Several years ago we threw a surprise party for my wife. I’m terrible at keeping things like gifts and parties a secret, but I kept my mouth shut, and it turned out to be a lot of fun. Leading up to the party, though, it took everything within me to not spill the beans. This is the best way I know how to capture what if feels like to not be able to be honest with yourself and with your congregation as a minister.
God wants us to love Him with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength, so when one of those areas is inhibited by fear, social pressure, or whatever, it makes one feel like they are living a lie.
When you mix immaturity and a fire in a young minister’s belly with a culture that equates changing your mind with abandoning the gospel, you are bound for a disaster. The more I tried to suppress my beliefs, even lie to myself about them, the more they began to slip out in conversations, articles, classes, and sermons. Had our congregation cultivated an environment where it was safe to have doubts, questions, and differences, things may have not gone as poorly as they did, but when changing your mind is equated to abandoning the gospel, open dialogue is near impossible.
So, for a little less than a year, I was torn. On the one hand, I needed someone with whom I could share these amazing truths I was discovering. On the other, I had learned from conversations with the people close to me that my new understandings were unwelcome and potentially damnable heresy or fatal error.
I longed for some kind of fellowship in which I could freely express my views. Before too long I found it, and in May of 2016 I travelled to Michigan to speak at my first prophecy-related conference. I finally had a place to shout my views from the rooftops with no one to judge, condemn, or excommunicate me, or so I thought.
It wasn’t long before people on social media were able to put two and two together. The already mounting tension was amplified by my decision to go behind my congregation’s back and speak at this lectureship. Youthful stupidity mixed with zeal for truth came together and landed me in a world of trouble. While my ultimate destiny had already been decided by the powers that be, this definitely expedited the process.
The next two months crawled forward. With summer approaching, I was asked to speak at a Summer series at a church in Boaz, AL, about five minutes from where I live now. After that, though, I was told by my elders that I was not to accept any more speaking engagements.
That summer my elders, my Step-Dad and Granddaddy, asked if I would study with them and our deacons. I agreed, but after a few of these studies, I knew in my heart that there wasn’t any hope for me. Then, at the end of the Summer, they gave me an ultimatum, which must have been extremely difficult for them: I could change my mind, resign, or be fired.
Before too long, I discovered that a hatchet man was being brought in to speak on “change-agents.” So, that Sunday, I stood up and read my letter of resignation after delivering a few short thoughts overviewing my beliefs and the reason for my departure. It was devastating. This was the congregation that I grew up in. As I looked out over the audience, I stared into the faces of people who changed my diapers, taught me the books of the Bible, and attended my graduation. This was my family.
The next few years were difficult mentally, spiritually, and financially. Every year around the anniversary of these events, I would slip into a phase where I would’t answer my phone, make videos, or write like I love to do. This happened several times between 2016 and 2018. I knew I didn’t belong in my tribe, that it didn’t provide the answers to my questions, but I didn’t know where to go.
Please don’t think that I’m discounting the experiences of others who may feel at peace where they are; nor do I want to cast doubts about their relationship with God. I’m specifically talking about my experience.
At this point I had begun to question many of my other long-held beliefs relating to subjects like the nature of Hell, ascertaining Bible authority, and the definition of a Christian. While some of these studies yielded quick results, such as the nature of Hell, others gave me stock answers, but those answers didn’t really work for me quite yet.
You see, even though I had a major change in relation to prophecy, there wasn’t much difference in me before and after my change of views. I was in the middle of a larger paradigm shift, a shift from legalism to freedom, as my friend Dallas Burdette would say. This larger, over arching change transformed how I read the Bible, how I lived my life, how I view others, and how I think of God.
Until the Fall of 2018, though, I was still pretty much operating within a paradigm largely rooted in the puritan idea of pattern theology. Most of my friends and people I spent the majority of my time with shared these views, so we served as sort of an echo chamber for each other. I wasn’t satisfied where I was, but I didn’t have the language to move me into the next phase of paradigm change: transition.
Changing your mind within this framework presents you with at least two paths.
The first path is the path where you say things like, “Now I have the the truth” (which is something I used to say).On this path, one’s circle of fellowship greatly decreases because saying that you now have the truth means that what everyone else has is a lie, and we all know where liars go. This path leads to further division and is easily recognizable by the attitudes of those who go this route, an attitude which I portrayed. They often call others ugly names, belittle those with whom they disagree, and try to “expose” those who aren’t in their new group. People on this path typically try to justify their attitudes by saying that Jesus flipped tables and called his audience the children of the Devil. While Jesus did do those things when confronting the arrogant religious leaders, it wasn’t His standard mode of operation when dealing with everyone.
The second path is one of humility. You understand that if you were wrong about A, then what about B, C, D, etc.? This journey can be dangerous because it doesn’t feel safe like the alternative because it forces you to accept the fact that you may be wrong about everything, even the thing you changed your mind on that set you down this path. Some on this journey lose their faith completely. Others find their faith. Some snap back into their old ways like a toddler who accidentally wandered a little too far out of her comfort zone at the family gathering and runs back to momma.
For me, I started down the first path, but after an experience I’ll talk about in the next post, I ultimately chose the second one. As my friend Wayne Dunaway says, “You can’t unscramble an egg.” Another friend of mine, O.B. Richardson, when recounting his ongoing pilgrimage of faith often says, “Once you see you can’t unsee. Once you taste you can’t untaste.” When one tastes and sees that the Lord is good, it’s impossible to go back to the bitter water from which you once drank.
The disembedding phase is where you know that the water you have is no good, but you have no choice but to drink out of the source that’s available to you. Transition, what we’ll discuss in the next post, is when you hear tale of new water, maybe even sample it, and embark on a journey to find it no matter what.