A man who grew up in legalism and fear discovers the peace and love of Christ through the gospel.
Julie K. Wietzke
All Mike Indest was looking for was peace.
But after growing up steeped in legalism, afraid of the Rapture, and confused by conflicting beliefs, peace was hard to come by.
“Without being taught the idea of where faith really comes from—that it comes from God and it’s nothing we do at all—it’s just a terrifying way to live,” Indest says.
But Indest saw and experienced Christ’s love and the peace of the gospel at Crown of Life, New Orleans, La., and is sharing that message with others.
Finding no peace
Indest spent his early childhood in a Catholic charismatic church, a mix between a Catholic and Pentecostal church, in New Orleans. “It was not a weird thing for me to hear priests speaking in tongues,” Indest says.
His family left that church when Indest was eight years old, mainly, he thinks, because they recognized differences between Catholic theology and what the Bible taught.
Instead they joined a charismatic denomination, which brought its own list of doctrinal difficulties.
Indest says he struggled most with the idea of decision theology—Christians have to make a decision to follow Christ in order to be saved. “People would go to the altar to make a decision for Christ, but there was no assurance of salvation,” he says. “Salvation was based on your decision, but because it was something you did . . . then the problem is how do you know you did it with good intentions?”
He continues, “To me, even as a kid, it became like works because it was something you were doing—it was initiated by you.”
The church’s end times teachings—which were a literal view of the book of Revelation, including a Rapture of all believers—also incited fear, rather than hope.
“It was those two things combined—there was no peace of God there,” Indest says.
Discovering God’s love
In high school, Indest became more vocal about his doubts on his church’s teachings, to a point where he ended up attending L’abri, a Swiss religious study center for those with faith questions, for nine months immediately after high school. “At the time, that was what I needed,” he says. “I was taught to think there and not just to accept [what I was being taught].”
But when he returned to New Orleans, he couldn’t find a church to attend. “I asked way too many questions,” he says. “I visited every denomination, and there was no fit.”
A move to Nashville, Tennessee, didn’t help him find a church home. “I read a lot, I prayed a lot, I wrote a lot of songs,” he says. “I basically was a Lone Ranger Christian for many years.”
Indest’s beliefs continued to change as he read and learned more about doctrine and the Bible, though he says he struggled with what to believe about the sacraments. After moving back to New Orleans, he even began taking seminary courses online through several different denominations. But he still couldn’t find a church he wanted to attend.
Indest first met David Sternhagen, pastor at Crown of Life, New Orleans, and several Crown of Life members at the Christian radio station where he worked. Sternhagen had a weekly radio show there. “When I would engineer the show, I would hear some theology,” says Indest.
Indest agreed with what he was hearing from Sternhagen—and also appreciated the manner in which Sternhagen shared the message. “He wasn’t combative. He was very nice,” says Indest. “There was a lot of grace and kindness there that I never experienced before. No legalism, just the love of Christ.”
It still took years before Indest set foot into Crown of Life. During that time, he watched Sternhagen and his members live their faith and talked to them about their beliefs. “The kindness of Christ was exhibited in a way I have never seen before,” he says.
He finally was ready to take the next step when he became serious with his girlfriend, Diana. “I thought it was time to start again in a church when I started my new life,” he says. He and Diana went through Bible information class, joined Crown of Life in 2011, and were married in 2012.
Continually growing in the Word
Indest’s thirst for knowledge continued after he joined Crown of Life. He first decided to go through the Congregational Assistant Program offered by Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn., with four other members of Crown of Life. “It really helped me solidify what we believe,” he says.
Then he enrolled in the Chaplain Certification program, which prepares pastors and laypeople to serve people in special circumstances, for example, those in prison, nursing homes, hospitals, or the military. He graduated in 2017. “I can’t tell you the amount of healing I got just going through the counseling classes,” he says, referring to difficulties he experienced following Hurricane Katrina.
Indest is putting his new knowledge to good use. He and his wife now run a youth outreach program at Crown of Life that serves neighborhood children.
The kids, ranging in age from 8 to 15, started showing up at Crown of Life a few years ago, looking for something to do. The church got them involved in Sunday school classes but knew there was a bigger opportunity. Soon the congregation began offering Sunday afternoon activities like basketball and crafts, also including a meal and devotion time. The program has now expanded to include homework help and a meal and devotion on Tuesday afternoons as well.
Indest says his chaplaincy training has given him a lot of confidence as he shares Christ’s love and peace with the youth—both in words and actions. “Last year, I clearly presented the gospel to at least 40 kids,” he says.
Those opportunities to plant the gospel message and show Christ’s love will continue to grow as Indest keeps looking for new ways to share the peace he discovered. “There’s grace and there’s forgiveness!”
Julie Wietzke is managing editor of Forward in Christ.
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Author: Julie K. Wietzke
Volume 105, Number 2
Issue: February 2018
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