teryn o'brien clouds sunrise

When I gave my heart to Christ, I joined a local church. Its people became my family and my best friends. I served my Lord by serving that congregation. I volunteered in the church office, assisted the worship team, worked on committees, and participated in outreach efforts.

Then things changed. I married a man, and we had a baby. Our infant was the only preschooler in the congregation, and I became the sole nursery attendant. Every Sunday. Things were also changing in the church’s urban neighborhood and in its denomination. People were fleeing both. My husband and I joined that exodus shortly before officials shuttered the building.

That’s how I left my first church.

My next church was bursting at the seams with couples and young children. It was exhilarating to worship among such a crowd and to find new friends. I thanked God for leading us out of the wilderness. That is until that denomination’s authorities defrocked the pastor, sent the congregation into exile, and sold the building.

That’s how I left my second church.

The next church welcomed my family, now three children full, with open arms. I felt nourished during times of worship, and I found acceptance and encouragement. Over the course of several years, that church became my foundation, the cornerstone of my life. Then its board of elders encountered “irreconcilable differences” (their terminology), and that impasse split the congregation. I couldn’t bring myself to align with either faction.

That’s when I left my third church.

For a while, I stopped going to church altogether. It was just too painful to participate when I felt so shattered. I had questions. How could an undivided, all mighty Almighty allow such a divisive mess to be Christ’s body on Earth? I lost my faith. Nearly.

The scriptures became my solace. A story from Mark’s Gospel (Mark 9:14–29) kept surfacing in my mind. After Jesus’s disciples couldn’t help the distraught father of a boy suffering from seizures, the man ended up begging Jesus, “Help my unbelief.”

That simple prayer opened my eyes to the fact that I had placed my belief in the church instead of God. I had experienced the brokenness of the human condition and I had touched the brokenness of God’s heart, but that didn’t mean God was damaged. God was waiting for me to listen, and it seemed God wanted to speak through the words in the Bible.

I cultivated a habit of setting aside preconceived notions and study aids so that I could focus on the words of the text and listen for the Spirit. I developed a format for journaling that blended attentive reading with rumination and contemplation. This particular Bible study method helped me maintain my focus on God irrespective of church-related challenges.

Recently Pier Press published four Bible study journals in the format I developed: Walk with Matthew, Walk with Mark, Walk with Luke, and Walk with John. The word walk in the titles is an acronym for write, analyze, listen, and keep. These prompts help journal users carry on a personal conversation with the Gospel texts. If you think journaling in this way can help you on your spiritual journey, please visit the Pier Press® Bookstore for more information.

Do you attend the church in which you were raised?

Do you even attend a church in the denomination in which you were raised?

According to statistics about changes in religious affiliation among Americans reported in the Pew Forum’s U.S. Religions Landscape Survey (February 2008), 44% claim a religious affiliation that differs from the one in which they were raised. For just one example, the report found that 8.3% of the U.S. adult population was raised, but is no longer, Baptist. On the other hand, 4.5% of the adult population is now Baptist, but was raised with a different affiliation. A similar story is repeated (but with different specific numbers) for Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Anglicans and Episcopalians, Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and a wide assortment of other groups.

This was a guest post by Karen Bellenir. Karen is an author and editor. She serves as editorial director at Pier Press, a publisher seeking to facilitate informed conversation at the intersection of science and spirit by spreading Biblical and scientific literacy.

© 2015 Karen Bellenir.

Compliments go to Teryn O’Brien for the beautiful featured image.