The summer after my senior year of high school I served as a staff intern at my home church. You don't get much more involved than that! Two years later I had stopped attending church altogether.
In a lot of ways the process that led to me leaving began with that summer internship. I spent the summer watching the way the church operated "behind-the-scenes," and a lot of what I saw really bothered me. Maybe "deflated" would be a better description. Over the next few years, I grew more discouraged as I watched people in the congregation interact with each other. In some ways, the rose colored glasses I'd worn had been removed by that internship, and I began to see people, their sins, and their flaws much more clearly. In other ways, that summer had left me jaded with vision in some ways just as skewed as it had been when I wore the rose-colored glasses. I became a pretty bitter, judgmental person.
I was worse than a cynic. I was a disappointed idealist -- bitterly disappointed. I read the Scriptures and saw the kind of power and change that came into people's lives by the dwelling of the Holy Spirit, then I looked around me and saw people supposedly indwelt by the same Spirit. The differences between what I read and what I saw were astronomical. Instead of people being transformed by the Spirit and the Scriptures, I saw people using these to justify their refusal to change. Of course, as the bitter disappointment consumed me, this was all I could see. The few truly bad apples began to represent the entire congregation in my mind. I began to see my fellow church members as nothing more than a walking collection of their past sins and failures, rather than seeing them as people in the midst of gracious transformation. And I become so consumed and distracted by the disappointment that I failed to notice the sins and failures inside of me. I became the arrogant person rebuking others in my mind for pride. I became the judgmental person judging others for judging me. I became the undisciplined, ungracious, un-growing slacker disciple of Christ, constantly noticing how much room others had for improvement and wondering how in the world they could choose to live like that if they really loved God.
By the end of two years of this, I was gone. I was done with church. From now on, it would be just me and God. I didn't need the church, and I sure didn't want the church! Who needed hypocrites, sinners, and failures in their lives? Why not just pursue God on my own without all the distractions that came with all those people who clearly weren't as serious about pursuing God as I was. I made a plan to wake up every Sunday morning in my dorm room at college and spend several hours with the Lord praying and reading the Word. I think over the course of the next semester I did this ... maybe once? And forget spending time in prayer or the Word the rest of the week. When I felt convicted about this, I just brushed it away as feelings of legalism -- one more part of my abusive life in the church I had to let go of and work through.
I was still undisciplined. I was still bitter and judgmental.
But at least I was free.
Or, so I thought...