Monday, July 11, 2011

#238-Describing Backsliding as "Taking the Easy Way Out"

Editor's Note: 
Also the picture above arrived in my inbox last night with the caption: "For those apostolic hipster men that want to stay modest." 

Which entirely deserves a good old Al Pacino "Whooo-Ah!"

Also Another blog from another anonymous blogger... I like it:  

Last night I indulged in some late night revelry with a friend of mutual appreciation for one another’s life paths. After a short while our conversation segued to the topic of how we are treated at church and major church functions. For the most part we’re kindly greeted, given a passive aggressive invitation to church “anytime” and casually dismissed.

What is most interesting, though, is when the preacher has direct knowledge or relationship to us. Often a message is given in which we are described (indirectly and/or ambiguously, so as not to directly call us out) as “knowing better”, “having been raised right”, and “just wanting to take the easy road.”

Now, all of these statements are insulting, and we’ll get to the first two statements, but the last is the most problematic. Growing up in Pentecost is easy. Sure, someone occasionally doesn’t understand why you look slightly different, but if you have a good personality and a sense of humor you can quickly circumvent the social ramifications of not conforming. Even recently, non-conformity, aka “hipster style”, has taken off, so there can even sometimes be a level of respect for your willingness to stand out. Over all, it really isn’t that bad. Oh I know, there’s exceptions to every rule, and I’m sure you all have stories you heard about someone getting gum in their hair or their skirt pulled up, but in reality those stories are by no means common, or the norm. In reality, if you’re like most of us, you went to school, kept to yourself, didn’t participate in extracurriculars because your youth pastor demanded you at church all the time, finished school, and that was that. Past high school there really is hardly no examples of why being Apo is hard. (Except being a guy in the summer when you’re sweating through your jeans and looking for a walk in freezer to stand in for about an hour)

But that’s why they think we walked away. Because it’s “easier”.

Yeah that’s it.

As if it's so difficult to have your religion laid out for you neat and tidy, never having to read, showing up three times a week, doing what you’re told, abiding by a dress code, never asking questions, and being told everything is black and white, cut and dry, finite and inarguable. That’s so hard.

As if it's so easy to study for yourself, admit everything isn’t black and white, have questions you don’t know the answer to, come to grips with the fact that you were (or may have been) spiritually and emotionally abused, not know what you believe about God, not know what to think about religion, and just not know and be able to admit “I don’t know.” Yeah that’s easy.

Wait. No it isn’t. As a matter of fact, those two should be reversed.

Pastors, please stop doing this. It’s insulting for you to make these claims, and this is why we don’t want to come to your church. When we do, you make your ENTIRE CONGREGATION sit through your brow beating session about us. There are broken people there who really need a word, and you spend the whole sermon condescending us.

And aside from that, it isn’t that simple. When you tell us “we know better” and “we were raised right”, all you’re doing is damaging your own credibility, and making us not want to come back. Editor's addition: Can we not say that if we were raised in your church and we backslide, that our "rebellion" is a symptom of your leadership?

You look at us and say “they were raised right.”

While we’re sitting there thinking “we weren’t raised right, we were instructed by people who don’t study to learn, but simply to back up their own existing points.” Some of us (albeit not all) resent the way we were raised, and the churches we were raised in. We feel robbed of our childhoods and teenage years. We feel cheated. 

So when you say “we were raised right” what you're really saying is “we know your questions and choose to ignore them.”

And “they know better.”

Better than what? We know better than to wear pants and cut our hair because you’ve taken some obscure passages, tweaked them, given them your ‘best guess’, passed it off as black and white biblical law? We ‘know better’ than to do our own reading and studying because everything that wasn’t written by a oneness Pentecostal author is heresy? 


I could go on but there’s one more subject I’d like to address on the issue of ‘backsliders’ (or refugees, depending how you look at it).

Those of us who grew up in church played the same games you all play now. When someone leaves we were encouraged to say, “I miss you” and invite them to church.

So when WE leave, and you start doing that to us, we see right through it, and it, again, insults us. We don’t need an invitation to church. We can go whenever we want. The passive aggressive, thinly veiled disappointment behind “We miss you, you should really come to church and see us” condescends us and makes us not want to come that much more.

Lastly, I have a friend who stopped going to church. He is gay. Frequently church people will see him in public or post on his facebook wall and give the “We miss you, come to church” rhetoric, and he has come up with the best response, which usually knocks the people for a loop. He says “I probably won’t come to church, but we can get coffee or dinner whenever you want.” There have been a few people (wonderful wonderful, good hearted, gracious people) who have taken him up on this, and they are really just being a friend, not trying to ‘win’ him back, and have dinner with him frequently. But there have been many more who dismiss the invitation. Because they don’t care. They aren’t interested in being his friend. They just want to be the one who gets the five bonus points with Jesus for converting him back.

If you REALLY want to prove your worth, and be an exemplary Christian to people who stop going to church, stop inviting them to church, talking to them about church, cramming church down their throat and just have a casual coffee or dinner. They might take you up on it, but they’ll probably dismiss your church invitation, because they can see right through it.


  1. I would like to raise the point that not all people backslide because of the leadership at their churches. Some people do leave because of leadership, but, I believe, some people also leave because of things they want to do which are direct opposites of the what the Bible says. Such as drinking and philandering. People can make mistakes and do these things and then choose the pleasure it gives them over what they know is right. This point of weakness in their lives can be a result of a poor and uncommitted walk with God, as opposed to being the direct fault of leadership.

  2. I have accepted your proposed raising of the point. However, in regards to the newly elevated point, I find it completely out of place to what the author (not me) was intending to say.

    Your point escapes the issue voiced in the article. The Author never confesses innocence, so I would argue you are making a false binary which goes something to the effect of: Some people backslide because they like certain vices and thus this is not the pastor's fault... It could be implied that the alternative would be -Some people backslide because their pastor's bad leadership.

    This is not the point of the article.

    But your line of reasoning does remind me of a standard piece of rhetoric implicit in our movement:

    If someone backslides it is the own individual's fault.

    But if someone is committed, or a church is full of many committed members, this is the effect of a good pastor, and thus a spiritual healthy church is credited to both the Holy Spirit and the pastor (Note: The believers usually do not get credit for the growth or strength of the church)....

    While my example is overly simplistic, my point is.... either the believer is fully responsible for his backsliding or spiritual commitment (and thus this is no credit to the pastor whatsoever either way)....

    Or, the believer's backsliding or growth is to the credit of the Pastor (and thus must take responsibility for the Good AND the Bad that comes about in his church)....

    Of course, we know both choices are false choices. My point is that we cannot leave the Good to the Pastor and the Bad to the individual free choice to desire sin.

    We must admit the mixed back of free will but also acknowledge the heavy amount of cultural/spiritual influence from leadership as well. This is messy. But we can't have it any other way.

    It's time we started holding pastors accountable just like we hold the backslider accountable.

  3. However, Joel, it is not our responsibility to hold the pastors responsible for people who backslide. They are accountable to God for every person who didn't make it under their leadership. I ask you, have you ever been a pastor? Have you been in a position of leadership? Because if you have no experience, especially in that of a pastor's role, then you don't have a lot of room to criticize.

    I also want to make the point that if people truly want to live for God, they will. If they don't there is nothing on this earth that will make them, or will save them.

    More and more this blog has digressed to the point of sounding like a bunch of disgruntled Apostolics or non-Apostolics critcizing the movement based on their limited experience. "Stuff Apostolics Like" has become "Stuff Former UPCers Who Believe That They Experienced it All's Negative Commentary on Their Limited Observations." Disheartening.

  4. This post isn't trying to find the root of backsliding rather criticize our attempts at winning them back. Shouldn't this be something we should want to hear so that we can correct the ways in which we erred?

    I agree that befriending someone is a better attempt rather than just putting them on a guilt trip about attendance

    I don't really like the generalizations from the author because we aren't aLl the same...for now

    I think a post about backsliding and why it happens would be interesting.

  5. Every time a post is made on this blog that really hits home and someone doesn't like they make the accusation that this is "Stuff bitter ex apostolics like" or something similar.
    Except every author, including Joel, on this blog goes to a UPCI church, and is actively involved. Joel not only goes to a UPCI church but as well a UPCI school. Despite the occasional nut job trying to get him kicked out (which never works because Joel's leadership and teachers actually respect him and don't bury 'problems' by branding them bitter ex apostolic heretics), he continues to thrive in both his church and school.

    Instead of attacking the author (which in any school of thought is dismissed as weak arguing. see 'ad hominem' and 'straw man')

    You can't dismiss what is written here by attacking whoever wrote it. There is truth in what was said.

    There is also something tragic in your comment. We dismiss backsliders as rebels who just want to drink and bump uglies, relinquishing any accountability or responsibility from ourselves (which is what this post was all about).
    It's on them. They know better. They chose to get hammered.

    People stop coming because their questions weren't answered, they were mistreated, they are confused etc. Just because they eventually WIND UP doing things you don't agree with doesn't mean those things were the reason they walked away.
    I've never talked to someone who has left church and heard them say "I would come to church, but I just love that Jim Beam way too much."
    What they DO say is "I just didn't feel comfortable. I never felt what it seemed like everyone else was feeling. I tried and I studied and nothing made sense" or something similar..
    We make the mistake of being way way way way way too dismissive of people when they take a path we don't understand or agree with.
    People raised or having spent a long time in our movement don't realize how much conditioning goes on in our movement. Things make sense and you feel things because you get used to it, and when someone doesn't they become a pariah.

    This post is not bashing anything or anyone. There is a sarcastic, satirical tone to it, which there has been on nearly every post on this blog, but this post serves to call attention to and redirect something that is wrong. If you start treating "backsliders" (a term which should be abandoned) with dignity and respect, and don't make them feel as though they've broken the code and you feel they're going to hell, you might learn something from them and have a better chance at bringing them to Christ, or at least understand that they aren't as far from Christ as you think they are.

  6. What if the person trying to win the backslider back really does care about them and they're soul? What if the backslider is the person's brother and still lives at home? Then you can't just simply say "We miss you" and invite them to church. You see them all the time so there is really nothing you can do but invite them to church.

    I know that if I ever backslid then I'd want someone to help me find my way back. I might not at first but in the long I'd be so grateful to know that someone really cared about me and didn't give up on me.

    I think that's the problem with this blog. It's making the one trying to win them back, the bad guy. And maybe some of them are. Maybe they do just want to feel good about themselves. But they are not all as selfish and horrible as this blog makes them sound.

  7. I am in process of backsliding from a UPCI church for the sole reason of wanting to drink.

  8. I wrote the blog and I see the point of Anonymous (@ 8:27)

    I don't think people reaching out to people who have left are bad guys. I think they have good intentions, but I think they are misguided. Both the 'backslider' and the person reaching out are victims of a flawed system. The person reaching out often winds up looking bad, but they're simply doing the only thing they know to do.
    All I'm saying is to abandon the old thinking. It doesn't work. I'm sure there's a few stories of it working, but by and large, it just drives people away.

  9. This is such a well written post. I myself have left the WPF after 20+ years. There are many reasons I chose to leave. Suffice it to say that I did not leave God, I left that particular assembly. I wish people could grasp the fact that you can leave a church and still have a deep and meaningful relationship with God.

  10. @abir If your only reason for wanting to backslide from a UPCI church is so that you can drink...and you're in the "process" of backsliding...who are you really serving? If you truly do not think that God minds if you have a glass of wine every now and then (which I actually don't think is unbiblical to do so) then go have a glass of wine. Right now. Are you worried about what Pastor would say? Then your serving man and not serving God. Really dig into why you are in the "process of backsliding" just so you can have alcohol.

    I've realized lately that I do have a fear of man, more then I have a fear of God. I realized that there are things I avoid doing because I'm afraid of being seen by somebody in my church (movie theater, knowwhatimean?) My dad was raised UPC, my mom was not. I remember when she got the Holy Ghost and I remember when we were going somewhere and I wanted to wear shorts. She said "What if Pastor's Wife sees you?" I was about 8 years old, and reluctantly wore a skirt. Sure enough, we saw that person and my mom said "Aren't you glad you had a skirt on?" to which I replied "yes." In that moment I developed a desire for what people wanted over what God wanted. My mom didn't realize she was putting that into my life...she had no idea. I think most people in church live this sort of life.

    If you read the bible expecting to see a certain idea in it (ie no cutting hair, skirts, etc...) you WILL see that throughout the bible, if that's what you're looking for. If I'm looking to support trinity, I WILL see that throughout the bible. I think 99% of people read the bible with what they want to find, already in their mind. If you read the bible and clear your mind of any preconceived notion of what you'll find...amazing things happen. God wants us to be involved with the needy, those less fortunate. He wants us to be involved in a BIG way. I'm only just now realizing all of this, but wow, what a different God I'm finding! It's more beautiful then most anything I've been taught in church.

    P.S. I still attend a UPCI church, am a Sunday School teacher, and have no plans to leave anytime soon =)

  11. I'm pretty sure abir was kidding.

  12. @ anonymous 11:26
    I get what you're saying about driving people away. People need to feel like they are cared about and are befriended not just being pushed into going back to a place they don't want to be.

    I think the best thing to do is to just show them that you want to be their friend and would be willing to help them if they ever want back. And most importantly pray for them.

  13. Of course abir was kidding. I had my humor button turned off...sorry about that.

  14. I really enjoyed this post! I have skimmed some of the comments to excuse me if this has already been said.

    I can relate. I wouldn't call myself a backslider I have just taken the course of believing in truth but sifting out the standards that I don't believe are heaven or hell issues. I do get comments from people in my church, which I have faithfully attended since the age of 3, that are like knives twisting in my back. Such as "It's so good to see you here," "I'm glad you feel free to worship," "Did you enjoy our service," and the worst "Hope you can make it next week."

    Thank you writer for letting us see how our fake personas can really damage our witness.

  15. I have to stress that not all apostolic churches act this way. I don't want some church's pandering to religiosity reflect the fact that truly loving apostolic churches exist.

  16. Exceptions will always exist, but are by no means common. This is an issue in Apostolic churches that needs to be addressed and stopped because it only does damage.

  17. I think that it's interesting to see that this is such a 'hot-button' of discussion. It's something that I've been really interested in and studying myself: What happens when you DON'T agree with everything that's being taught?
    At the root (IMHO), the main reason that this isn't discussed is because by discussing it, we're afraid that people won't follow the standards that have been set. Discussion somehow undermines the authority that God has set into place with your pastor, your leadership, your sunday school teacher, your parents.
    In the end, there has to be an open discussion about what we believe, and where we stand on these traditions that exemplify our culture (and that's really what it's about, isn't i?), and whether we'll continue them or not.
    But creating an undercurrent of non-acceptance or a sub-class of people that don't fit the mold of the culture of Apo standards is an unfair treatment of the people that are part of your church. They are no less entitled to God's grace, His love, or His anointing as you are, no matter how long your hair is or how long your sleeves are.

    I appreciate this article, however sardonic/sarcastic it may be... It's time for an open dialogue about the things that really matter, and less about the things that really don't.

  18. It's funny that the photo at the top "arrived in my inbox last night with the caption: 'For those apostolic hipster men that want to stay modest.'" But you can still see his nipples and hairy chest. Pretty immodest - downright scandalous and raunchy by most apo standards. LOL

  19. Life has made me to move cities and states a few times and therefore churches. I have seen a diversity of ideas which is not something we are conferrable with. It is human to think if we disaggregated one of use must be wrong, but that is not the case all the time.

    We hate to think we did some thing wrong so when people leave we thing it must be something about faith we did not control. Ie they could not live up to the standards. We don't wish to think it could be something we could have done better. Ie children's ministry that is actually ministry.

    We have things that rely need to be fix (ie children's ministry) that are not because we are believing our own propaganda.

  20. Someone has been drinking the haterade for far too long now. I miss the funny posts of yore! This blog totally needs a new name -- May I suggest, "Stuff Angry Apos HATE (i.e., other Apos, cuz they're all hypocrites, doncha know?)" -- or a new spot.


    Signed, Ashamedly Anonymous

  21. Oh wow! No one's ever suggested that before? You're the first person ever to say it should be called something like that! Someone get this person a medal!

    Just because a post isn't funny doesnt make it untrue or unnecessary. There is a point to this blog and it's not just to make people giggle. Humor is used as a vehicle of conveyance, but it's not a humor blog.

    Unless you have something to say about the post, directly related to the post, you probably shouldn't comment. "teehehe thiz blog should be called 'I Hate The UPC' tehehe lulz rofl" doesn't count. Intellectual discourse or get out.

    As the lovely ladies of The Moulin Rouge once said:
    "Disagree? Well that's you and I'm sorry. I'm'a keep playin these cats out like Atari."

  22. i wouldn't mind a dinner invite...

  23. I left the UPC church within the last year and now worship my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ at a non-denominational church. It was hard to find one that had oneness beliefs (and even with that it's kind of a mixed bag) but so far this church blows the UPC out of the water in praise, worship, giving, outreach, and RESPECT towards one another.

    Maybe it's because the pastor is more worried about the condition of my heart, and less worried about what I'm wearing (I dress more modestly in pants than most UPC girls do in their tight skirts with the splits half-way up their thigh, their plunging necklines, and clothes that they were poured into); what I'm drinking (I had a glass of wine with dinner last Friday *gasp*); or where I'm going (the last movie I saw in the Theatre was Dispicable Me *double gasp*).

    My pastor actually believes that if he preaches the principles of holiness, modestly, and righteous living... that I can have a relationship with God and God will work out the details in my own life. Imagine that.

    Oh... and he doesn't take one line of a verse that has questionable meaning and preach a black-and-white doctrine/application from it.

    The fact that the commentary on this blog is being provided (and not entirely shunned by some church leaders/professors) gives me hope that someday I can worship at a UPC church again. But until these issues that are being pointed out (yes... sarcastically, but that doesn't make them untrue) are really dealt with, I'll give my time, money and efforts to a church that has no ties to that organization.

  24. So, instead of discussing church stuff...if you're looking for a walk-in freezer, the season is approaching. This also means that you should be able to find a "hooptey" gas station and walk into the freezer through the back, or somewhere near where the restrooms are located. Just search for a door that leads to BEHIND the soda displays. a "freezer stocking boy" at a grocery store!

  25. I'm so confused.

  26. I think a lot of the time, well-meaning people go wrong because they're scared of/uncomfortable with what "the backslider" represents. You know the saying 'there but for the grace of God go I?' Well I think when confronted with the reality of someone whose experiences in church are similar to yours, and seeing how they for some reason failed to connect or "get with it" and left, people get scared. Plain and simple. They don't like to be reminded that they have unanswered questions too. Or they don't want to be forced to examine just how much of their spiritual experiences have been conditioned. So this fear makes them treat "backsliders" like a problem they need to either swiftly solve ("win back") or only acknowledge in as shallow a way as possible ("hope we see you again next week!")

    My own experiences in various churches had me altogether shun the idea of belonging to any one church. But I still longed for a faith community, or at the very least people I could talk to about the questions and doubts I had. So I'd attend home groups or small Bible studies where I only knew like one person, feeling like the anonymity would embolden me to speak up.

    Unfortunately, even strangers don't like it when your questions make them uneasy with their own questions. Or when you refuse to accept their neatly packaged explanations and point out ways in which you find them lacking. They'll be just as quick with the insincere "so nice you could make it!" which sounds more like "i couldn't get you away from our group of nice well-adjusted people soon enough if i tried!"

    I started to feel like a spiritual terrorist. Because trust me, people can tell when their presence makes you paranoid or on edge and as a consequence extra-super-nice to cover up your discomfort. So I stopped going to the small groups altogether.

    And I say all this to say this, the issue raised in this blog (i.e. how "backsliders" are treated and what this says about the attitude church-goers have towards them) is pertinent cuz it even makes it HARDER for those who really do want a faith community to belong to.

    Like, someone could be trying to come back to church now, and come across someone who's attitude is kind of like that dude up there who said "people backslide so they can drink and philander" (p.s. while i'd agree that people sometimes rebel to do things that they're "not allowed" to do, esp young people, rebellion isn't the same thing as backsliding). Do you really think that attitude would help them feel less alienated? Less unwelcome and less misunderstood?

  27. Anyway, I now go to a small church that broke off from the one I grew up in. And no I don't go cuz someone kept inviting me, or even cuz I had someone really try and befriend me and I felt they were genuine so they "won me back." I go to this church now cuz of 2 things; 1) prayers of people who love me (who aren't even in that particular church) and didn't give up 2) how genuine the Pastor is in his life and his ministry. It made me respect him and feel I could trust him enough to open up to him.

    He says "I don't know" all the time, and I love that he's honest enough to admit that everything isn't black-and-white. He invites his Trinitarian preacher friends over sometimes and when they say something about Father and Son, he doesn't yank the mic from them and stop everything to explain the Godhead in his way so "no one gets confused." So he's more interested in God revealing Himself to each of us and in us believing for ourselves than he is in making sure we all know and can quote what he believes.

    That's how you "win back" people, let (as opposed to stifle) God reveal Himself. To you so you're not threatened by "the backslider" and to them so that they develop some real faith that will withstand trials instead of just memorizing all the answers in "New Believers FAQ".

  28. This post hits it square on the head... I didn't grow up in the church and came along later with a lot of dirt on my hands. I enjoyed it at first, but "backslid" when the friendships didn't feel real and people were just hitting me up on Sundays... For church. When I look back it makes me think a lot of it is just a hustle for "tithes and souls..." So I'm on that "church of the streets" where I know who my friends are and I simply pick up a bible to read His word

  29. Argh!

    I wanted to be a UPC lady. I read Wilkerson's the Cross and the Switchblade and I want that.

    Maybe I'm just weird but I like the old fashioned look of the UPC. You just look at somebody, and you know you looking at a religious person- so refreshing next to current show-off sexy fashions.

    I like the shouting and hard core preaching (no wishy washy preachers like they got in modern churches).

    I lurked around in a UPC church. I knew I couldn't handle the standards, so I never committed. I can't wear a skirt everyday.

    I do manual labor for a living- I gotta wear jeans all the time. Then I realized I gotta keep my elbows covered too? My hair was getting so long I had a headache.

    This is terrible, but also I would miss too many tv shows I love. I like sweet shows like Waltons and the Duggars. And I like bad shows like South Park. And I can't be anti gay b/c then I couldn't watch wonderful Rupaul's drag race. So what do I do?

    I see how UPC can become breeding ground for hypocrisy and manipulation and self righteousness. The first UPC church I visited had somebody like this greeting me at the door! But the excitement of the preaching and shouting hooked me in, and I tried another church.

    The other church I lurked in had so many kind, sincere people in there- that was MY church.

    Seems like all over the net I can find ex upc people - it's sad I feel like we're surrendering our culture to the pressures of modern life.