This was not the blog post I wanted to write. It’s not the one I had half finished and was going to post today, but I think that this is the one I had to post. I had to write this because, right now, I have to say some things. This may be risky, and it may ruffle some feathers, but I’m sorry– it’s too important (and I’m too mad about it) not to post.
Actually, you know what? I take that back– I’m not sorry and I don’t apologize. So, here I am, speaking my heart, despite the repercussions. Because we need to talk about the church for a minute.
Recently, I thought about walking away– not from church altogether, just from my church– the place I had grown up. Something was missing, and I didn’t know what it was, but I could tell it was something I wanted. I have since discovered that it was passion, vision, and most importantly, truth. My church has recently undergone changes, and now, I have seen this passion, vision, and truth more than ever.
Recently, my sister wrote a post similar to the one I’m about to write. For those who are unaware, my sister has a powerful testimony. (which you should read about by reading her other posts). It’s filled with tragedy, bumpy roads, thunderstorms, and dark tunnels, but it’s also filled with hope, light, and strength. But throughout all of this, the place she felt the least welcome was the place that she should have felt the most welcome– church. She didn’t feel at home at the place where she met Jesus for the first time.
Because this Jesus she met here, and the Jesus a lot of people meet at church, is not the real Jesus. It is not the Jesus found in the pages of the Bible that our pastors preach on. It’s not the one whose words we read (or memorize). It’s a Jesus that’s sugarcoated, misquoted, and misunderstood.
Because here’s the truth. Here is the thing I commented on my sister’s recent Facebook status about her anxiety and recent struggles and about how thankful she is that God meets her where she is– brokenness and all.
“My favorite Bible stories (besides all the other ones) are the ones where Christ, once made human form to meet us, ate with tax collectors, sinners, and broken people. Because that’s who He came for. The Pharisees (or, comparatively the church), thought He was crazy and shouldn’t associate with those people because they weren’t perfect. But, Christ actually wants our brokenness and not our perfection. He doesn’t want the whitewashed walls— He wants the sinful woman pouring perfume on His feet and the criminal hanging next to Him on the cross. He wants the doubter who says “God, are you even real?” Because He wants to say, “Yeah. Here are My hands that were pierced for you,” as He stretches out His hands so you can feel His wrists. And if you still don’t believe Him, He wants to walk on the waves toward you and say “come to me”. And once you do, and you start to sink, He says “Why do you doubt?” as He reaches out His hands to save you– even if you continue to sink over and over and over and over again. Because Christ can calm the storm, but only if you ask Him. He’ll raise His hands, pierced for you, and say “Be still!” But, He never once says “heal yourself,” because those who are already perfect have no need for Him. Let’s be honest, anyone who says “I’m too good for Jesus and I don’t need Him,” is lying. And anyone who says that anyone else is “too broken” for Christ doesn’t understand the true nature of Christ.”
And so, here is my thing, the whole reason I’m even writing this post. Too often, our churches claim to be Jesus’ disciples, and yet act like the Pharisees. We claim to know it all and don’t let the outside world see our brokenness for fear that it will somehow make our Jesus less attractive. But, if we really want to be Jesus’ disciples, we would be doing exactly what Jesus Himself did and associating with the broken, sinful, “messed up” people, while admitting that we ourselves are broken, sinful, and messed up. If we want to make Jesus attractive, we would preach a Jesus who meets us where we’re at– brokenness and all. We would claim that we need Jesus as much as everyone else. Church should be a place where people can show up with their messy lives and find a place where that mess can be embraced and peace can be found.
And here is where I ruffle some feathers (if I haven’t already), and where I also share a little bit of a personal update.
I don’t have any idea what the heck I want to do with my life (as anyone who knows me or has read any of my recent posts could easily tell you). But, recently, I’ve had a lot of people tell me the same thing. I’ve had my parents, my sister, my pastors, my fellow Quiz coaches, and my friends tell me that I’m going to be a youth pastor. And, in all honesty, the idea of that has grown on me, and it is something I have seriously considered. But, the more I think about, the more I’m torn, because the more I don’t think I can do that. I can’t do that.
I’m not saying I can’t do that because I’m not able to, or because I don’t have the gifts or the passion or the desire to. I mean, there are definitely some things I could say to convince myself, and others, that those things are true. But, that’s not the real reason I can’t do it.
I can’t do it because I can’t stand up and teach a generation of people who don’t feel the church accepts, values, or wants to listen to them because they are too young, messed up, broken, confused, doubtful, or whatever. I can’t teach them how much God loves them just to see them struggling but too scared to say it because they feel they are “too broken” to accept God’s love– too broken for Christ to even want them. I can’t watch them be afraid to be honest because they feel that church is not the place for doubts and that if they don’t answer the questions with the “right” answers they are somehow failing at being a Christian. I can’t help them learn that they are not failing, nor are they “too broken” for Christ and help them accept Him and come to Him as they are, just to watch them graduate and get forgotten about. Just to watch them enter a church that is so focused on helping children and teens find Christ and helping adults continue to live like Him, that they forget that college students and young adults need Him too, but they feel too out of place to know where to go to keep finding Him. They aren’t children, but they aren’t really treated like adults, so they are forgotten about in the most critical time of their life simply because the church doesn’t know what to do with them. I can’t watch them enter that church, then walk away because they feel lost and abandoned, like everything they were taught was a lie since they no longer feel that they have a place. I can’t work for a place that acts like we have it all figured out. I can’t stand up and pretend I have my life figured out and nothing is wrong while I know that not a single person leads a life like that. I can’t work for a place that, once I do admit my life is not figured out, has the tendency to say “you can’t be a leader if you have flaws because you’re supposed to have it all together if you want to lead– especially if you want to lead our young, vulnerable members.” I can’t be a youth pastor because so often our youth pastors are not taken seriously enough. Too often, they are viewed as “Junior pastors,” people who took that job so that they could get their foot in the door and hopefully, eventually get a job as a “real,” “adult” pastor. Their ideas are brushed aside and their passions are stepped on, because we trust them to lead our youth, but only if they do it within the system that has been in place for so long but has stopped working years ago. I can’t enter a system like that– a system that, at times, can be so messed up it misses the point of the gospel it preaches. A system that embraces change until it goes against their traditions and then they resist it and allow it to cause drama and tension and awkwardness. I don’t want to continue to encourage that atmosphere and I can’t help young people who love God so much love Him more just to enter a church as an adult and have to deal with all that. Quite honestly, I don’t want to watch them get the same shock I had with all this change going on and discover that there is more tension in the church than love and acceptance. I don’t want them to grow up and find out that the Jesus of the Bible, the Jesus that is preached, is not the Jesus that is practiced.
Today in Sunday school, we asked the teens what Paul would say if he were to write a letter to our church. We were speaking specifically of our one church, but I think the answer works for the entire church body as a whole. Some of the things they said were honest and difficult, but I compiled them, and added a few words of my own:
Can you stop being so stubborn? Stop being so stuck in your own traditions and ideas that you neglect to recognize that not all change is bad, and sometimes, it is necessary. Stop treating kids like they are “too young” to be important, teenagers like they are “not mature enough” to make an impact, young adults and college students that they are “not old enough” or “properly educated” to have any good ideas or wisdom to impart. Don’t forget about your “young” members just because they are young. You don’t like the direction the future generations are going, and yet, you don’t let them find direction in the church. Stop being so judgmental and self-centered. Allow people to bring their brokenness, messiness, and sin inside your doors and be a place where they are free to talk about it without judgement and with love. Go back to the Word and find out what it really says and follow it– even if it doesn’t say what you want it to. You can’t change the gospel to meet your needs and justify your actions. You have to learn what it says so you can better imitate the Christ within its pages. Because the Christ you preach is not the Christ you practice.
And I’m glad that my church has people with a passion. A Pastor who isn’t afraid to share hard truths and call us all, including himself, on our crap. And I’m glad we have a pastor whose passion is for those of us who are “in between.” Who are old enough to make decisions about their own life but not old enough to have others we need to make decisions for. I’m glad we have pastors who are willing to fight for the truth regardless of the tensions or anger it may cause. I’m glad we have pastors who try their hardest to practice the Christ they preach. I’m not sure about the other churches, but I hope they do too. Because look, if you ever even want a chance of me entering into that system then the church as a whole has got to stop being hypocrites and resisting all the hard truths because they are uncomfortable. Because quite honestly, I’m tired of it, and it makes me a little angry. And if we ever want to reach those who are unreached, we have to start preaching, and most importantly, practicing, the Christ of the Bible.