Why was this not enough you may ask? I am not sure how to articulate that other than to relate three observations from those years. First, I had started questioning the leadership of our group about 1991. I was not questioning so much authority as the consequences of our decisions and the manner in which we reached many decisions. I was part of the leadership team, a deep part. I was the second-longest sitting elder after the head pastor. I started to identify threads of -- how should I say this?--self interest labeled "God's heart" in what we decided regarding the larger group and clear indications our decisions were not fully loving others when it came to individual situations. I attempted to speak change and suggest alternatives, but it felt as if the status quo was simply too strong. I was not quite sure how to understand what I thought I was observing nor how little reception my viewpoint received. I questioned myself much, while I prayed constantly for the Lord to change me or our group as He deemed necessary.
In the winter of 1996-97 a predictable crisis in our family erupted over a teenage son. We received one of those 3:00 AM calls every parent dreads, "Mr. Davis, this is Sgt. Jones with the police department. We have arrested your son." I knew I had been too busy with the business of the church and took a year's leave of absence from my elder duties to give my family more attention. My second observation after about six weeks at home was like a deep satisfied collective sigh I began to identify among our family members. We were having more dinners around the table. My wife and I were encouraging, feeding, and accepting more talking and laughter together with our kids. One night when I had been home for four consecutive nights, the kids all in bed, I looked at my sweet wife and said, "This is how most Christian families live. It feels good." I had stepped off the treadmill of "good works" for the cause of Christ as defined by our group and discovered something incredibly precious many families know. We have enjoyed much familial love over the years, but much of that only came after the church had been served. When I reduced the number of hours church business required, the love in our family quickly blossomed into something rich beyond words. This got my attention. My questioning of how leadership functioned broadened and the questions became specific and directed at how people in our modern church culture spend their time; how they experience life in Christ; how leadership might function to more fully serve the saints.
Third, after we had separated from our church; and as I fulfilled my mandated church shopping I had many, many stunning moments of insight into the spirit of what we culturally call church. I visited ten or so congregations of different stripes. Some once, some for several months. Let me share with you three moments I recall with absolute clarity.
- In an open Sunday school discussion about love, a criminal lawyer shared pointedly he did not love and had no ability to love some of the characters he was called upon to defend. He shared this as if it were a problem he had on one hand, and on the other hand as a situation with which he was perfectly at peace. He had no intention of ever showing this class of people any love.
- Within the same body a layman was teaching in Sunday school about evangelism and finished with a starkly worded statement dripping with belittling condemnation and disgust, "Shame, shame," he nearly bellowed, "...on anyone here who is not winning souls everyday of his or her life."
- Entering several minutes before one church's 11:00 AM main service, I recognized one family from our shared involvement in community children's soccer programs. The husband of the couple was an usher and lead me to the pew where his wife was already seated beside a few other folks. As she and I sought comfortable levels of chit-chat I asked, "So how do you and Charlie like fellowshipping here?" I knew already this was their church home of many years, and it seemed like a safe enough topic. She continued to look forward briefly, then turned to me with tears in her eyes beginning to spill onto her cheeks and said in effect, "We have always had our family in this church. I don't know what, but we have to do something different." The service included twenty minutes of the most theologically correct sermon I think I may have ever heard, read word for word from multiple long-hand covered pages and from which the pastor never once looked up.