My first encounter with Billy Graham was on the TV in my parents’ recreation room, at the age of nine. I found myself deeply enthralled as I listened intently to him speak with bold conviction. The only experiences I had known of anyone speaking publicly about Jesus Christ were in rather cold, morbid buildings filled with stained glass windows. I had only listened to men standing stoically in long, rich-colored robes, speaking monotonously in Latin or English. So, when I heard what I perceived to be an ordinary man speaking with such powerful eloquence, I became mesmerized. I had never heard anyone speak with such assurance about God and His Son.
Ever since I can remember, I have possessed an intense interest in the person of Jesus Christ. My parents periodically read from the Bible and I was completely captivated when they came to portions of His life, especially His agonizing, suffering death and mighty, victorious resurrection. Considering His life, I couldn’t imagine a more perfect picture of love embodied in human flesh.
As I grew up, various circumstances and pressures brought me to desperation. One night at a youth rally I responded to a call to accept Jesus Christ as my personal Savior. I knew with complete conviction that my life was a rotten, stinking mess. I wanted true forgiveness and a new life in an environment of love where I could flourish. What I received was a prayer, a suggestion to attend a church near my home, and a smiling good-bye. I felt like a sheep without a shepherd.
Hoping to find a place where I could daily receive and give comfort and encouragement, I applied to a Bible school and was accepted. My years there at school did give me a certain confidence. I was trained to present myself and my message with eloquence and persuasiveness. We were drilled to manifest an image of conviction which would impel our listeners to take our message to heart. Our course of study was designed to ensure a grasp of the scriptures that would enable us to have tremendous influence in our ministries. We were spurred to expand our minds, so that we would encompass all the scriptures necessary to convince our hearers that we possessed ’spiritual authority’.
Even our dress code prepared us to make an impression. Daily we attended classes, chapels, and meals with the men attired in suits and ties, the women in beautiful dresses. Often my conscience would twinge when I noticed those who could only afford to wear the same thing day after day.
All the time that I was being trained to reach the lost, I harbored secret doubts about what I was going to bring them into. It was beginning to dawn on me that Christianity was riddled with the deeds of the flesh, particularly dissension and factions:
Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envyings, drunkenness, carousings, and things like these, of which I forewarn you ... that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)
New factions (denominations) and dissensions (splintered congregations) were appearing continually, but our teachers encouraged us to accept this pitiful state of division as the way things would have to be till Jesus returned. Our attention was continually focused on the monumental task of taking the gospel to the ends of the earth, never considering that the factions and dissension we tolerated were the very things Paul warned about in Galatians 5:21: "those who practice such things shall not inherit [will have no part in] the kingdom of God."
Chapel services were scheduled daily with a continual influx of very successful guest speakers. This was whetting our appetite for ’ministry’. But the actual opportunities for ministry were never as glamorous as they seemed they would be. Weekends were set aside for us to go out and "preach the Word" and present gospel music. Even though these seemed initially to be marvelous opportunities for us to share God’s love, depression would often set in when our assignment was to go to a nursing home or children’s church, instead of to a large congregation.
Though I had heard that whatever I did was to be for the glory of God, my training continually stimulated me to long for the recognition found in preaching to large numbers of people. Although I maintained a facade of willingness to do whatever I was asked, I hoped for those opportunities to minister to large congregations which filled me with the confidence that I was being greatly used of God.
A couple of months after graduation, I began full-time evangelistic work with a national radio ministry. Landing this job was a great relief to me, for I had been led by my teachers to consider it a failure to graduate and just take a ’secular’ job, just like someone with a degree in business administration flipping hamburgers for a living.
My initial months in evangelistic work were filled with a euphoric air. Hopping planes to speaking engagements satisfied my longing for prestige. I seemed to be doing many important things to build up the ministry. But I gradually became disillusioned. All the ’fellowship and evangelism’ that took place in my travels to various churches and Christian supper and breakfast meetings seemed hollow compared to the life of the Master and His disciples that I read about in the Bible.
Also, the things we had to do to maintain support from our listeners left a bad taste in my mouth. When we called in professional fund raisers to bail us out and they wrote gut-wrenching letters to tug at the hearts and wallets of our supporters, I wondered how such tactics could be ethical. But I suppressed my feelings for fear of bringing dissension — and thus losing my job.
Because of my position in nationwide evangelism, I became aware of the high-pressure demands being used by a number of leading ministries. Ridiculous requirements were being placed on churches and conferences before many leaders would accept an invitation to speak. One particular speaker even made the prerequisite that he had to be provided with an indoor pool and workout room in his hotel. My conscience was appalled at such audacity. I couldn’t imagine the apostles having such a relationship with the believers of the first century.
During this time, I took an interest in what the other mass media evangelistic ministries were doing. Whenever I got the chance, I would catch a Billy Graham Crusade on the television. I was always interested in finding out which new sports or entertainment stars would tell of their personal faith in Christ. And as I listened, I would wonder what life was like for them from day to day. Up there on the platform it all seemed so glorious, but I knew what my own experience was like. Behind the image of confidence that I and my fellow workers had been trained to present lay the same striving, dissension, compromise, etc. that the people we were ministering to experienced. Despite the few great spiritual giants who seemed to blaze along in triumph, most of us were so weak we could barely make it from day to day.
Deep inside I longed to be part of a people, like Israel of old — a tribal nation who dwelt together to be a demonstration to the nations around them. Israel was intended to be more than just a people together against a common enemy, more than a people who would divide, but rather one that would be empowered to live in loving unity.
Finally, after three years in media-evangelism, I began to look into pastoring a local church. After considering the options, I began working as a youth pastor in a "Bible-believing" evangelical church. I was ecstatic at the prospect of serving the Lord full-time, caring for the flock. The senior pastor, who had encouraged the fellowship to take me on, expressed to me how much he appreciated our friendship. And I felt privileged to work under someone with such a great amount of experience.
But I was suddenly shocked out of my euphoria when the senior pastor resigned due to dissension and conflicts of personality with certain members of the congregation. I was dumbfounded. My first reaction was to leave with him, but certain people in the congregation pointed out to me that this was no time to abandon the flock. As a result of this upheaval there were many bewildered people in the fellowship who were in need of comfort and direction. Listening to their counsel, I decided to stay on until they found another pastor.
As the months went by, the general atmosphere calmed down. The church board even asked me to give up my plans of leaving. They expressed that they felt I was the man God wanted to shepherd them. My subconscious drive for acceptance and attention gobbled up the acclaim, and I naively looked forward to assuming the momentous responsibility. I considered it an open door, something I had been in preparation for ever since I began my training in Bible school.
But, unknown to me, my decision to stay on and accept the pastorate invoked an awful bitterness in the heart of the former pastor. And when he appeared at the monthly ministers’ gatherings of the denominations, he maintained a frigid distance between us. When I approached him, attempting to make amends, he quickly changed the subject and displayed obvious displeasure at even conversing.
The situation continually gnawed at me. I felt horrible, not knowing what to do or how to be. An older pastor suggested that I just leave the situation alone. But accepting his advice still left me agonizing over the obvious division between us. Though I managed to sweep it all under the rug, I still questioned inwardly how we could have good consciences.
That situation was only one of many disappointments I experienced in the five years I pastored. All my honest efforts, often subtly motivated by my prideful desire to be "greatly used by God", failed to bring forth the same good fruit of love that I knew existed in the lives of the first century disciples. And although I longed to see that same fellowship and devotion in our lives, here, in the twentieth century, my experience was far from it.
Even though I attended ministers’ "fellowship" meetings in the hope of experiencing true friendship, I encountered gatherings whose sole purpose was to promote loyalty to the denomination. The need for more giving to this or that fund was always emphasized. Larger, more elaborate buildings and numerically-growing congregations seemed to be the primary goal in everyone’s heart. As a result, no one would ever allow himself to come in weakness and need. We all had our image of spiritual authority and success to maintain. Sure, there were talks on how to handle personal stress, but honest heart-to-heart sharing was unthinkable.
It was always amazing how the thresholds of our church buildings seemed to possess the unbelievable power to transform us as we entered. Without fail, those of us who had been in a ’knock-down, drag-out’ quarrel with our spouses or children would cross that threshold and our whole countenance would begin to gleam. Then some spiritual phrase like, "Praise the Lord!" or, "Isn’t Jesus wonderful?" would come flowing from our lips.
Having to keep up the appearance of peace and joy when it’s not the reality of your life can be an immense burden to carry around. But what else can you do when you’re only making a once or twice a week appearance? In such shallow surroundings there isn’t room or time to be real.
Countless marriages within the ministry have degenerated into an awful, intolerable existence due to the unbearable pressure of maintaining such an elevated image. Very often, one of the mates, looking for relief, begins a catastrophic relationship with someone who seems to ’really listen’, and the marriage ends up in divorce. Of the marriages that manage to stay together, many live in a state of compromise for the sake of keeping the peace and are practically void of loving communication. And so those saddled with the responsibility and pressure of helping everyone else with their problems wind up unable to find help for themselves.
During this time, I discovered that I didn’t have any real solutions for the problems of many of the people I was shepherding. And I began listening intently to the preaching of Billy Graham and other respected leaders in Christianity trying to find some answers. It was obvious to me that they could clearly present the awful, lost condition of mankind. But, I came to see that their message fell short, just as mine did, of bringing the hearers to the obedience that comes from faith.
The authority to command obedience that the messengers of the early church had came from the fact that they themselves were obedient and had been sent. Peter said to the Master in Mark 10:28, "We have [literally] left everything to follow you," showing that he had done what the Master commanded in Luke 14:33, "So therefore, no one of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions." Because he was without deceit, having obeyed the gospel himself, then when he preached the message of salvation at Pentecost, thousands repented of their sins, received forgiveness, and literally gave up all their possessions to follow the Son of God and be His disciples. Peter had preached the same gospel He had obeyed, and the Spirit of God cooperated with him to bring the church to birth.
When Paul was sent out from Antioch, he was sent by the authority of the Holy Spirit. The disciples in Antioch were obeying the Master’s commands and thus were able to hear from the Spirit, because they had a good conscience.
While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. (Acts 13:2,3)
The message they were sent to preach was backed up by the living demonstration of that message in the lives of those who sent them. So God could righteously empower that message to convict the hearers and bring them to true repentance, a change of heart so complete that they would forsake everything they were, everything they had, and everything they knew. Those who received this message would truly be baptized into His death (Romans 6:3), for their old life would end. And they would be born again, starting all over again in a completely new life, the life of the Spirit, expressed in obedience to the commands of the Son of God. And the clear visible evidence of this life would be unity and self-sacrificing love for one another (John 17:23 and John 13:34-35).
We leaders of Christianity didn’t possess this same authority. It was obvious because we weren’t leading our followers to obey the plain commands of scripture or even to become disciples in the first place. Evangelists like Billy Graham have a powerful influence, convincing millions that they have received eternal life by saying a little prayer to "accept" Jesus. But there’s no cost involved in such a gospel. It is just a mental assent.
It is because of the delusion being brought by false messengers today who are masquerading as ministers of righteousness that many sincere people are being led into a ditch by the blind leading the blind.
God’s messengers? They are counterfeits of the real thing, dishonest practitioners masquerading as the messengers of Christ. Nor do their tactics surprise me when I consider how Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is only to be expected that his agents shall have the appearance of ministers of righteousness — but they will get what they deserve in the end. (2 Corinthians 11:13-15, Phillips)
I was unknowingly a part of that masquerade party. All ’ministers’ who condone the divided body of Christianity and persuade their hearers to just "accept Jesus" without commanding their obedience are under the power of the evil one. They have not come out from under his fatherhood.
By our God’s sovereign mercy I began to see the persuasion that Billy Graham and others, including myself, possessed was not bringing about the will of the God of heaven. Instead, it was a lie that was leading millions down the broad road which leads to destruction.
Deep in my heart, I knew that the Son of God intently desires all those who truly believe in Him to be brought into complete unity, as a living demonstration to the world that the Father sent Him. But I was powerless to bring this demonstration about among those I was shepherding. Since there was no reality behind the words I was speaking, I had no strength in my conscience to continue proclaiming them. I therefore decided to leave the pastorate, still longing to somehow find the reality of the life described in the Scriptures being lived out.
Adjustment to life outside the ministry was difficult. Although I was no longer burdened with the impossible responsibility of handling people’s lives without the grace to do so, I was also not prepared to face the grind of going out and finding work. Starting a rug-cleaning service was a monumental task for someone with no experience in the business world. I wound up taking a second job, just to make ends meet. I began to be away from home too much.
Genuine compassion began to fill my heart as I experienced life on the other side of the fence. The pressures of the secular world helped me see how the religious system separated itself from the sufferings of the common working person and thus lacked the ability to meet their needs. I realized just how empty the gospel I had received and declared really was.
I am thankful to say that isn’t the end of the story. By the abundant mercy of God, I came to know a people whose real, pure love for their Master Yahshua was being expressed daily in their commitment and care for one another. They weren’t perfect people, but they possessed a love for Him and for each other that was unparalleled by anything I had ever experienced. They had literally given up everything to follow Christ. It wasn’t just a bunch of words; it was reality.
In their life of sharing all things in common, they made no distinction between clergy and laity. There was no need for one man to stand behind a pulpit and bring a message from God, because they all recognized themselves as full-time priests of the New Covenant. Therefore, all had the responsibility of expressing their gifts each day to bring encouragement and comfort to each other.
There were true shepherds among them, not hired men who needed a salary to function in their gifts and calling, but men who worked alongside everyone else: teaching their children, building things in their wood shop, washing dishes in their kitchens, etc. Their appointments as leaders came from recognition by the whole body, who witnessed the daily care they had for people, and not as a result of a degree earned in some far-off institution.
I realized that I had been led by the ministry of holy angels to find these faulty, but loyal human beings who were daily crying out to be that holy nation and royal priesthood that God has been longingly waiting for.
I finally understood the parable of the man who discovered treasure in a field and quickly went and sold everything to buy that field. I gladly renounced the empty life I lived in the Christian ministry and entered the waters of baptism. There, by dying to my old life, I was truly united to my Master Yahshua and His death for me. I was washed in His blood to remove all of my guilty, selfish, religious past. Coming out of the water, I eagerly welcomed His visible body of believers to lay their hands on me and pray for the same precious Holy Spirit they had received to come and live inside of me.
I know that there are hundreds who have experienced the same confusion, disappointment, and pangs of conscience as I did in the ministry. No longer a false messenger, I live a brand new life which, after four years, continues to be a testimony to me that there is true spiritual healing in the midst of His people. He is truly giving me beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and a garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.