A Healthy Assembly Afterlife

Dave Sable posted this on the Assemblyboard on January 15, 2003, on the thread What does a healthy church look like?

Having left the Assembly in Fullerton 12, years ago, I have been in contact over the years with many folks who have left. Most people I knew turned to mainline churches of one sort or another. Some tried to keep some of the “core teachings” of the Assembly without the control and went to Plymouth Brethren churches - usually this didn’t work out, as many of George’s “exclusiveness” ideas came from the PB camp. Others gave up altogether and stopped identifying themselves as Christians.

Most people who go to mainline churches are initially open to new things. They are comfortable with instruments in music, the Lord’s Supper celebrated on a different schedule than weekly, and hearing primarily from the same, paid career pastor. Further, they understand that denominationalism is not necessarily divisive, that not everyone expresses the same zeal and commitment, and that there is a place for nurseries and Sunday School.

That's the easy stuff.

The more difficult stuff is the fact that we have underlying assumptions and emotions that have become a part of us - many things that we may not be aware of - that we bring into our new church situation. For example, just recently I was leading a Foster Care support group for believers. I began by sharing an encouragement from the book of Acts. Instead of reading a specific passage, I summarized the story and shared my few encouragements.

Even though there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing this, I felt deep within that I wasn’t doing it right because I didn’t first read a passage of Scripture. I just summarized. This would never do for Sunday morning ministry.

This is more than simply “baggage” that we can throw off. It is engrained in our attitude, our decisions, and our deep emotional feelings. It takes years of observing healthy church dynamics before we begin to understand and feel what healthy is like. It was years before I stopped feeling guilty whenever a pastor would call me and want to do lunch, for fear he was getting together with me to tell me I was doing something wrong.

As a result of this principle, I have observed many Undercomers (ex-Assembly folks) who had gone into mainline churches and thought something like this: “I don’t want this church to be like the Assembly. However, I want it to be like the Assembly.”

In other words, they rejoice in the fact that they are not dragged to long, laborious meetings over holiday weekends. They marvel at the shiny new ministries and styles. They like the fact that they have the freedom to minister without being micromanaged.

On the other hand, when the pastor doesn’t give the invitation right, or the prayer meeting is not well attended, or the outreach is not intense enough, or a deacon seems too worldly, or when many do not bring their Bibles to church or there is arguments about the budget, etc., etc., a subconscious alarm within begins to go off and we become miniature Brother Georges all over again.

Be assured, that this will go away in time. Don’t try to analyze it. Don’t agonize over it. When you catch yourself being judgmental, just chuckle and say, “Well, here I go again!” It is not because of your carnal self-life or because you have a wicked heart. It is because you have been trained in a certain way of thinking and it will take much time and observation for you to change. Be patient with God’s work in you.

Now, here are some quick suggestions for the topic at hand:

  1. Go to a well established church with a good reputation. You don’t need any more cutting-edge, remnant experiences. All churches have problems, but a church with a good reputation and good attendance probably has a good government setup so that it is far less likely to have major problems. Many have found Evangelical Free in Fullerton to work. I would also feel comfortable at some of the larger Calvary Chapels even though I am not of a Charismatic bent (and they don’t tend to emphasize that so much). If you are ever in the Boone, NC area, I go to a great Christian and Missionary Alliance church.
  2. You need relationships. I know relearning correct doctrine is important, but that is not the main thing. Most good churches will have their doctrine within the sphere of fundamentalism. Many people who leave spend the rest of their lives making it an “intellectual” thing, constantly reading theology trying to grasp all the threads of where “things went wrong”. However, intellectualizing things becomes a cop-out from what you really need - loving, real relationships with people. Find a church that emphasizes a strong Adult Sunday school or small group ministry where you are relating to others on an unpretentious basis. I have breakfast with a man every Tuesday who probably can’t articulate the difference between Calvinism and Arminianism. Yet, he is a strong believer and we can openly pray over the struggles with our kids in an open and honest way.
  3. Take time to understand what your gifts and talents really are. After the Assembly, I felt deep down that I should be evangelizing or teaching the Bible - these are the greatest gifts right? Soon, I learned to broaden my horizon. I discovered I had a small flair for writing (I edited a Christmas advent devotional this year). It is OK to be good at administration and be able to make good, sound business decisions. It is OK to like to have people into your home and have fun. It is OK to enjoy working on cars. It is OK to be an artist. It is OK to grab a group of men to play sports. These are all gifts that are useful to the church. You will only discover this about yourself as you take time to try new things and hear what other people observe about you. (I only started writing because other people told me that I did a good job at it, and I listened.)

Those people in the denominational church that you have written off for years as worldly and carnal are your brother’s and sisters in Christ. Go out and learn to live with them. Take time to heal and use the lessons God has learned you from your Assembly experience to build something better that will reflect praise back to God.

Dave Sable
Deep Gap, NC

See also A Healthy Church by Mike Fehlquer. K. Gordon Neufeld has a good explanation of the thinking problems Dave describes in the introduction to his book Heartbreak and Rage.

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