“Woah, woah, woah. You can’t do that! You can’t just skip over the spiritual gifts when it is in the context of the passage.” I gasped as I sat in the church pew at a Christian Reformed Church located in southeast Iowa. “I’ll give him a piece of my mind.”
Squirming with built-up rage I fumed for the rest of the service waiting to burst out of my seat and pursue my prey—the pastor.
“Please tell me how you can justify skipping over the spiritual gifts when you are reading directly from 1 Corinthians 12? Seriously!”
Pastor Ron stumbled over his words and finally spit out, “It’s just not what we believe in our church, no use in reading it if we can’t talk about it or believe it.”
“This is pathetic. I’m leaving and don’t expect me to come back.” I stormed out desperately wanting to give him and the church the middle finger.
This was my departure from what I knew as church. At only 18 years old and considered to be the “church class leader” this did not sit well with the church council, congregation, or my parents. But there had been something stirring inside of me for months while I sat in church—in the same church my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents had gone to—and I needed to figure it out.
To me, the church seemed dead. No one had passion, excitement, or joy. People just showed up and did what they always did—sat in the pew, emotionless. At this point in my life I had already been to Peru and Mexico on mission trips and to numerous different states, and when I was there I felt the Holy Spirit alive in me. But not here, not at my home church.
So I left the church, but I didn’t leave Jesus. I decided to figure out why there were so many denominations of Christianity and why people attended their particular choice. I called the next 4 months a “Denominational Study.” I read 9 different books on denominations and attended a service as well as talked to pastors from Lutheran, Evangelical Free, Pentecostal, Methodist, Catholic, Nazarene, Baptist, Greek Orthodox, and Mormon.
I asked these two questions of the pastors every time: 1) Why do you preach in _______ denomination? and 2) Have you always been here and would you ever switch?
Ultimately I got lots of the same responses which went like this, “I guess I’m a pastor in this denomination because it’s what I was raised in, and I could never see myself leaving.”
You can probably see that this didn’t sit well with me.
If all church was becoming was a place for hermits who go to church because they always have, but don’t really know why they go, then what’s the point? Why even go? You just waste your time sitting there anyways!
My heart burned for an answer to this mess I was unraveling. There had to be a purpose for church. I couldn’t have wasted 18 years of my life in this place and it not be worth something.
For the next 2 years I continued searching. Searched my heart, rode a roller-coaster of a spiritual life, and never returned to my home church. My parents would tell me of the congregation and pastor’s concern but they understood my heart needed more than it was receiving, so they let me carry on.
But here is the interesting thing that happened, God never left me. There were times when I tried to make it happen, but inherently knew it was impossible. I found that when I read my Bible and had a prayer life, joy was evident. When I tried to go my own way and forget about God, I was joyless.
No God, No Joy—Know God, Know Joy.
Here I am now five years later. I’m 23 years old, a traveling preacher and author, and I teach English at a public school, too. I don’t belong to a specific denomination, I don’t go to just one church, I just seek and serve Jesus. And I’m not perfect at it. I’m broken, bruised, battered, and need Jesus now more than ever.
That’s what I’ve figured out through this whole “leaving my home church” experience—I just needed to be real with myself, be alive in my faith. There are deep philosophical answers as to “why” all these denominations exist, but at the core of it all, everyone just wants more of Jesus, and that’s what I want, too. Perhaps a church will give that to me one day, or maybe I’ll start my own, but until then, I just live to find and give a little more Jesus every day.
* * * * *
Cory Nikkel (@corynikkel) is a 23 year old author, speaker, and creative mind who strives to be an uplifting and influential voice in the 18-29 year old generation. If you can’t find him wearing one of his many hats, he’s probably in front of his computer figuring out the kinks in his website, www.corynikkel.com.
Please return next Saturday to read Cory's second guest blog about his ministerial calling.