Protestant Reformation

Life changed after my born again experience. My head was theologically turned, altering my perspective on everything. I now saw God and the world through Protestant eyes wearing fundamentalist spectacles. I stopped going to Mass and started attending a house church with six other people. I no longer prayed to Mary or believed priests had the power to do the two things Catholics used to think made Mother Church the sole means of salvation—forgive sins and transform the communion elements into the body and blood of Christ.

I quickly learned that we Evangelicals took our faith seriously enough to go door-to-door and to accost strangers on street corners. That summer I joined the Blitz evangelistic team and traveled to the University of Oklahoma. Open-air preaching and witnessing scared the snot out of me but peer pressure kept me from running.

In 1974 I took my new bride, the former Susan Wright, to Fairhaven Bible Chapel in California for the nine-month Discipleship Intern Training Program. The intensive experience confirmed my desire to be in full-time ministry; a passion I pursued for the next thirty years. Everything during those decades revolved around knowing God and making him known.

Susan and I returned to the house church in Denver in 1975 where I became an elder at the age of twenty-three. How’s that for a misnomer. The church grew to more than 100 people, moved to a trailer park clubhouse and became Fellowship Bible Chapel. I quit my job at a chemical plant in 1977 to devote myself to the work.

Like a sprinter who attacks too soon in a stage race, I ran out of steam a few years later. Tired of butting heads with an older elder and frustrated with the meager salary, I resigned from Fellowship and moved my young family to Cedaredge, Colorado. By then we had three small boys, Aaron, Nathan and Matt.

I spent the next eighteen months decompressing and working as a part-time carpenter. Then we went west to Portland, Oregon to join Laurel Park Bible Chapel. Bruce McNicol, a friend from California days, served there. In time I became a teaching pastor. We spent nine happy years in Portland among some of God’s nicest children but once again I found myself marching to a different cadence from the church.

In 1990 the Hamels, with the addition of daughter Julie, moved to Wheaton, Illinois to join Interest Ministries. Bruce had become its president a few years earlier. I served in various capacities for the next five years. Susan and I also helped start Servants Church, which has since grown into Trinity Vineyard in St. Charles, Illinois.

Interest Ministries got squeezed between conservative and progressive groups of Brethren like a walnut in a nutcracker. A lawsuit ensued and I decided I’d had enough of passionate believers fighting over petty issues. I left Interest and turned down an opportunity to start something new with Bruce and another Interest staffer, Andy Holloman. Instead I moved to San Jose where my friend Greg Davis and I tried to create a self-funding mentoring ministry we called EMT (Experience, Model, Teach). We couldn’t pull it off and so the Hamels moved to Colorado Springs in 1996.

We tried to help a church plant called New Harvest that didn’t get off the ground. I didn’t want to go to a Brethren church but we wound up at one anyway. We enjoyed the people at Harvest Bible Fellowship and I soon found myself preaching and helping with small groups. There were other factors at play but it seemed like the more time I invested, the more people left.

BF eventually went under and I found myself looking back over a checkered ministry career. The years had been filled with wonderful people and worthwhile endeavors but I could see little of lasting fruit this side of heaven. John Wooten once cautioned, “Never mistake activity for achievement.” I had certainly been active—but what had I achieved?

  • Fellowship Bible Chapel – defunct.
  • Laurel Park Bible Chapel – grown into Spring Mountain Bible Church after I left.
  • Interest Ministries – defunct.
  • Servants Church – grown into Trinity Vineyard Church after I left.
  • EMT Mentoring – stillborn.
  • New Harvest Church – defunct.
  • Harvest Bible Fellowship – defunct.

I didn’t blame myself for people and circumstances beyond my control; still, I felt like a failure. I didn’t know if my ratio of “defunct-to-surviving” efforts was normal for spiritual entrepreneurs but my record disillusioned me. I began to question everything. I tried to argue with God but he wouldn’t talk back, not in any way I could perceive.

I had abandoned Catholicism in my teens when I found what I believed to be a more biblical way of relating to God and life. Now, as I reached the mid-century mark, I could no longer accept a fundamentalist worldview. It didn’t jibe with my experience or adequately explain what I saw happening in the world. The most painful part of this transition was not having anything new to replace the old.

*          *          *

“Sometimes I lie awake at night, and I ask,
‘Where have I gone wrong?’ Then a voice says to me,
‘This is going to take more than one night.’”
—Charlie Brown

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20 thoughts on “Protestant Reformation

  1. Hey Mike,

    Yours is an interesting story to read, esp. since I share some of your experiences & perspectives.

    Sometimes when I’m feeling philosophical (read “depressed”) about my curious life amongst, in Robert Baylis’ words, “…those Christians Sometimes Called Plymouth Brethren,” I take up the martyr’s cloak (St. John, the Condemned, uh, Commended Worker from Laodicea).
    I say that it’s been my lot in life to serve Christ with a movement that’s in it’s “Last Days.” Some folk lived in the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression. Some folk lived on rations & lost sons during World War II. Some folk are born into brothels in India. I just had the (mis)fortune to want to try to serve & please my Lord in a movement that was becoming “curiouser and curiouser” as it, like the dinosaurs, tried to survive the transition to a new age.

    Anyway, thanks for using your gifts.

    And hey, I hate to pick on a sick guy, but I read “If Grace Is True…” and I’d question whether it’s worthy of INCLUSION in the category “Theological” or “Worth Reading.”

    What?! No Walker Percy? No Larry Woiwode? No N.T. Wright? No Paul Johnson? Not even whiny Anne Lamotte? Dude! (OK, I haven’t read everything you listed. And I totally agree with the inclusion of McCullough!)

    Check my Facebook list of books… when you’re feeling better you’ve got a lot of reading to do!

  2. Mike:

    Thanks for sharing so candidly about your life journey. In many ways I can relate. The evangelical world view doesn’t quite sit right with me either, but somehow the redemptive truths do. We need keen minds like yours to challenge our thinking. I am convinced that no movement or group has the corner on truth. Systemizing our theology may be helpful to our limited understanding, but it puts God in a box. It sounds like you have taken God out the box…good for you.
    Mike, your impact in the lives of people cannot be measured in church successes. I have much to say about this, but not in a public blog. Tipping my hand, consider that most of the prophets would have bullet points that ended with: nation destroyed or taken captive. You have over the years touched many, me included. Keep pushing the envelope and keep that keen mind engaged.

  3. I agree with Julie. I also have to add that 3 of your children have *exceptional* taste in spouses. Like father, like kids. 🙂

  4. You left out one of the jobs you had over those 30 years; raising 4 kids… not a record, but more than a hobby, right? 😉

    Lets look at your track record with that:

    Son, Aaron – I’ve never met a more giving and caring man. He doesn’t hesitate to put others before himself. He has increadible integrity and loves his family well.

    Son, Nathan – This guys wants to save lives for a living. Probably equally so he wants to take naps, but we won’t fault him for that. He spent years helping troubled youth. He has increadible integrity and loves his family well.

    Son, Matthew – Full of creativity and talent. He has a brilliant mind and can battle wits with the best of them. He has an adventurous spirit and has travelled the world. He has increadible integrity and loves his family well.

    Daughter, Julie – The funniest of all your children, she has an overwhelming passion for the outcast and the unloved. Why? Because she felt so accepted and loved by her parents growing up that it pains her to see so many who don’t.

    Overall, Dad, I’d say you have a pretty good track record with raising kids. Let’s examine the results of the last 30 years:

    Aaron – success
    Nate – success
    Matt – success
    Julie – success

    No defunct 🙂

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