I’m not sure who invented the treadmill. I imagine it was someone who decided that a rainy day wouldn’t stand in their way of a long jog. Or maybe it was someone who wanted to go running, but didn’t appreciate the judgmental glances that were thrown their way when their out-of-shape body went shuffling down the street. Who knows? Nevertheless, treadmills have made their way into homes across the globe, as well as gyms and fitness centers galore. Miles upon miles have been traveled, and yet no one has really gone anywhere.
Sometimes I wonder if my faith is on a treadmill. I can push myself to the limits but not really go anywhere. Then, when it comes time to really put my faith into action, it’s like I’m traveling down roads I’m not prepared for.
I seem to be perpetually frustrated. As I read back through my previous posts, I sound like the type of person I would not want to be around. I hope I am not this way and that my frustration is only spilled throughout this blog because it is an outlet…a place where I can complain and no one will tell me to keep quiet or view things differently or judge me. So I’m journaling my thoughts, but not in a private way. I’m journaling to the public. Though nobody may ever read these words, it almost seems like I want them to. So, who am I spouting this frustration to? Who do I hope stumbles across these words?
I think it is me. I think subconsciously I know that I need to see them. I need to see my emotion spelled out on the screen, staring me back in the face. Though I’m still trying to decide what it all means, at least I am one step closer by understanding that it means something. I’m very goal oriented, and it seems I’ve become stale because the goals I set for myself 10 years ago are in my rearview mirror. It’s time for some new goals. New milestones to inspire me. New attitudes to help me emerge from the frustration with new life.
A whole year has passed since I last posted (well, I just cleared out my “drafts” folder and posted old, unfinished posts, but those don’t count as “real” posts!) and in many ways it feels like just yesterday. Many lessons have been learned in this past year that might one day warrant a full explanation in book form, but I’ve found my attention span can’t quite handle book-writing just yet, so the condensed, blog-post version will have to do. Here are my words of “wisdom” for others leaving one church job for another:
1. Have your parachute ready. The emotional cliff of leaving behind deep-rooted relationships is not (nor should it be) any match for the new relationships budding. The trust and respect you had earned in your old church has to start all over at square one in your new church. The inside jokes, the acceptance of your quirkiness, the understanding of things that frustrate you…gone. As much as you try not to compare the churches, you will. Grieve the loss of what was, and try to be patient as the new is slowly forming.
2. No 2 churches are the same. The activities, lessons, retreats and ministry style that worked so perfectly at your last church will probably be a bust at your new church. Like custom-made mini-blinds for your first house, leave ’em all behind for the next person.
3. Every church is the same. The conflict, the “how do we attract new people?,” the customs and traditions that no one will admit to having but will rip your face off to defend…you’re not going to escape certain aspects of the church.
4. Somebody else always knows better. And it’s probably the parent of a kid that only attends 8% of your youth group activities. When you first arrive and are most impressionable, their enthusiasm leads you to believe they are going to be your go-to parent for popular opinion. Then you quickly (hopefully for your sake), realize that their embarrassment over their kids’ lack of involvement has led them to intense armchair quarterbacking.
5. Make sure you are being fed. It might be the reason you’ve made the move, but your own spiritual health cannot be overlooked. As you learn to deal with the fact that the search committee was not exactly accurate in their depiction of the church during the interview process, one area is non-negotiable: can you grow in your own faith here? If the answer is no, move on before everyone becomes attached. If the answer is yes, get ready for the long ride.
As we counted down the days to our move, it was very surreal to me. It’s hard to imagine life after your everyday routine. Hard to imagine not seeing the people you see so often. We had grown especially close to some of the youth and families from Bethlehem and in many ways we truly felt like family. As Alison and I drove down the interstate to our new home, we often found ourselves riding in silence (with the occassional sniffle.)
“I feel like we’ve abandoned them,” Alison would say.
We’d laugh at the good memories, then choke up again. We know that there’s a good chance we’ll see them again, but we also know that things will never be the same.
It wasn’t their fault.
We all long for acceptance. We need to know that we are loved. Beyond that, we need to be around others who validate us, give us some sense that the way we are doing life and the choices we’ve made have not made us less than human. The Bible talks about community over and over, and when it’s not talking about community, it’s giving us a story of people in community.
Unfortunately, even community can turn sour and hurt people. I’m not talking about a “falling out” or one group against another. I’m talking about the time in the natural progression of community when the group hardens and is no longer open to outsiders. Because our deepest desire is to be accepted and loved, we have a natural tendency to find a group that affirms us, then allow a hard shell to form around our comfort group so no others can get in.
Most churches don’t realize we’re doing this and would never do it on purpose, but it happens.
God’s will is such a hard thing to discern at times. Other times it couldn’t be simpler. For example, it is pretty easy to discern that God’s will is probably not that you should get addicted to drugs, kill your neighbor or run naked across a busy highway in the height of rushhour. Some things we just know is not God’s plan for us. But other things are more difficult such as which job or college to choose, what to do with our money, or how to spend our time.
Many of us that pray for discernment, start a tough decision with a prayer like this: “God, I have a tough situation and I want to know your will. I want you to be glorified in this situation, so push my will aside and show me what you want me to do.” After a prayer like this, we try to look as objectively as possible at the situation, leaving our own selfish desires behind. Usually then, we go on to do what we desired in the first place.
When I hear the word disciple, I immediately think of the guys that Jesus chose as his followers. Then I immediately think about people that are more religious than me, know more scripture than me, or are more Christian than me. I may not be alone in feeling that I could never be labeled a disciple–I don’t live up to the name.
But another word for disciple is simply, student. Look back at Jesus’ first encounter with many of his disciples and the Bible says he provides them with an unconditional proposal: “Follow me.” He doesn’t send them away to study scripture, clean up their messy lives or solve all the world’s problems THEN tell them to follow. He shares no prerequisite, only the offer: from this day forward, using who you are at this moment as your starting point, follow me.