How I Became Irreligious


This post is part of a synchroblog in which the contributors tell their own faith story. The links to the stories of the other contributors are listed at the end of this post.

How did you answer the Facebook profile question about your religious preference? I couldn’t think of any pedestrian terminology that fit, so I put down, “Irreligious Lover of Jesus,” but it wasn’t always that way. Here is my faith story in six short acts.

Beginning: A Good Place

My first mental picture of my faith journey has me walking the aisle of a tiny independent church making a “profession of faith.” I was taught it was important to “proclaim Jesus before man,” I didn’t want to go to Hell, and several of my friends also went forward, so, it seemed like a real good thing to do. What happened afterward was so moving; it made an eleven-year-old boy cry. Everyone in the church made it a point to offer a handshake, a hug, or a word of encouragement. I thought this is a really good place.

Calling: A Grand Purpose

When I was seventeen, I was attended a large outdoor Baptist revival meeting when some hippies walked in and sat down. That’s when it hit me; there was a convergence of the Gospel, a gifted messenger, and real, non-initiated people. I felt what the preacher was doing was the most important job in the world. Then out of the blue, came the overwhelming prompting that is what I was supposed to be doing, too. My calling has morphed through the years, but it has never let go of me.

Frustration: A Big Gap

Sunday morning before the service, there was an ominous sounding knock at my office door. It was the church board chairman telling me that people didn’t like that I had moved the offering to a different spot in the order of service than was customary. That was a pretty good indicator of the vision and flexibility of that particular church.

All too suddenly, I became aware there was a gigantic chasm between the church in the beginning and the church I was experiencing. One, full of life, growing, noisy, diverse, unselfish, world-changing. The other, stuck, dead, an insiders’ club, disconnected from the rest of culture, bland, obsessed with itself, and uncaring or mean-spirited toward those who were different.

For over twenty years, I weathered innumerable crises spawned by my congregation and I holding different values. Even though, I was painstakingly methodical and settled for tiny, incremental changes, with each pastorate the frustration grew. The church seemed to be uncaring toward outsiders and that agitated me.

Disappointment: A Sad Story

It was February, just before my birthday. Outdoors it was brutally cold and the movie multiplex landscaped grounds were covered with several inches of snow. I had walked down one of the hallways in a portion of the building that was still closed on Sunday morning. God and I had to have a little talk before I could do the service.

I was distraught. After eight years of patiently working with a stodgy Bible church, we finally saw huge changes. The naysayers finally left. The building was renovated. The foundational documents re-written. The church band rocked. We reached out to the community and eventually, re-located, using the theater for services.

Then a misguided young couple decided to intentionally and actively infect others with their discontent, until the stress was palpable, and our numbers dwindled to the point of no longer being able to sustain our mission. It’s a very traumatizing thing to close a church.

Wilderness: A Total Flip-Flop

A few years ago some friends were gathered around our kitchen table asking for some pastoral advice.  My twenty-something (at the time) son was also there at the table. He jumped in and said, “Pops is pretty much the same (as when I was formally a pastor), only he ditched the suit, drinks beer, and listens to Metallica.” To say I have changed would be an understatement.

For the first time in my adult life, I was no longer “the pastor,” a calling so all-consuming that without it, I didn’t know who I was. Over the course of twelve years, I have washed windows, sold cars, began a window cleaning and painting business, worked for a high tech company as an account executive, studied nonprofit management, and been unemployed a lot. We have attended three conventional churches, two house churches, and had our own home group, until we decided to abstain.

Eventually, I became a troublemaker, someone at odds with the very church institution I loved and served for so long.

Freedom: Finally

My faith has been shaken to the core. I asked all of the hard questions and still don’t have suitable answers to some of them. Informally, I formed new personal theology and learned to live with the mystery of those still unanswered questions. I made it a point to jettison anything that was rote, insincere, or pulled life apart into the religious and everything else.

I found God in strange irreligious places. I morphed from being angry at a self-centered church to loving those who find it meaningful, trying to help those who think it can be better, and reaching out to people who have turned away the institution.

I loved the institutional church cage and tried hard to get back in it after being shooed out. Finally, I realized I was free and didn’t need a cage. Along with the freedom came a whole lot of responsibility to figure things out for myself. I had to figure out how to follow Christ without relying on the cage. I had to figure out who I was when I wasn’t in charge of a little cage. Honesty, it’s been a really difficult journey, but I wouldn’t go back for anything.

More great stories…

About Glenn

Glenn Hager is a blogger, former newspaper columnist, and author of two books, An Irreligious Faith and Free Range Faith.
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