself in a financial storm and tithing in an old testament fashion helped serve as a tangible demonstration to myself and my family that we were trusting God even when it may not feel like there was any hope. 
     
    I love some of Wayne Jacobsen’s writing, but I don’t agree with everything he says. I don’t agree with any man 100% of the time and that includes myself. I have a right to change my mind when I realize that I am wrong. I exercise that right often. ;-)  For the record, I did not in any way take your post as being a persuasive writing to leave the church. I did not mean to imply that I took it that way at all.Thanks again! 

  • http://PodcastAnswerMan.com/ Cliff Ravenscraft

     @Hank Osborne I totally understood your the heart of your message and did not feel that you were implying that I was trying to convince others to follow me down the path that I am on.   Though, there is a comment on the Facebook post that links to this post that aserts that I am.  
     
    Since you simply wrote that,  “so far I have not felt convicted by the Holy Spirit to move from a formal gathering of believers,” I just wanted to make it clear to everyone who would read my comments that I am not, in any way, trying to convince you to do anything different than to follow the the journey that God has you on.
     
    As for 2 Timothy 3:16-17, I believe that scripture to be true as well, when “all Scripture” is interpreted properly.  I’m okay that you and I  may come to different conclusions when we look at the Old Testament.  I studied the concept of tithing for over two years and became convinced that it is not a practice prescribed for the New Testament church many years ago.  Well before I ever heard of Wayne Jacobsen and when I was in the height of my ministry studies to become a licensed minister in the Nazarene church.
     
    With that said, most of my Christian life, I had been a faithful tither.  There were periods of time when I did begin to tithe.  However, each time it was the result of guilt and condemnation from the pulpit to do so.
     
    Regardless of it being a requirement or not, there have been a number of times where the Ravenscraft family had fallen on som extremely difficult times.  Like you, giving a minimum of 10% of my income, in spite of our circumstances, was for us, “a tangible demonstration to myself and my family that we were trusting God.”
     
    Today, I no longer tithe.  Well, not as a religious obligation of giving 10% to any “local institution.”
     
    While I don’t feel it appropriate to give any specific details.  I will simply say that I’m incredibly thankful for the poured our blessings, in every form (not only financial), that God has granted us.  And I’m so incredibly thankful for the opportunity to pass on many of those blessings to others, with a glad and sincere heart, as the Spirit of God lays it on our hearts.
     
    One last thing that I’ll share based something you said.  Like you, I don’t agree with any man 100%.  I even refuse to be known as a Wesleyan, a Lutheran, a Calvinist, or any other of those boxes.
     
    I do respect Wayne Jacobsen highly.  But not more highly than I should.  
     
    Know this Hank.  I appreciate you brother. 
     
     
     
     

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