Saturday, January 12, 2013

Cory Nikkel: Leaving Church to Find Jesus

“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,

Please return next Saturday to read Cory's second guest blog about his ministerial calling.


  1. Nicely put Cory. Often times we grow up under the loving care of our parents, and we question nothing. Because that is normal to us. When someone else comes along and says how come you do it like that. Well that's just the way we do it. It is good to step back and see why we do what we do. I like the way you have tested your beliefs. God is truly good

  2. Thank you! I think it would be spiritually helpful if our parents allowed us to discover more of our faith for ourselves. Then we could become more deeply rooted in Jesus through our own journey instead of being spoon fed. Not sure how that exactly would work, but something to think about for the future generations.

  3. You and Brian Moore must have been separated at birth. In the case of the FOC it's not the pastors that are the problem, it's the lack of leadership all together. Then that's co-mingled with the fear of there being nothing outside of the church that could be as fulfilling. That's an interesting quest that you've been on, seek and you shall find, right?

    1. Hello! I would agree that it is not just the pastor who would cause a church to become spiritually dim, it could include the council, church board, or congregation, too. I never feared what was outside of church, but I knew there had to be more than what I was getting--and that's what I wanted to know. It has been a roller coaster journey, looking for what is "right" but in the end, I just want to love and serve Jesus the best I can. Thanks for commenting!

  4. Cory, you seem filled with enthusiasm and love of God and that counts for so much. But if you want to understand why there are so many denominations and so many disillusioned people you need look no futher than your own experience and practice.

    For me, the important thing is an organized denomination with an unchanging theology I can believe in. If I disagree with a teaching then I seek out teachers who are learned in the theology and see if MY understanding is amiss. I believe/accept 95% of what my religion teaches. 2.5% I accept that my understanding may still be flawed and I need to keep praying and learning about it and the other 2.5% I am certain the teaching is too general and can't apply in all situations. I don't question or struggle with whether I am in the right place.

    Following a lone preacher or an independent church is too fraught with the potential for disaster. It can be too much about the preacher or the congregation and not enough about God. There can't be thousands of right ways to live out what Jesus taught and yet that is the practical result of so many preachers who start their own churches and leave out huge chunks of the Bible because it doesn't fit their message.

    I pray you will find a denominational home whose theology makes your heart sing with the knowledge of it's rightness.

    1. When you speak about unchanging theology it makes me think about Catholic or Orthodox Christian. Which are you?

    2. Thanks for this input. In my heart I think I finally realized how much my faith was my parents and not my own and the skipping over the gifts of the Spirit put me over the edge. It was that little push that has helped me make my faith my own and take a critical look at what the Bible means to me.

      I agree with your 2nd to last paragraph, too. That's exactly what I DON'T want to do. I just want to shine Jesus' light and bring his love into this world. The functions of a church are never easy, but I thank you for your prayers in my endeavor.

  5. Cory, seems you have entered your spiritual life as a "seeker".

    "And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart." (Jer. 29:13)

    Correct me if I am wrong, but the Reformed Church from which you came believes in a partial cessation of the gifts. Unity in faith and doctrine does not come from an "organized denomination" but proceeds from the Holy Spirit through the exercising of his gifts.

  6. Thanks, Darren. I think we are all seekers in the faith somehow-someway, eh? Love the verse that you attached with it, too.

    The Dutch reformed as two branches, the Reformed Church in America (RCA) and the Christian Reformed Church (CRC). I grew up in the CRC and it is more of the conservative branch, but both doctrine reject the existence and usage of the gifts of the Spirit. Which is interesting because today I have met many pastors in both branches that believe in and use these gifts, so your last sentence rings true!


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