A good friend once asked me what I was up to one night. I told him I was going to bible study. He asked, “When’s the test?”. That question stuck with me. I had spent my whole life learning about Jesus, theology and doctrine and found myself surrounded by others who think, believe, look and act the same way as me. Did Jesus just call me to learn and practice?
Have you ever wondered if all your time at church wasn’t being put to use? Like you were learning to swim on dry land only to be left without opportunity to jump into water and put things into practice? Maybe it’s time we take all that we’ve learned and practiced and put it into action living out the way of Jesus.
You may think I’m angry at church, God or my family or that I’ve had several negative experiences, but that’s far from the truth. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I have an amazing family with a long faith lineage. I’m learning more and more of the person and way of Jesus and finding myself amazed with God, his father. I grew up with amazingly loving, Christian parents. My parents started a church in British Columbia, Canada. It was an amazing place to spend my childhood. Not only was the church building a second home to me, the community of people who comprised the church were like family. I learned of the person and way of Jesus not only from the teaching of the church but from the way of the community of people who called it home.
Having moved several dozen times since then, much of which has been throughout the bible belt of the southern United States, I’ve been involved in and exposed to a wide variety of church environments. Each of those environments and experiences has contributed to who and where I am today. I spent my high school years heavily involved in my youth group. I went to 3 separate Christian colleges before completing my undergraduate degree. I picked up two different master’s degrees from two Christian institutions, one of which was a seminary. I’ve led bible studies, been mentored by pastors, professors and a number of great godly men. I couldn’t be more grateful for the lessons learned and the time given me through so many of these relationships.
BUT, I missed Jesus. I worked on managing life. I worked on understanding theology. I worked on learning and teaching. I was deeply involved in those church and school communities. I was surrounded by Christians. For most of my life I didn’t have any friends who believed anything contrary to my worldview. All that time, and I missed Jesus. I read the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) dozens of times and somehow glossed over the person of Jesus. I garnered facts, theories and theologies. I understood doctrine and adopted best practices to manage the “godliness” of my life. I got involved in communities that did life together, prayed for each other, and held one another accountable. I did all of that and I missed Jesus.
I don’t blame the church. It’s my fault for not paying attention. I was blind to Jesus despite my involvement. I saw being involved in church as synonymous with life with Christ. But, now, looking back I see how much I missed because of the way I did life. I thought church was important, involvement primary, study and discipline essential. I thought practices mattered. I thought they mattered because those made me a better Christian. But it was all short sighted. I missed Jesus.
Jesus did things another way. He didn’t preserve his worldview in insular communities. He didn’t disengage from the world around him. He didn’t invite people to a building or a program. Instead, he drew others to himself, bucked hard against the church (or synagogue) of his day and challenged even his closest followers to relinquish their hold on worldview preservation in order to see and accept his way.
So, no, I’m not angry at God, Jesus or the church because of bad experiences that I didn’t have. But, I’m angry that I sat there for nearly 30 years of my life incubated in a well-insulated environment that allowed me to see Christianity as participation in an institution rather than engagement in the world at large. I had a great experience in church growing up. But, I’d been there too long. Like the student taking 7 years to finish undergrad, I was just hanging around. It was familiar and comfortable and I needed to be kicked out. Look, Jesus spent 3 years with disciples then sent them on their way. They weren’t particularly trained or qualified prior to their time with him. They spent three intense years learning from Jesus then went out to change the world.
I wonder, what if you, like me, need to be kicked out beyond the walls of the institution as well? Are you comfortable? Are you insulated? Look around, do you look like everyone else at your church? Do you spend all your free time at church? Do you speak the language? Have you been here all your life?
What if it’s time for you to step out?
If you’re new to Jesus then, by all means, dive in a faith community and learn, but keep asking questions and look always to the person and way of Jesus to see how he did life. Get your footing, then go out and engage in community and the world around you. Engage in conversation, life and relationship.