This post is number 4 in a series on the major streams of Christianity and my time in each.

So far, I have mentioned:
Orthodox (the one major stream I have had no involvement with)
Catholic and Mainline Protestant
Pentecostal ( I consider Pentecostal/Charismatic largely under the same umbrella. Our next stop would also fall under the Pentecostal/Charismatic umbrella…but I’ll treat them separately. Feel free to disagree.)

Today: Pentecostal again. 19 years old until 31

As I wrote yesterday, I walked away from faith in my freshman year of college. I was angry at God and wanted nothing to do with the church. However, my uncle comes back into the picture.

While I went away for my freshman year of college, I was back home for my sophomore year, and that, as well as other factors, led to a pretty deep depression. At the end of my sophomore year, my uncle had begun attending an Assembly of God. He told me that there were many college students and invited me to attend. I went, and there were a lot of students. However, it was the last week of the semester, and there were hardly any for the next few months.

After my second or third time, the pastor approached me and invited me to join the church softball team. One of the assistant pastors did the same. He also asked me to see a movie…which I thought Christians weren’t supposed to do.

Over the summer, the young adult Sunday school went through the book Eros Defiled. This was so unlike my previous church experience.

That fall, the students came back…I noticed Liz for the first time. I joined the AG campus fellowship, Chi Alpha, and made some good friends. Those next couple of years were some of the best I have ever experienced in so many ways.

Around the time of graduation, I made a decision that led, over the next few years, to my becoming ordained with the Assemblies and starting two university ministries; one in Albany and one at Cornell.

The good stuff:

  1. Without question, this is where I decided to take my faith and discipleship seriously, and have never looked back.
  2. It is where I first saw servant leadership lived out, and I met so many incredible godly people that I could look up to.
  3. I discovered gifts I had. I would never have imagined I could teach, or lead teams or start anything.
  4. In our university ministry, my thinking on the church as community and family was developed.
  5. A love of and appreciation for missions.
  6. Although it wasn’t encouraged, it was also here that I developed a healthy scepticism towards leadership and specific models of church.

So…Why I left.

You know the part in the movie Tommy Boy where Chris Farley does the fat guy in a little coat bit? That was me trying to fit in with the AG. Theologically and culturally, it was always an uncomfortable fit. However, Liz and I remained with it because it was where our friends were. I also lacked the confidence to believe anyone else would take me.

In 1997 I received a call from the NY district superintendent. He informed me that the head of campus ministry was fired and asked if I would discuss taking the role. I said I would. The following week was the annual get together for all the churches in NY, and I sat with and hung out with my friend who had just gotten fired. It was noticed, and I wasn’t hired.

(Side note: the guy who was fired (friend 1) was also the pastor who invited me to the movie 12 years earlier and discipled me for much of the next decade. What came to light a few years later made it clear he should have been fired. However, I was given no explanation, and I tend to be more loyal to those who have invested in me than institutions.)

They eventually brought in a person from the outside, and changes were being made. (He and I did not click on any level) For example, all campus pastors needed to also serve on staff at a church as youth pastors. I refused. And while they were willing to make an exception, I decided instead to look for a way out.

For the next 6 months, Liz and I began attending a non AG while still leading an AG campus ministry. I was ready to switch. Liz was not. In December, I was called into the District Office to “give an account of my relationship with the Assemblies.” At that point, Liz was also on board, and I went to the meeting (with all of the NY AG big shots) and announced that I was leaving. (Thankfully, I was accompanied by a pastor who was one of the best friends/mentors [friend 2]I’d made while in the AG…so it wasn’t as intimidating as it might have been).

During the meeting, it was suggested that I disconnect from any further ministry at Cornell. This is where that healthy scepticism of leadership came up…and I declined. I asked if we could pray a blessing on each other. We did and then ended my time in the AG and that branch of the Pentecostal/Charismatic stream.

Obviously, I was part of the Assemblies for a very formative decade-plus. And it has impacted my life in so many countless ways… mostly positive. There are times when I could imagine taking the job I mentioned a few weeks ago, working to change the culture and then being part of the AG for a long time. But friend number 2 encouraged me that I needed to be somewhere where they are having the arguments/conversations I cared about for my own well-being. So, rather than trying to change a culture in a large and established institution, I decided to find a better fit.

Next: The Third Wave

Photo Credit: Photo by Aləx Buchan on Unsplash

edited for clarity: 26/08 13:33