The Great Stripping Away (or—how I lost some of my faith)

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Thankful Notes (#23)

I will always think of this past year as the Great Stripping Away. There were things I intentionally chose to remove from my life, there were things that just happened naturally and in their season, and there were things that felt more forceful, not in my control… more like a taking rather than a giving or letting go.

This past year…

We sold our big 3,000sf home of 10 years in the neighborhood where Ashah grew up

We gave away most of our furniture

I gave away 3/4 of my clothing

My dad started having memory problems

Ashah graduated / turned 18 / has boyfriend / is heading to college – including a study abroad program

We began a complete gut-and-remodel of our little lake house while living in it… which included no heat or water during the snow storm and power outage this winter

We had to move out for some days when the staircase was gutted (leaving no access to bedrooms and the only remaining usable bathroom)

The main level of our house had no walls, no insulation, no lights, etc. for a while

I slept on a cot in the construction zone for a month or two

We had no kitchen, no way to prepare food at home other than with a microwave

We ran out of money to pay contractors and had to borrow in order to keep going

We began a remodel on our rental house so we could sell it

We sold our rental house

We decided to close our Kent campus after some significant setbacks – the youth pastor left to work at another church and took much of the band and our workforce with him; at the same time, an elder/pastor left because of a pending divorce

The church I grew up in, now a multi-site megachurch in our community, hired our youth pastor without any prior contact or conversation with me. Our youth pastor left to work at one of their campuses and took nearly every leader and student from our youth ministry with him, as well as several families… we lost around 150 people and the identity of our youth ministry and the ability to continue using our model of youth ministry (one that I had championed during my 15 years of youth ministry and had a measure of success with)…

this loss was incredibly difficult and felt like a death

Around that same time, an influential 30+ year member of the church left over disagreements with our methods, practices, and beliefs

One of our original founding members, a dedicated and loyal contributor in our church, passed away unexpectedly

Some long-time ministry friendships have changed due to various high-profile scandals (relationships not lost, but changed… forever different)

I completely lost my appetite for, and my faith in, mega-church, mega-personality, celebrity Christianity

It’s not that I’ve lost my faith. My faith is richer and deeper than it’s ever been.

As I explained recently, over the course of the past 12+ years I have undergone a quiet spiritual transformation, a remodel, a restoration project—I experienced an awakening, I was falling more in love with Jesus and at the same time falling out of love with much of my old religious framework.

It’s been a stripping away that has given me room to move, room to breathe, and the freedom to be who I am. And this, for me, makes losing my faith in mega-celebrity-Christianity OK. More than OK. It’s a relief, the lifting of a burden.

The freeing part is that I no longer feel the need to venerate and emulate the successful mega-celebrity guys. I don’t need to attend all the right conferences and follow the latest-and-greatest-steps-to-building-my-platform (writing the words ‘building my platform’ makes me cringe and feel dirty—and I think that’s a good thing).

I’ve come to see platform building as something other than ministry – something that belongs to business and empire, but not the beloved community.

I’ve come to believe that celebrity is harmful… harmful to the one who is (celebrity) and harmful to the ones who celebritize him or her.

I’ve come to believe that when the church isn’t pastored by a shepherd but is instead led by an entrepreneur, guru, business leader, mogul, public figure, or celebrity—much harm is inevitable.

John Updike said, “Celebrity is a mask that eats into the face. As soon as one is aware of being somebody, to be watched and listened to with extra interest, input ceases, and the performer goes blind and deaf in his over-animation.”

Or as Kanye once said, “No one man should have all that power.”

It would be an understatement to say that humble isn’t exactly selling off the shelves. And I think that’s the point – what moves, what sells, what gathers the masses isn’t generally holy or wholesome or healthy.

With all the stripping away, my faith has not been taken from me. I did, however, let go of my faith in success, celebrity, platforms, and brand-making… and I don’t think I lost one little bit of Jesus in the process.

I just let go of my faith in church as a business, platform-building as ministry, celebrity Christianity as valuable. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m missing something essential. But I just don’t remember Jesus talking about leverage and platform and success and growth conferences and his smokin’ hot wife. I do recall him saying something about a child… unless we become like a little child…

Oddly enough, in letting go of my faith in all things BIG (big image, big brand, big platform, big business, big buildings, big following), I’m not left with a confining smallness—quite the opposite, I feel set free. And for this, I am thankful.

“He brought me out into a wide-open, spacious place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me.” —Psalm 18.19


I am a husband, father, pastor, leader & reader. I love God, love people & love life.

4 Comments to The Great Stripping Away (or—how I lost some of my faith)

  1. Love this. Any time I see someone embracing their celebrity, they start hiding the parts of themselves that don’t fit the brand, and it always seems to blow up on them later as you can only play a role so long. They don’t get help for problems when the problem is still little, because the can’t admit to not being perfect. Church should be about God and helping people know Him, not about celebrating the leaders and what they can do.

  2. I’ve always been drawn to leaders who are humble enough to be vulnerable without giving up the mantle of leadership. It seems vulnerability is too often wrapped up in lack of vision, or something like that. Rarely have I seen a leader who has a clear vision who doesn’t feel the need to make sure his/her opinions are validated by those around them. Too many disagreements are viewed as tests of “loyalty”.
    Not so with you, Brian. You have stayed constant in your pursuit of God’s vision for your life, and for NWLife, without letting ego derail your love for His people. I have been an observer of many of these “slings and arrows” that have come your way. Through them all, I have seen you maintain a heart to love God and to treat people, even the ones who have hurt you deeply, as the people God loves. You teach us how to extend grace in all of this – not merely with words, but with your example.
    When you came to pastor us, I had in my mind a large church, influential in south King County – political clout, social significance, religious leadership, etc. Surprising to no one (I’m certain), God’s vision was much different than mine – at least in how it will play out. You have led us back to the basics of following Christ – engaging our community and meeting them where they are with simple love and true care with all agendas put away but His. No hype, no “look at me”, no preoccupation with your brand, just real love for the people Christ died to save.
    Perhaps all of those things I saw are formulating, but on a much more truly Christlike foundation than what I imagined. Thanks for leading me on this great stripping away with you. It hasn’t been an easy transformation for an old guy – often quite uncomfortable – and I know I have quite a bit more to let go of, but it is refreshing to be a part of something that is making a tangible difference in people’s lives.
    Looking forward to see where God is leading. Love you Pastor!

  3. Christina Bickley

    Thank you for being so transparent, so real. It makes looking at a leader, or Pastor and know you are human. I’m sorry for the pain you endured as layers were removed. It helps me to see that God is calling us all back to the simplicity of our first love. We don’t need the extravagant, we just need Christ everyday, in our brokenness and our days of joy and celebration. And through our transparency, your transparency, others will come to know Christ. They will be able to relate to us. They will begin to feel the hope and know however bad it gets, They are not alone. I thank God for you and Sherry and your willingness to do God’s will, and to reach out to our hurting community.

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