Duane's United Pentecostal Church Experience

Until just a year ago, I was a third generation UPC preacher. My grandfather was a pastor and my father is a missionary with several positions on national level boards and committees. My mother is second generation UPC, my brother is a licensed UPC preacher, and my sister married a man who pastors the second largest UPC church in their state. My family has close ties to most of the well-known “royal families” of the UPC. At one time or another, most of the more well-known UPC preachers and pastors have preached at our church or at our conferences and they’ve eaten my Mom’s incredible cooking in our home.

As a teen, I had a personal revival with the Lord and soon thereafter felt His calling on my life to the ministry. I was a spiritual leader in my youth group and the Lord used me there to inspire and minister to other kids my age. Even today, my friends from that time still remind me of times that the Lord used me to help them as He used me in the gifts of the Spirit. Through the ministry of our youth pastor we experienced a great spiritual awakening in our youth and out of that group came four UPC ministers. What an incredible memory!

After seeking the Lord’s direction He led me to attend Bible school. I went there full of the Holy Spirit and full of a vision for the future. I double majored and graduated just a hair short of honors. My plan was to go overseas and help my father in his ministry. But the Lord had other plans for me and Dad and I could never work it out the details to get my wife and I over there. So, I went to the pastor of the church I was attending and informed him that I’d be hanging around town awhile waiting for the Lord’s direction. On the spot, he offered me a full-time position at his church. I accepted, was ordained by the church, and immediately threw myself into the work of the Lord.

I’ve always thought outside of the box and with the creativity of the Spirit I experienced success in what the Lord gave to me to do. The church is a large church and I was blessed to have a volunteer corp of about 50-75 people working in my particular area of ministry. It was exciting to see the Lord doing wonderful things in people’s lives. However ( you had to know a “But!” was coming :) ), even though I had a position that all of my college buddies would have killed their favorite hound for, I was miserable and within 6 months of being hired I began looking for a way out. Not just from my job and church, but from the UPC.

You see, there was a question in my heart that nobody in the UPC could answer. If the Oneness of God, Jesus Name baptism for the remission of sins, and holiness standards were so vitally important to salvation, then how could “liberals” (like the Assemblies of God, “charismatics”, and (gasp) independent Pentecostals who had (double gasp) “left the organization”) be filled with the Holy Ghost and speak in tongues? The obvious conclusion to me then, and now, is that these doctrines aren’t as important to God as they seem to be to so many people.

At different times growing up I asked this same question of my parents, my pastors and my teachers. I never received an adequate, Bible based answer to this conundrum. Therefore, I didn’t buy into all of it. I held myself in reserve on some of these issues. Since I didn’t know how I could survive outside the UPC I went along somewhat with all the UPC “stuff”, figuring that some day I’d find the answer and they’d turn out to be right after all. I couldn’t imagine that all these great men and women of God could be wrong about so many things and still be filled with the Holy Spirit.

So, I made the deal with myself that I’d not preach or teach these things myself since I didn’t really believe them wholeheartedly, nor would I challenge anyone else who did. When they brought them up I’d just smile, kid around and then change the subject. I figured there were so many other things to preach and discuss that I didn’t need to “go there” until such time that the Lord settled it in my heart. Looking back I see how it was sort of like an functionally illiterate person going through life hiding their deficiency. In many respects it was a very stressful and intimidating experience. Especially when my pastor/boss and my father both encouraged me to get my license with the UPC. I just couldn’t do it.

It was difficult during my Bible school years because it was hard for me to get close to people. Not so much for fear of being found out, but because many of them believed it hook-line-and sinker and they knew I didn’t. We didn’t talk about it, they just sensed it. Although they tried to pull me in, I always resisted being a part of the “preacher crowd.”

I think even back then, I knew that I wouldn’t be UPC forever. In fact, the only reason I accepted the position at the church was because I mistakenly thought that the pastor was more progressive, more open minded, and “out of the box” and figured even though he was UPC on paper, in practice he was more in line with my vision. It is a big enough church that I figured I could be myself and work for the Lord and still be attached to all that I knew and loved. Boy, was I wrong.

For all his “progressiveness”, the church and he are very traditional UPC and nothing was (or is) going to change their outlook. I first came to this sinking conclusion when I watched a brand new convert run out of a new converts class in tears because the pastor’s wife told the class that any woman who wore pants and make-up was identifying themselves with prostitutes and promiscuity. No matter how hard I tried, I could never get that poor gal to come back to our church. I pray that she found a place of worship elsewhere.

I watched with growing dismay as I began to see the true dogma of the church leadership display itself as I labored behind the scenes. As much as I had failed to see it while a student, I became thoroughly convinced that they were as controlling and isolationist as the vast majority of their UPC brothers. I watched as people in the church were pressured into various pet projects and pressured into serving the Lord in lay ministry to the point of exhaustion and burnout. I watched as wealthy people were catered to, used up, and discarded when they no longer “had the vision.” I watched in horror as pastors of other denominations were ridiculed from the pulpit and on more than one occasion us associate pastors were “admonished” publicly in a Sunday night service. I watched as nepotism reared it’s ugly head and as the kids got older the church became more and more a family business even though some of the kids were less than acceptable for ministry. It goes on and on.

These things alone were enough to disillusion me, but I was mature enough to realize that no church is perfect and that some or all of these sorts of problems manifest themselves in all organizations and most churches in one form or another and to one degree or another. These problems alone weren’t enough for me to leave. What really bothered me though was the near maniacal attention paid to standards and “The TRUTH” and the disregard of the rest of the body of Christ that didn’t adhere to standards or these doctrines. I couldn’t see them in the Bible and I couldn’t deny the fact of God’s presence in the lives of these “deceived” brothers.

Finally, after three years, I could take it no longer. Even though I lived in mortal fear of disappointing my family and I surely didn’t know what God had in mind for my life, I resigned. I enrolled in a secular college and worked a secular job. I continued to attend this church for several years though. If figured it was big enough to absorb me and I could attend without being involved and nobody’d care. Sure enough, nobody did.

However, as time went on I began to feel less and less at home there. More often than not I'd leave the church services angry, frustrated, and beat up. Their entire ministry seemed to what I call “The Ministry of Not Enough”. You don’t pray enough, serve enough, give enough, fast enough, worship enough, have enough faith, etc….. I dreaded Sundays and began to find other things to do. The only reason I went is because I knew I had to go to church somewhere!

The final straw for me was a Sunday morning service when the pastor’s son (who was being groomed to assume the pastorate) denounced the congregation for not worshipping enough as they gave in the offering. I turned to my friend sitting next to me who is the principal of their Christian school and said, “That’s it! I’m leaving and I’m never coming back! I love you and I hope you’ll be my friend, but I’m gone.” His mouth dropped to the floor as my wife and I stood up from our seats and walked out.

I’ve never been back since except for a business meeting the next year when the pastor’s son was voted in as co-pastor. I attended only to see if any of the many, many people who couldn’t stand the guy had the guts to stand up and oppose his nomination and election. Unsurprisingly, nobody did. I just shook my head in disgust and left.

Well, my wife and I didn’t know what to do. At that point we were still too scared to go to the “other” churches in our city even though we knew in our heads that God was there too. It just seemed blasphemous to us somehow (I cringe as I write that but it was the truth of the matter for us at that time.). So, we watched video taped sermons in our bedroom on Sunday evenings and asked the Lord to lead us. And He did.

About a month later, He sent two different friends of ours whom we hadn’t seen or heard from in months to tell us of a little church that we may like. We resisted only because this church was a daughter church of the big church we’d left behind. But, feeling God’s touch in the situation, we agreed to visit. The next Sunday we visited and within 10 minutes of the start of the service I was overwhelmed with the love of the Lord and with tears in my eyes I turned to my wife and said “This is it.”. That was three years ago. We were thrilled to find a church family again.

But! I knew that a train was going to hit this church soon because as I looked around I saw make-up, cut hair on women, pants on women, men in shorts, men with facial hair. And that was just on the platform! Haha. Plus, the pastor didn’t scream and holler and climb up on the pews while he preached. In fact, he really didn’t “preach” at all. He actually taught the Word and let people make up their own minds. He didn’t pressure people into church projects, ministries, and dogma. He simply taught/preached the Word and let God do the work. No only that, but he used many “out of the box” methods in his ministry and outreach.

Since, I was intimate with the mindset of the mother church I knew that this wouldn’t last long. However, the pastor had grown up in the mother church so I assumed he was doing all this with his eyes open realizing that one day there would be a day of reckoning. He confirmed my suspicions and assured me that his position wouldn’t change when the boot fell.

My wife and I attended faithfully and gradually became more and more involved in the ministry of the church. About a year or so into our new experience, the Lord placed a fresh calling to the ministry in my heart and confirmed it publicly. With much trepidation I acknowledged His call even though I could see no opportunity at our church, nor inside or outside the UPC. About four months later my pastor asked me to work with him full-time as his assistant pastor. I was thrilled and dumbfounded at the same time. I couldn’t believe where the Lord had brought me in such a short amount of time!

About that same time, the boot fell from the mother church. True to his word, our pastor didn’t fold under the pressure brought to bear on him by the mother church. Believe me, it was a ton of pressure. After much wrangling with the other church we basically lost our place of worship and were told to move on. Pastor explained the situation to the church and the church leadership and all but about 1% of the church decided to stay with us. The Lord miraculously provided a wonderful facility for us to base our worship, we moved, and are moving ahead.

In the last year it has been amazing the way that God has helped us and strengthened our church. It’s not been easy and it’s tough for us to deal with the remarks, insinuations and “looks” from our friends and families in the mother church and beyond. But the Lord has been helping us. He has visited us and assured us of His presence in our lives and in our church. That’s enough for us.

Personally, since I have formally and publicly left the UPC behind I have felt a tremendous freedom in the Spirit. Growing up I heard people speak derisively how people who’d left the UPC and proclaimed this sort of “so-called liberty”. I’m sure that these things are being said of me and our church. But it’s the truth. In the last year I have found a new hunger for prayer, for the Word of God, for ministry, for the gifts of the Spirit, and for evangelism. I have begun to understand the grace of God, His all-consuming love for His children and the measure of His kindness to us.

As I read the Bible it has taken on a whole new light and I’m seeing things in scripture that I could never see before. As Lois likes to say, I am learning to take off my UPC glasses and I’m seeing things so much differently now. It’s a joy to greet a man or woman in Christ and truly believe they’re my brother and sister in Christ even though we don’t agree on “major” doctrinal issues. I can see the Lord working in areas before that I never saw Him in before. It’s truly amazing.

I know this simple testimony has turned into a dissertation. I apologize. I tell it as a testimony to God’s love and to let you know that the Kingdom of God is bigger than the UPC. There is life after the UPC. God will help you and guide you and provide a way for you if He is leading you in a direction other than the UPC.

I lived in mortal fear of leaving. I feared for my reputation. I feared a backlash for my parents and family. I feared that I was believing a lie and God would turn me over to a reprobate mind. I feared that I’d never find acceptance anywhere else. I feared that I’d always be the odd man out because I’d not be able to completely accept another denomination or church outside of the UPC. So much fear and anguish. Even still it’s a struggle at times overcoming that ungodly fear and condemnation. But, God gave me courage and He provided a wonderful way as I slowly and tentatively put my faith in Him.

Today, I look to the future with anticipation and faith. I have learned that God is with me even if a few men aren’t. Praise the Lord!

Duane


Posted September 16, 2002

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