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Jesus Needs New PR


Holy Cheating (an excerpt from “Good God”)

The following is a short excerpt of my next book, Good God: Why Embracing the Questions, Hope, and Punch Lines of Our Faith Helps Me Believe. The first draft of the manuscript has been handed in, and I’ll begin rewrites and edits soon. This portion comes from a chapter called “Punctuating Jesus.” Oh, and please excuse the mistakes…

For a short time, while living in Northern Virginia, I multi-churched. In other words, I became emotionally and spiritually involved with three different churches at the same time. Sure, I had moments when I felt like a church whore, but the guilt I felt during those times wasn’t potent enough for me to break up with one of them. Besides, attending three churches made me feel edgy and alive and helped me resist the temptation to sell my soul to any one of them.

But three-timing was accidental. I hadn’t planned on trying to find a trio of spiritual homes. Honestly, I didn’t really know what I was hoping to find when I started looking for a church. I dreamed about a church experience that would be different than what I’d encountered up until that point. Before then, I’d certainly attended different churches. I’d gone Pentecostal. I’d done Presbyterian. I’d even endured a three-hour headache-inducing service at a church called Power in the Blood of Jesus International Missionary Baptist. The music just kept going on and on like the Oscars. And I love spirit-filled music, but I’m also convinced that, if the Holy Spirit is truly alive in a song, then he/she/it would know how to bring a song to an end.

However, even though I was open to experiencing a new kind of church, I always ended up settling for a church that felt comfortable, a house of God that was an acceptable variation of my conservative Christian roots. At the time, I struggled to feel the freedom to settle down and belong to a church that ventured off the evangelical pathway that I was used to. But I wanted that.

The craziest I’d become was experimenting with Calvinism during college, which brought great grief and sadness to my father. Dad hated Calvinism more than most people liked it, and it brought him great pain even thinking about having a son who enjoyed tiptoeing through T.U.L.I.P. “Never in a million years,” I remember Dad telling me, “did I imagine that a child of mine would end up fooling around with Calvinism. It just astounds me.”

Disappointing my father while I was away at college seemed okay since I rarely had to come in contact with his frustrations, but when I returned home post graduation, the theological tension at the dinner table became overwhelming. Besides, the closest reformed church was more than an hour away from where my parents lived. I visited a few times. And I wanted to love it. But I couldn’t. Compared to the compassion-driven reformed church I attended during college, Grace Presbyterian Church felt like a boarding school for zealots. But my biggest reason for disliking the church was because I wasn’t exactly sure if Reverend Bode was a follower of Jesus or a follower of the Apostle Paul. He talked about Jesus a lot, but much of the time, his Jesus seemed to be paralyzed in a wheelchair, waiting to get pushed around by the Apostle Paul. Also, I didn’t like how Reverend Bode talked about the human condition. And there’s only so many times that one can hear how “depraved” they are before it begins to affect their moods. Some of his sermons were so negative, like a Puritan Debby Downer, that I would leave church feeling depressed.

When I started shopping for a church, I decided I was going to take my time and find some place that I loved with a nice pastor, people who were at least as sane as I was, and comfortable pews. I spent the better part of my first eight months church hunting in the DC suburbs. Nearly every Sunday morning and Sunday evening, I visited a different church. I made a decision that I didn’t want to attend a church that made me feel like crap every Sunday. Having lived in that kind of church for most of my life, I was tired of waking up on Sunday mornings for an emotional beating. My views about Jesus and what it meant to follow him were slowly beginning to shift. The older I got, the more difficult it became to envision Heaven as an exclusive eternal hangout for evangelicals. Oh, I was definitely an evangelical, but even then I wondered why in the world Jesus would want to lock himself up in the same paradise with only evangelicals. That didn’t sound like Heaven.

So I began perusing the aisles of churches within a twelve-mile radius from where I lived. I tried many denominations—from a Lutheran to Church of Christ to Greek Orthodox to Non-denominational with a talented praise band and Non-denominational with an untalented praise band. The only kind of church I didn’t attend were ones with “Baptist” in their name. Again, that was shallow of me. But I was still in recovery, and at the time, still believed that I was recovering from being “Baptist.” After visiting twenty-six different churches, I spent an additional three months revisiting the ones I liked the most. Eventually I decided on my top three: A Presbyterian church with a tall beautiful white steeple and a congregation that believed the size of its organ pipes mattered; a non-denominational Bible church that boasted thousands of members, a THX-sound system, and a pastor who mentioned in almost every sermon that he was a “recovering Jew” (the term “Messianic Jew,” to him, sounded weak and unconvincing); and a church that, despite being confused about its spiritual orientation—it’s board was in the middle of a heated debate about whether it would remain Episcopalian or come out of the closet as Anglican—offered tremendous Biblical teaching and numerous opportunities for community outreach. I revisited my top three choices again. But I could not decide on a winner. I liked all of them for different reasons.

So rather than choosing a winner, I multi-churched…

© Matthew Paul Turner

Have you ever multi-churched?

The above picture was sent to me by @bigjohnhutton.



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diane1230

posted September 8, 2010 at 11:21 am


Great excerpt! :-)

I don’t know if this “counts” but when I was a freshman in college, I joined the Wesley Foundation – the United Methodist campus ministry – and Chi Alpha. I first joined Wesley because, well, I have always been United Methodist (still am, and actually semi-work for the church as a camp program director now), and I knew it was “expected” of me. At the time, I was debating about becoming a minister, and I knew that the peeps back home at church wanted me to be there. I suppose I was hoping some of my fellow college United Methodists would help me discern my walk.

Chi Alpha was attended because it a) reminded me of “church camp” worship – praise, passion, raising of hands, contemporary… pretty much what I longed for at the traditional (yet wonderful) home church of mine. It also b) was where everyone on my dorm floor went, if they did anything religious on Monday nights. I really did enjoy it, but I was also looking for belonging. Ultimately, trying to belong to SOMETHING, anything, is what defined my freshman year. I was a lonely, scared, fish out of water, who just needed someone and something to identify with. My boyfriend back home and I broke up during the year, and I felt completely lost and confused.

In the end, I decided Wesley was where I wanted to connect. It was smaller, and I had a better chance of actually connecting with people. Worship was contemporary, though it wasn’t massive like Chi Alpha, I actually knew the faces and knew their stories. Their stories connected with my story, and it helped the brief time I actually spent in college, become a good memory rather then the bad ones I’d created beforehand.



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Tanya

posted September 8, 2010 at 11:26 am


I’ve never multi-churched…but..I must say good for you for having the patience and interest to “roadtest” so many different churches, and then to semi-committ to three! I took the traditional root of disappearing off the church map entirely for about 5 or 6 years. I found my way back though, and you’re right…I think it’s almost impossible to find ONE church that will meet all of your needs, desires and wants. My big mental shift and heart shift was that I came back for the God/Jesus aspect and the church/people aspect was secondary. I’ll buy your book when it’s done, interesting thoughts.



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Alyssa

posted September 8, 2010 at 11:42 am


I’m pseudo multi-churching right now as I seek to find a church here in Nashville. I started out in a too large for me Baptist church now looking at a “cool” church and small Free Will Baptist church. I haven’t decided where I’ll end up staying but for now I’m going to two churches a Sunday! Maybe if I whip up some criteria and map out a plan for visiting churches I’ll find the right one. HA!



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Gina

posted September 8, 2010 at 11:56 am


I loved your excerpt. I feel like I am on the same road you were. I’m there now. “I made a decision that I didn’t want to attend a church that made me feel like crap every Sunday.” That is what I just told a friend of mine a couple of weeks ago. It is very encouraging for me to read about this kind of thing. Makes me feel like I’m not the only one.



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    Toranse

    posted September 8, 2010 at 2:49 pm


    Same here. I think my words were, “Church shouldn’t make a person feel like they have no hope.”



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Freedom Kreutzer

posted September 8, 2010 at 12:42 pm


I am currently a multi-churcher – it doesn’t feel any better now that I have confessed it. But I am going to a church that I really love everything about (except the people I meet through it) and I volunteer heavily and have started to feel like it is bad to be broken there – never a good thing. So I am cheating on my church with a church down the road where I can go and be unknown. I don’t think it will last long and I will eventually have to make a decision but I haven’t decided if I need to find a new church or search more at my current church. :(



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BunnyB1802

posted September 8, 2010 at 1:10 pm


As a person who was brought up and and christened an Anglican, attended a Roman Catholic junior school and convent school and then, due to an accident, went to Sunday school at an Elim Pentecostal church, I’d like to think I’ve been around the block and had my views broadened somewhat with regards to matters of the faith and denominations.

I am evangelical in outlook but, like you, can’t help feeling sometimes that there is some depth lacking. I love the contemplation that seems to be embraced by the Catholics, I like the social awareness of needs of Methodism, I love the ritual of Greek Orthodox. I can’t imagine anything worse that cookie-cutter christians, all the same. But sometimes you can’t help but get the impression that that is what the evangelicals are aiming for.

So I am looking forward to reading your book. It’s obviously going to be written in a straight-talking way which personally I find really refreshing. Thank God I’m not the only one who thinks like this. I was starting to feel I was on my own!

And yes, I have definitely multi-churched – Catholic, Baptist and Anglican (at one point also taking in Elim Pentecostal) but currently of no fixed spiritual abode.



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David

posted September 8, 2010 at 1:37 pm


I have been a multi-churcher since I came to Christ – well, since I was baptized in the Holy Spirit. During the Charismatic renewal of the ’80s we couldn’t get enough of Jesus. I went to the Episcopal Church, the Pentecostal Church and non-dom called the Rock Church. We didn’t care about anything but more Jesus. Some times the music was bad, sometimes good, sometimes the preacher was doing the chicken walk backwards and sometimes wearing and Anglican robe – but God was amazing everywhere!

I am still a multi-churcher. Every Sunday I wake up and ask where we are going. If I don’t get an answer, I might stay home, or just go to my favorite one.



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RobM

posted September 8, 2010 at 1:40 pm


I love Lon Solomon. Never could really fit in at McLean, but thoroughly enjoyed his sermons on the radio (was still broadcast on WJFK when I lived in the area). Half the my time there I spent “unchurched” convinced there wasn’t such a thing as a good church, despite what I did like of the Lon Solomon & other types.



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MainlineMom

posted September 8, 2010 at 2:35 pm


Ooooh yeah I’ve multi-churched. Especially in high school and college. As soon as I got my driver’s license I started going to a huge church with a contemporary service on Sunday nights, in addition to my family’s smaller Presbyterian church Sunday mornings. And then in college I multi-fellowshiped. At Penn State there were like, more than a dozen variations of Christian student groups you could join. I hopped around with at least three at once. When I did go to Sunday services it was between two different churches.

I got pretty burned out, actually. I’ve since learned that picking a church and committing to it is the best way to grow, become part of a community, and really serve. No church is perfect.



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Anna C

posted September 8, 2010 at 3:18 pm


I know two of those three churches, don’t know the Pres church. I live in the DC area now, but have never multi-churched.



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Davis

posted September 8, 2010 at 5:40 pm


Seems like the excerpt above contradicts what pastors like Joshua Harris (Stop Dating the Church) and Mark Dever (IX Marks, Thabiti Anyabwile’s What Is A Healthy Church Member) teach about church membership. Is that intentional?

In other words, is your book simply a memoir of your religious experiences, or is “multi-churching” consciously promoted as the wise, biblical choice?



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    Matthew Paul Turner

    posted September 8, 2010 at 6:45 pm


    You’ll have to read the book Davis. :)



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      Davis

      posted September 9, 2010 at 7:50 am


      That’s what I was afraid you’d say… ;-)



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Heather

posted September 11, 2010 at 6:07 pm


I multi-churched for a few years during the last year of undergrad and most of grad school. I attended my parent’s church part time. It’s more traditional, a little too conservative at times for me, but I grew up there, and had friends and family attending there. Then I also attended this up and coming non-denominational church that I fell in love with with a friend. It was a great mix of challenging and encouraging.

But as I started to get involved more in both churches, I quickly came to realize I couldn’t be at two churches at the same time when I was needed. So out of obligation to what I’ve always known, I cut back my involvement with the other church. (The “other church?”… omg was I having a church affair?).

Eventually my friend got a new boyfriend and started going to his church. And I just went back to what was in my comfort zone. Two years later, and I’m still going to my home church. For now.



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Heather

posted September 13, 2010 at 8:44 pm


I can’t wait to read your new book. I want to read more. I can relate to church shopping. Which of the three won? I’m trying a Baptist church, but then part of me is still attracted to a more charismatic church. Then theres figuring out what doctrines i agree with and don’t…… :)



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nazani14

posted September 15, 2010 at 8:14 am


With over 3,000 sects of Christianity, I would think you’d have to visit as many different churches as possible. You have to find the one church with the doctrine that will keep you from going to hell. If I read the Bible correctly, you’re not supposed to be selecting a congregation based on personal belief or comfort level, you’re supposed to be looking for that living embodiment of revealed Biblical truth.



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