How a Critic of the Church Became a Lover of the Church

To some extent, I get why my generation as a whole is leaving institutionalized Christianity. They’re coming to see the missional call of God as something that is better expressed outside the church, because in many cases, the church has failed to live up to its own missional calling. It has turned inward rather than outward, becoming exclusive and judgmental and self-centered. There are plenty of things wrong with the church. Like Adam and Eve, like Hosea’s wife, like Israel, she has prostituted herself to the gods of American culture.

I get it.

But Jesus still loves His unfaithful bride.

I’ve had to come a long way to understand this. I empathize with my generation; I’m part of it. Having spiritual gifts that I believed were worthless in my church tradition, having a restless heart, a progressive mind, and a revolutionary spirit, I went through my own phase of bitterness and criticism.

My story is similar to the stories of my peers, but with one big difference. I understand the frustration and the temptation to give up on the church. I have experienced the pain that the church has caused. I’ve been judged for my appearance, been told I’ve overstepped my bounds as a woman, and even been accused of heresy.

I’ve waded through misinformed doctrine, bad theology, judgmental attitudes, and all manner of distorted truth and confusion and contradiction, stripped away the layers of tradition and preconceptions, and torn off the ribbons and adornments of centuries of religious assumption built upon religious assumption, until my naked hope found a beautifully simple and uncluttered Jesus.

And now I find myself in a unique position. I was raised in a conservative church tradition, broke the mold, rethought and reshaped practically all of my beliefs…and came back.

I came back to the tradition I swore I never would, because I believe that God has a unique role for me to fill. My role is not to run away and be some individualistic rebel without a cause. My role as a broken, messed-up person is to be in community with the broken, messed-up body of Christ. My role, as one who has experienced and empathized with both sides, is to bridge the gap between them.

Here’s what I’ve learned on this journey.

1. Unity doesn’t mean uniformity. I don’t have to agree with your views on predestination or premillennialism to accept you, love you, answer your phone calls at 2am, or call you my best friend. I believe that God calls us to a unity that transcends uniformity. Jesus said, “If you love only those who love you, what are you doing more than others?” By the same token, if we only consider those who share the exact same beliefs on every minute detail to be part of our community, how will we look any different to the world? All these denominations who “took their toys and went home” just look like a bunch of squabbling children. Again, Jesus said we would be known by our love, not by our exclusivity.

2. It’s a misconception that one can just “read the Bible” and find the one solid, absolute truth on any topic with no trouble. There are a lot of things the Bible is unclear about, and just about any position can be argued either way — and it’s been that way for centuries. There’s a reason that much of our theology is widely debated. Just because your brother or sister comes to a different conclusion, doesn’t mean that he or she hates God and is trying to destroy the church.

3. You can discuss differences without debating them. But the moment the Bible becomes a weapon, the moment it becomes about winning rather than about shared discernment and community, you need to backtrack quickly, repent of your divisive attitude, and reconcile with your brother or sister — who, by the way, is still your brother or sister.

4. Community is hard, but God intended for us to live in community. If you peace out because you’re tired of the uphill battle, you’re telling our Triune God that His greatest gift, indeed His very nature, isn’t worth fighting for. Jesus said that he who seeks will find. If, as I did, you hang on with dogged determination to what you know must be underneath the layers of confusion, you will find community there.

5. Leaders don’t leave behind. Think about it. If you turn around and there’s nobody following you, you’re not a leader. You’re just a loner. God has given me a passion for leadership and the strength to blaze trails, but if I become bitter or impatient and strike out on my own, I’ve forfeited my gift and have a lot of wandering sheep to answer for. What good is a scout who explores uncharted territory but doesn’t go back to tell those with him that there are green pastures ahead?

6. If you dislike the church as an institution, then love the church because of the people. If you dislike Christianity for the negative connotation often carried by religion, then love Christianity because of Christ, and love the church because He loves it.

7. It’s a little ironic, isn’t it, to be intolerant of intolerant people? Truthfully, I can’t stand them. I still struggle with it. I find it so much easier to have compassion on truly horrible people of the world than on members of the church who are bound by self-righteous legalism. And although Christ did tend to call these people out more so than “sinners,” it was not out of a spirit of hatred but of love. His righteous anger was for the self-made chains that bound those whose knowledge should have made them the most liberated. But have compassion on the intolerant, and pray for them to awaken to freedom.

8. As I said in another recent post, for every reason to leave a church, there are a million ones to stay. Every smile, every hug, every moment of fellowship, is like an anchor that pulls at my heartstrings and tethers me to the church. I can leave because of pride…or I can stay because of people. Broken, imperfect, irritating, beautiful people…just like me.

Do I still have growing pains? Absolutely. Do I still call out the church for its blunders? Yes, or I wouldn’t be true to my calling. But now it is in an entirely different spirit — one not of bitterness and one-up-man-ship, but of a loving leadership that desires the church to find its full expression of life and freedom in Christ.

And these lessons, beloved brothers and sisters, each one learned along a difficult journey with blood and sweat and tears, are how an angry critic of the church came to love it passionately, learning to make sacrifices and serve in humility. Because in the end, we’re all just trying to be like Jesus — but since the beginning, Jesus just wanted us to be together.

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excuses, excuses…

Journal entry written for youth ministry class:

God called Moses in a pretty dramatic way.  Every time I read this story, there’s a part of me that thinks, “Wow, I can’t believe he kept making excuses when God made his calling so obvious.” But to be honest, I’ve done the exact same thing even when I knew without a doubt what God was calling me to do.

Moses’ first excuse centered around the question of his identity. Isn’t identity what we all want to find? “Who am I, that I should go?” Moses asked God. God answered, “I will be with you.” Did God answer Moses’ question? Not directly. Who was Moses, anyway, that he should go? No one, really. He was a murderer, he ran because he was a coward, and he ended up with the less-than-glamorous job of tending sheep. Moses was nobody, so of course he was going to feel insecure about taking on a task that required authority and leadership. But God wasn’t concerned about helping Moses discover his identity so he could feel good about himself inside. Because in the end, it didn’t really matter who Moses was. It mattered who God is. And who am I, that I should go? No one, really…until God calls me out for His purpose. We’re so consumed with discovering “who we are”…but that’s not really the point, is it? If God is with us, that’s all the answer we need.

Moses’ second excuse was concerned with God’s identity. “Well, if God is going to be with me,” he must have figured, “what does that mean for me? Who is God, anyway?” Is God actually powerful enough to be everything I need? In class today when we were talking about calling, our discussion group was talking about how afraid people are to rely on God and how we always think we need a back-up plan. So even when God revealed His identity to Moses and reassured him of what would happen in Egypt, Moses wasn’t finished.

Moses’ third excuse was the worry of what the Egyptians would think of him. Would they believe him? Would they think he was stupid? Moses already seemed pretty insecure, and he was afraid his ego couldn’t take the kind of rejection he anticipated. Looking back on some things I’ve felt led to do, the fear of what others think is always a huge obstacle to get over. “What if this is ridiculous? What if it doesn’t work and I end up looking like a failure?”

Moses wasn’t finished. He had a fourth reason he shouldn’t go – he was ill equipped. God was asking him to speak, and he felt uncomfortable speaking. This is another excuse I can definitely relate to; one of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn is in 2nd Corinthians 12:9-10. “My power is made perfect in weakness,” God said to Paul. And I could hear him saying it to me all summer at camp, when I didn’t think heights and outdoors were really “my thing.” I felt ill-equipped…but just as He did for Moses, God showed up and overcame those weaknesses to display His strength through me.

The Little Things: Week 3

Believe it or not, it is actually possible to get used to the following: 100 degree heat. No caffeine. No makeup. Sweat. Cherry flavored cough drops. Ice cold showers.

I think the one thing I will never get used to is the amazing grace of God to keep going and the love and support of the staff and even my campers when it gets hard.

I can’t lie, I started week 3 with somewhat of a bad attitude. It was our first middle school camp, and I love middle school. It’s hands down my favorite age to work with, so I really wanted to do overnight camp. Instead, I was assigned as a day camp staffer with thirteen 8-year-olds. But looking back now, I know God had a reason for where He placed me this week. No, I didn’t get to develop super deep relationships with the overnight campers. But this week, God has shown me some amazing truth through the little things, through those moments that pop up in seemingly random places.

After doing overnight camp for two weeks, day camp was just very…different. At first, I didn’t like it as well as overnight camp because there’s not nearly as much spiritual depth as overnight. Instead of team-building activities and life lessons, it’s mostly recreation. And honestly, I was a little disappointed by the first day because it felt more like babysitting than actually making a difference. But moment #1 was a new perspective from one of the other staffers — “Day camp is just a different kind of ministry. Instead of teaching these kids, your job is just to love on them and show them Christ that way.”

There were also some new lessons that I had to learn being an adopted counselor in the evenings. Having been immersed in the mentality of leadership for the past two weeks, it was a completely new challenge to learn how not to lead. Because I’m more outgoing and generally just more vocal than the overnight counselor I assisted, it was hard to rein in my enthusiasm so I didn’t come across as trying to take over. Adjusting from one position during the day to another role at night was sometimes difficult, but I was reminded of the raging river low ropes element: it can’t be done without a leader, and it can’t be done without someone in the back picking up the pieces. Learning how to gracefully transition from one role to another was one of the big lessons I learned this week.

Another new experience for me was learning how to bring out the leadership qualities in another person. My jr. staffer was a year younger than me, and at first he seemed more interested in having fun than taking all the responsibility that comes with camp counseling. The second day of camp we sat down and talked about it, and he told me that he didn’t think he made a very good leader. I could see his strengths, though, and I really wanted to give him a chance to explore his potential and recognize those qualities. So for the last 3 days I made an effort to see him as my co-leader rather than my jr. staffer. He helped me lead Bible study discussions and went above and beyond to support me while still being super fun with the kids. Both our strengths and our weaknesses ended up balancing each other out really well; I may be a bit more mature and responsible, but that means I also have the tendency to stress out over ridiculous things, like a kid paddling a canoe into the bank or being late to an activity or making 75 trips to the bathroom because my kids didn’t have to go 5 minutes before. He doesn’t take everything quite as seriously, which could be frustrating when something needed to be taken seriously, but most of the time he helped me to chill out and live in the moment, and the kids loved him because he was crazy fun! On the last day of camp he brought a carton of my favorite ice cream that we shared over lunch, along with a super awesome ring that has now left a tan line on my thumb. When I asked why, he answered that he wanted to thank me for giving him the opportunity to step up and be a leader. Mission accomplished.

On Tuesday night while my overnight girls were in the shower, I went in the kitchen to finish off some tiramisu ice cream. Another jr. staffer was in there as well, so we ate ice cream together and talked about how the week was going, and then we prayed together before going our separate ways. Moment #2. It’s the little things — I love getting to spend one-on-one time with people and getting to know them, and this guy is such an awesome model of Christ’s love. His joy is contagious.

Thursday morning I got up early to have a few minutes of quiet time before breakfast, and for some reason I just started stressing about the details of my life and asking God, “Is this going to work out? What am I supposed to be doing with my life?” Mostly in regard to relationships, because for some reason that’s something that is very difficult for me to surrender. And then moment #3 hit me: I sound exactly like my campers wanting to know my schedule. I learned early on that if I tell my campers my schedule, they won’t pay attention and they’ll ask me like a thousand times. So finally I just stopped telling them altogether.

“Babe, are we doing archery today?” “Maybe.”

“When are we going to the camp store?” “Sometime today.”

“Why can’t I see your schedule?” “You don’t need to see the schedule. I’m the one who has it, and that’s all that matters. I’ll tell you what you need to do when you need to do it. Do you trust me?”

Oh God… do I? Talk about a good dose of humility.

Thursday night I had a really awesome talk with one of the guys just sharing our stories and talking about what God has done in our lives. He told me that he has struggled with homosexuality for the past 5 years. Homosexuality is something that really isn’t talked about much in the church, and Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction dare not talk about it for fear of being judged, or they can’t reconcile their sexuality with their faith and so end up leaving the church altogether — so I was fascinated to hear what his journey has been like. He also shared with me that he feels like it’s part of God’s plan for him to be married one day, which wasn’t something I was expecting to hear, because I wasn’t really sure how all that works out. So I was like, “This sounds super awkward, but I’m trying to understand what’s changed…what are your desires now?”

He answered simply, “My desire is for God. I don’t want to be defined by my sexuality either way.”

BAM. Moment #4 hit me in the face. Should any of us be defined by our relationships, straight or otherwise? Our identity should always be found in Christ alone regardless of “orientation”, and that’s something that I have to work on learning just as much as he does.

So yeah, that’s my week in a nutshell. There are so many other little details that I would love to share with you, but these were the moments that helped me to grow the most spiritually. For now, it’s bedtime.

Published in: on June 30, 2012 at 11:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Low Ropes and Leadership

On Monday, Grant and I worked together facilitating low ropes for the Grace Chapel youth group. The first few initiatives that we did were frustrating because we had 4 girls and 4 guys, and getting them to work together was like mixing oil and water. When we did the Rapid River, they kept leaving their blindfolded people behind because they refused to hold hands or touch each other. At one point a blindfolded guy asked the girl before him, “Where are you?” She answered shortly, “Right in front of you!!” as if she didn’t realize that he didn’t know where “right in front of him” was.

One thing, though, really hit me. This one little dude was the leader of the group, and at the end he unknowingly did something really powerful. The girl behind him was blindfolded, so when he put one foot on the bank, he was like, “Let me scoot the block closer to you so you can reach it.” I made sure to take note of it and bring it up in the debriefing.

Leaders don’t leave behind. If you’re leading and you look behind you and there’s no one there… you’re not really leading at all. Leaders keep track of those following them and bridge the gap to bring them to where they need to be.

On an unrelated note, today was the first time I facilitated the Leap of Faith for a group of middle and high schoolers, which was super rewarding. One girl cried, but she did it! The other one that stood out to me was this one little dude who started getting terrified halfway up and saying he wanted to come down. I convinced him to take “two more” steps, and slowly but surely he made it to the top and sat on the platform. When he had reached the ground, one of the older guys came over and gave him a big hug. I was unfastening the carabiners on his harness, so I heard as the other guy whispered in his ear, “You did so great! I’m so proud of you.” It was such a sweet moment to see the gentle affirmation of the other guy as the climber, legs still shaking, grinned from ear to ear. And then it hit me — I get to do this all summer long.

Published in: on June 9, 2012 at 10:28 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Set Apart for Leadership

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord.”

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Tonight God laid heavy on my heart the call of leadership in a way that I’d never experienced before. It was something I couldn’t ignore. I was remembering Pastor Steve’s study on the Holy Spirit from a few months ago, and how every time the Spirit comes upon someone, the result is courage to proclaim the gospel. I began praying for God to pour His Spirit out on me without restraint, to anoint me with the full measure of His power, to give me strength and courage whether I sing, pray, speak, or write, to lead others to His heart.

As I was on my knees at the altar praying, an awesome servant of God came to pray with me and for me and pray God’s Spirit and power over me. I was overwhelmed by the presence of God.

I’ve experimented with and dabbled in the role of leadership, but tonight it hit me hard, like another dimension of responsibility I haven’t experienced before. I’m at a turning point in my life: having figured out who I am, and having gotten past my own doubts and failures, I feel like tonight marks the point that my ministry has truly begun.

It may or may not have been a coincidence that as I returned to my seat, everyone was singing, “For the world You love, Lord, let Your will be done in me.” And may that be my prayer for the rest of my life.

Published in: on February 10, 2012 at 10:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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