Read­ing Time: 5 min­utes

What fol­lows is an overview of my spir­i­tu­al his­to­ry by way of my life in church; think of it as anoth­er kind of “about” page.

my journey in 5 quick steps…

  1. I grew up in the Church­es of Christ,
  2. went charis­mat­ic in 1997,
  3. then non­de­nom­i­na­tion­al evan­gel­i­cal in 2001,
  4. became an Epis­co­palian in 2012, and
  5. now I’m a Methodist.

…or, a brief history of my life in church

steps 1 and 2: from a capella to speaking in tongues…

On both sides, I come from at least two gen­er­a­tions in the Church­es of Christ, and I val­ue the sol­id foun­da­tion this her­itage pro­vid­ed. I learned ear­ly that the Bible is the word of God and that it has author­i­ty in my life. I learned that doc­trine mat­ters and that it’s my respon­si­bil­i­ty to study the Bible for myself.

In 1997, God brought my fam­i­ly to Bethany World Prayer Cen­ter, a megachurch in Baton Rouge. If the Church of Christ taught me to read Scrip­ture for doc­trine and com­mands, Bethany taught me to read for God’s char­ac­ter and promis­es. My four years at Bethany were life-chang­ing as I moved from rules to rela­tion­ship.

step 3: …into church plants big and small…

When Chris Hodges, a pas­tor at Bethany, decid­ed to plant Church of the High­lands in Birm­ing­ham, we fol­lowed; it was time for some­thing new. Bethany was very charis­mat­ic — about as far from the Church­es of Christ as pos­si­ble; Church of the High­lands was dif­fer­ent from both. When we arrived in Alaba­ma in 2001, the church was six months old; it had about 500 peo­ple and met in a high school. As I write this in 2015, it has a huge main cam­pus, with satel­lite cam­pus­es in mul­ti­ple cities — a nation­al­ly-rec­og­nized megachurch. At Church of the High­lands, I learned the val­ue of small groups and of close friend­ships.

We left there in the fall of 2008, in much the same way that we left Bethany back in 2001. I expe­ri­enced what I’ve heard described as “holy dis­con­tent”: there’s no obvi­ous rea­son to be unhap­py where you are, but you long to be else­where, and you final­ly real­ize that God is prepar­ing you for a change.

We had been an inte­gral part of the the growth at Church of the High­lands, but it seemed like the church had moved on, and I didn’t know where I fit in. August 2008 brought us to a2 (for Acts 2), anoth­er church plant in Birm­ing­ham. Much as hap­pened at Bethany, I knew I was home after the first vis­it. The holy dis­con­tent was replaced by a clear sense of “this is it” — a “holy con­tent­ment,” if you will.

One thing I learned from my time in these church­es is that there is val­ue in both large and small. Church of the High­lands has had phe­nom­e­na growth, and there’s a lot to appre­ci­ate and enjoy in big: wor­ship with 2000+ peo­ple in a sin­gle ser­vice is pret­ty spec­tac­u­lar, the facil­i­ties are spa­cious, and the finan­cial resources of a megachurch can achieve much good.

That said, small­ness is what my fam­i­ly and I appre­ci­at­ed most about a2. Those packed audi­to­ri­ums make for ener­gy and tremen­dous singing, but they don’t make for much inti­ma­cy after­ward — espe­cial­ly when your friends are spread across three or four ser­vice times and loca­tions. You can be sur­round­ed by peo­ple and feel alone. And that’s not to knock High­lands — it’s an issue most larg­er church­es face; it’s easy to get lost in the crowd, even when you don’t want to get lost.

As a small­er church, a2 offered the entire fam­i­ly more oppor­tu­ni­ty for friend­ships. My chil­dren felt lost in the hun­dreds of kids and teens that made up the youth and children’s min­istries at Church of the High­lands. Being one of 20 or 30 has been much bet­ter for them. My time at a2 strength­ened my com­mit­ment to devel­op and main­tain deep friend­ships with oth­er men. I also grew as a leader, tak­ing the small group ide­al of Church of the High­lands (one of the anti­dotes to get­ting lost in the crowd) and adapt­ing it to the needs of a2; I led the small group min­istry for sev­er­al years.

steps 4 and 5: …and finally to mainline liturgy

All that changed in April 2012, when I went pub­lic with my deci­sion to divorce; I knew it would be impor­tant for my chil­dren to have the sta­bil­i­ty of their church home and for their moth­er to have the sup­port of a com­mu­ni­ty that did not include my pres­ence every Sun­day. I also knew that I would no longer be wel­come in a church that holds very strict views on divorce.

For the first time in my life, I was look­ing for a church on my own with no clear idea about where I should go. A major require­ment was that it be an envi­ron­ment where divorce was acknowl­edged as a fact (and a small one) of my life, not viewed as a scar­let let­ter or the mark of the beast — the per­spec­tive I had found in every church I was a part of from child­hood on.

For a vari­ety of rea­sons, I nar­rowed my search to Epis­co­pal church­es, and I set­tled at St. Thomas Epis­co­pal Church by the end of May 2012. Just as Bethany was rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent from the Church of Christ, so the Epis­co­pal Church was been a sig­nif­i­cant depar­ture from my expe­ri­ences in evan­gel­i­cal church­es. At St. Thomas I found a warm wel­come and accep­tance; and, con­trary to the stereotypes of “main­line church­es” I always heard, I dis­cov­ered a deep and abid­ing com­mit­ment to faith, God, and oth­ers—the same com­mit­ment I’ve seen in Chris­tians all my life. St. Thomas intro­duced me to the beau­ty of litur­gy and church life built around the litur­gi­cal cal­en­dar instead of the lat­est ser­mon series. I love the litur­gy; it pro­vid­ed calm and respite from the tumult of divorce and its after­math. An unex­pect­ed ben­e­fit of the litur­gy is that it is tech­nol­o­gy-free: I left my phone in the car when I got to church, and didn’t look at any­thing dig­i­tal again until I was head­ed home.

In the fall of 2014, I again felt that “holy dis­con­tent”: the rec­tor at St. Thomas was leav­ing and it seemed a good time for me to leave as well. Though there was noth­ing wrong at St. Thomas, I did dis­cov­er first-hand what I had heard sin­gle adults talk about over the years: it’s hard to fit into a fam­i­ly-ori­ent­ed church when you are 50 and sin­gle. That’s not to sug­gest that I was ever made to feel like I didn’t belong — far from it! It was not St. Thomas; it was me: I didn’t see how I fit.

Short­ly after, I met Dave Barn­hardt, pas­tor of St. Junia Unit­ed Methodist Church; I was intrigued and thought, “What not try the Methodists?” St. Junia is a dynam­ic and inno­v­a­tive church, and their mis­sion and per­spec­tive — “We are becom­ing a diverse com­mu­ni­ty of sin­ners, saints, and skep­tics who join God in the renew­al of all things” — res­onat­ed with me. Their ser­vice is con­tem­po­rary and litur­gi­cal — and for me, too hec­tic after more than two years at St. Thomas. I have real­ized that con­tem­po­rary ser­vices, with their screens and videos, lights and bands, make my ADD symp­toms worse, pro­duc­ing sen­so­ry over­load. Or I’m get­ting old.

My vis­it to St. Junia led me to High­lands Unit­ed Methodist Church in Jan­u­ary 2015. And just as before, I knew I was home from the first vis­it. High­lands com­bines the tra­di­tion­al litur­gy I have come to love with a deep com­mit­ment to com­mu­ni­ty impact that extends beyond shar­ing the gospel. I have since learned that this com­mit­ment to address­ing both spir­i­tu­al and social issues is a hall­mark of Method­ism. That excites me, and I see many ways that I can fit into the work God is doing through High­lands.

differences — but the same commitment to serving God

As expect­ed, I have encoun­tered sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences in each set­ting: in prac­tice, in doc­trine, and, to a less­er extent, the­ol­o­gy. Still, the ser­mons I hear most Sun­days could be preached in any of the church­es I’ve attend­ed over the years with­out any­one bat­ting an eye or get­ting their doc­tri­nal knick­ers in a twist. The only real dif­fer­ence is that Epis­co­palian and Methodist ser­mons are much short­er; the ser­mons I heard every week as an evan­gel­i­cal could eas­i­ly go 30, 45, or even 60 min­utes.

Though I don’t care much for the phrase, this has been—is— a “faith jour­ney.” And as the Holy Spir­it has chal­lenged and enriched my per­spec­tive, I have real­ized there is a whole world of faith that I knew lit­tle about. It’s amaz­ing to me that on Sun­day morn­ing in any giv­en com­mu­ni­ty, thou­sands of peo­ple gath­er in church­es to hon­or the same God and read the same Bible yet have such var­ied expres­sions of faith and expe­ri­ences of wor­ship. As I wor­ship in my church, I know that no sin­gle group has a cor­ner on the truth, and I have learned that I can ben­e­fit from a diver­si­ty of per­spec­tives.

pho­to: Angli­can Christ church cor­ner stir­ling high­way by Leon Brooks