I am teaching a foundations class that starts tonight. I have really wrestled with what to teach. My faith journey has had many distinct chapters so I am not inclined to a specific tradition. But through each I have kept a little and learned to avoid some as well.
The easiest way to describe my first church was mildly charismatic fundamentalist. That church stressed holiness and weirdly, financial responsibility. It was the policy of the church that if a young man wanted to propose to a woman in that congregation he had to meet with the senior pastor and present his finances. At the time it seemed like he was looking out for the young women but looking back, that’s just so weird. Of course, it goes without saying it became commonplace that older men married younger women and many women never got married at all.
Theology wasn’t particularly important nor was Bible knowledge. Getting your life together and obeying the leadership was really all you needed to know. I did learn a lot about Jezebel, being cursed with a curse, and the blessings of obedience. But there’s not a lot that I learned that I would incorporate into a foundations class. If you weren’t looking at porn, earned more than you spent, and you tithed, you were good.
I was sent out from that church as part of a church plant which moved “into the river.” After a couple decades of maturity, I see that season with a whole new perspective. Having come out of that fundamentalist church background, my pastor dove headfirst into this river of grace and God’s love. The Toronto Revival was in full swing, and we were swept up into it. The pastor deconstructed a bunch of the fundamentalism from the church we were sent out from but conveniently still believed all the teachings on obeying your pastor. If my first church was light on theology, this church was downright anemic.
I saw God do incredible miracles and manifest in ridiculous ways. But the key to discipleship in this season was soaking in God’s love. You might put on some sappy slow Christian music, lay on the ground, and let your imagination run wild about God’s love invading your life. If you had experiences with God’s love in prayer you were good.
From the beginning I was a revivalist at heart. As I saw the church plant I was a part of drift further and further from anything remotely theologically sound, I effectively began being pastored by itinerant evangelists who didn’t know me. In my revivalist phase the goal was to get people saved and baptized in the Holy Ghost. That was it. You have encounters with God, carry those encounters to other people, get them to have similar encounters, and I guess Holy Spirit would pastor them. That last part was never really fully articulated in my mind. I guess I figured that if you connected people to God, they could work out the rest. Now the goal was to operate in the gifts, get lost folks encountering God, get caught up in worship and intercession, and you were good.
Eventually I started an outreach that turned into a church, and I entered the pastoral phase of my walk. I still embraced all the revivalist stuff, but I was really interested in a church culture that facilitated transformation. I used a lot of materials from a church that I admired at the time. Since I had been under such heavy-handed leaders in the past, I overcorrected by not being a strong leader myself. I allowed some people who refused to learn theology, grow in character, receive correction, or really make themselves teachable in any meaningful way to walk in positions of authority.
We did a bunch of culture of honor stuff in this season and as I watched the church I modeled it from begin to implode, I watched how narcissistic the same teachings made some people in my church. The goal was to see the gold in people and tell it to them. Be nice to people and encourage them and you are good.
Then I went to seminary learned stuff. Some stuff contradicted other stuff I learned. Other stuff I learned made stuff makes sense. Other stuff made me question if my earlier pastors ever studied theology. This was a painful season because I had to step back and look at the big picture in light of what was truth and what was false light. But in this season, if you knew the “stuff” and where it came from you were good.
Now, I am far more at rest. I believe in parts of all that I have been through. But what I am landing on these days is that people need to learn the rhythm of being a follower of Jesus. The measuring sticks are all man-made. The goals you were taught in the past all become fuzzy. Counter cultural spiritual formation, encountering the living God, engaging in the mission Jesus left for the church are the three hallmarks of my faith now.
I still agree with my fundamentalist self that my life should be different. But it isn’t defined by whatever hangups my senior pastor had, it’s defined by what counter cultural spiritual formation looks like in the context of my ministry. I still believe that we should regularly encounter the living God in worship and intercession. But I have transformative experiences with God in reading the Psalms in ways that were fleeting in my times soaking on the floor for hours. I so desperately want people to be baptized in the Holy Ghost and power but not as part of some sort of circus sideshow. I now see it happening in ways that connects people to God and becomes an open conduit of His love for them.
So, as I’m writing this instead of completing my class, I feel even more justified in how I plan to teach it. Most Christian foundation classes start with sin and justification. They go into the Bible and the Trinity. All that is good. But I plan on starting with how to pray. I’m going to talk about how to read the Bible as a way that shapes your beliefs. We’re going to talk about the role the community of faith plays in the life of a believer. We’re going to talk about living in the rhythm of grace.
I think that will be good.