The church was an important part of my youth, and after marrying and moving to a new state to pursue my career, we continued to be active in church activities. The church we belonged to was a traditional Baptist church with a very comfortable, if time worn, worship routine. My wife was baptized there in that church in November 1966, while nine months pregnant with our first child, Link. I had been baptized as an adolescent.
Shortly after our second son was born in 1969 we joined a newly established fundamental Baptist church that was meeting in a rented church building. The minister’s messages were thought provoking and rousing, his teaching style expository. All teaching was done directly from the scripture itself.
The young pastor, new to the community, had a very aggressive community outreach program, tirelessly reaching out to teens and youth to bring them into the church family. The music director was a reformed “bad apple” who barely skirted a stint in prison before getting his life straightened out and turning to a music ministry. Both had brought their young families to the community to establish a new church whose aim was to reach into new areas of ministry.
The charismatic pastor had a vision for building a grand church complex and grounds including a full service retirement community for elderly church faithful. The congregation was enthusiastic about the idea, and the community was surprisingly, and liberally, responsive. Fund raising efforts for the proposed Baptist Community exceeded expectations. The church seemed to be attaining its goals much more quickly than projected.
Donations of land suitable for a church complex, including a retirement home and hospital, were received. Vehicles were donated to help transport members and guests to church on Sundays. The number of volunteers, and the treasury, quickly swelled. The congregation grew dramatically.
It was a wonderful time to be involved in the Lord’s ministry. My wife and I were very heavily involved, working to increase membership and soliciting contributions to the church, hosting weekly bible study, and I even drove one of the church buses on its route.
I was seriously considering entering the church’s ministry on a full time basis. The pastor had talked to me several times about joining the team and devoting all my time to His service. It seemed to me that I was being led to make the decision. I didn’t really want to leave my employer at the time, but was almost ready to take the step. It seemed natural. My great-grandfather, grandfather and an uncle were Baptist ministers, and it seemed my ministry was going to be in church service, too.
Then, one morning, the pastor, his family, and his entire staff, disappeared. They couldn’t be found. The treasury was gone, too! Members’ phones were ringing off the hook as we attempted to figure out what was going on. It eventually was determined that the pastor had manipulated all donations to be put into his own name until formal church foundations could be established. So, he owned everything he took with him. And, he left the church flat broke, and its congregation broken and dejected.
I was emotionally devastated. I just simply could not believe that this had happened to our church! I couldn’t believe it had happened to me! I had been working hard to help the church meet its goals, and had become one of the leaders in reaching out into the community. I had personally solicited many of the donations that had been made, and I was too humiliated to overcome this blow to my ego.
My humiliation eventually turned to rejection. Rejection of organized religion. I was too proud to go back to the church we used to attend. I would have had to admit that it was wrong to move my family’s membership to the new church led by a false prophet. I let my pride get in the way. I allowed Satan to drive a wedge between me and God. I left the church, terribly disheartened, and vowed to worship by myself in the future, rather than taking a chance on supporting another false leader.
I firmly believe it is this decision to leave the church that led to severe biblical discipline I later received. Scripture teaches that you can’t become a Christian and then just live your life any way you want. You have an obligation to fulfill your life’s ministry, and your heavenly father takes that obligation seriously. You should, too.