Home > Uncategorized > My Story Pt. 2

My Story Pt. 2

See what is important about 2002 for me is not eight years later, but several years earlier. What those people at the Summit didn’t know is that I was one of the disillusioned 18-24 year olds who bailed on church once they graduated high school. Sadly that stat is now pretty high (I hope if you are in that place right now my story will encourage you to give it a second chance).

I had been burned by a church and was determined not to get too close to a church ever again. See I actually grew up in a family that faithfully belonged to a local church. I was the Sunday school memory verse king. I made more bricks out of hay and clay during Vacation Bible School than I can count! I became a Christian and was baptized in that church. My best friends were guys and girls I was growing up with there. It was my second home, no question.  What I couldn’t see in my youth was disunity had been brewing in that church for some time before the day I lost faith in church. I credit my parents for protecting my brothers and I from the nasty undercurrent of disunity racing through the church.

What happened.

One fairly typical Sunday morning during the sermon the pastor was reading from the bible. Suddenly a voice from the back shouted “I resent that!” I was sitting with the “youth group” (up in the front where we couldn’t get in trouble) so we all turned and looked for the voice. You gotta understand how bizarre this was. There was never any “amen” or any other participation during the pastors message. Someone shouting during a sermon there would be as out of place and uncomfortable as someone shouting at the actors in a quiet moment during a live theater performance. We scanned to no avail for the shouter & returned much more engaged back to the pastor who had paused for a moment.  What had he said? Wasn’t he just reading the bible? Maybe I misheard. We didn’t have texting yet or I’m sure we’d have confirmed the content of the shout via 48 messages in under 10 seconds.

Not 2 minutes later the voice erupted again “I resent that!” this time followed with “And its high time you got out of my church!” WHOA! This time the culprit revealed himself. Roughly 140 heads simultaneously whipped around to see an older man not only standing but walking towards the stage to continue voicing his offense (funny enough to the reading of scripture) to our pastor.

The next 30 seconds seemed like an hour. A second male voice shouted from the choir “Deacons ya’ll get this guy outta here.” My mom, who was across the aisle from me, stood up in support of this surprised and now silent pastor. Then others popped tall after her. The standing people began singing an old hymn I’d never heard called “Onward Christian Soldier.” Remember, All of this is taking place in under 30 seconds. A couple of men, I presume deacons, physically escorted Old Man Shouter from the room and what happened next was what struck so deep with me. Roughly half of the people in the sanctuary got up and followed this man out. Half of my friends in the youth followed suit as their parents motioned them to leave with them. Church attendance had just dropped 50% mid service! To his credit the pastor had remained silent the entire time and after the chaos, finished his sermon with a heavy heart.

Like our Sunday routine told us to do, we left at the end of the service and went home. It was one of the last services my family ever attended at that church. The church had become divided like a bad marriage. The “side” that got up and left that day ended up forcing the pastor’s resignation and the “side” who was with the pastor mostly left for good. It wasn’t until sometime into college that I saw some of those friends who walked out in those bizarre 2 minutes.  Some of them have yet to find their way back to Christ.  (If there is a chance you are one of those friends, know I pray for you by name and I believe God is not through with you)

I tell you my story because unfortunately elements of it are too familiar to many who no longer are a part of a local church. I also tell you it because God used this to begin weaving his plan for me that would lead to my present role as a protector and shepherd over the very thing I was disgusted by, the local church. This book is not my life story. It is my best, although likely feeble, attempt to show from scripture what a healthy church looks like. But between the lines of this treatise is a mission I am giving my life to: to help local churches experience healthy biblical community. I really do believe it can happen, and is happening already in many places around the world. I believe you do not have to settle for ho-hum church life. I believe there is a hope for the church you are in because it carries the hope of the world. Everything your church needs to become a vibrant healthy community is already right there with you. What I want to do with this work is point those things out so you and the other saints around you can begin to experience the miracle that your church is designed by God to be.

Markers of a healthy local church.
This book will unpack five key markers that should be evident in a healthy local church. These markers are

  • A gospel-centered focus
  • Active love of one another
  • Filled and guided by the Holy Spirit
  • Reflects the diversity of its community
  • Remains actively open

It starts with you.
Do not read this book as a prescription for senior pastors to take and begin instilling into their local church. I am not writing to someone else or to a group of people, I am writing to you. All five of the markers above are markers that should characterize mine and your individual life as a follower of Jesus. So please, read these pages with the diagnosis on your self. If you get to the last page and all you have is a list of things your church needs to do, I’ve failed you. If you leave reminded of the grace given to you from God and the power available to you and your church as God’s vehicle for carrying his love to our world, then your time will not have been in vain.  So let us examine ourselves primarily, and our local body secondarily as we seek to strengthen the church, the bride of Christ.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Christy Owens
    February 18, 2010 at 1:51 am

    Thanks for posting Spence. We had a huge church fall apart recently (the last 5 years) in San Clemente. In the aftermath of that sad turn of events, the other churches in the area bonded together to be witness to each other’s internal conflicts, in case (heaven forbid) a similar situation would happen elsewhere–there would be outside mediation. What happens in one church in one building is totally felt in the entire community.

  2. February 18, 2010 at 8:29 am

    Thanks for sharing your story, Spence. Looking forward to hearing more of your journey.

  3. February 18, 2010 at 12:22 pm


    This will be interesting. I am dealing with the baggage my students have with the church as well and want to use you as a guide. Most of their reasonings seem different but you might be able to comment on some of their main issues:
    -churches being closed networks of aggregate communities
    -lack of missions drive and focus
    -not relevant to current generation
    -disagreements with theology and practice

    Thanks, I appreciate anything you add.

    • spenceshelton
      February 22, 2010 at 8:36 pm

      Hoffman! Thanks for the comment. Sorry to hear you have some students in that situation, but Im glad they have you in their lives! I think #1 gets to the heart of my issue I had to work through with the local church. I started to learn I was viewing myself as a consumer and the church as the one putting out the product I had to either buy or sell. Since I didnt like the product, I just bailed on it. When I began to realize that as a believer I am a part of the body of christ (like it or not) I started to see that I needed those other people, even if they were messed up. I encourage you to help them form an idea of what the church is from scripture alone. Then help them find a church full of messed up sinners loving Jesus and others. For theology and practice, I’d walk them through driscoll’s open hand v. closed hand talk. Pastor J.D. hit on all of this in his sermon Sunday from Ephesians 2 & 3

  4. February 18, 2010 at 3:19 pm

    Thanks for the posting, Spence!

    I was a youth pastor at a seriously disfunctional church for a couple of years and I can seriously relate.

    I remember one day when a man got up in the middle of the service and started yelling at an elderly woman w/ a bad back to get up and walk. It wasn’t all that shocking because stuff like that happened fairly often…

    It really got the wheels in my head turning for several years about what components are necessary for a healthy church body.

    The summit has really been an oasis in a desert for us.

    Keep going after it. There are lots of us that got your back!

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