Last October Cheryl and i were engrossed in living for God outside of the Church. While not attending any one church, we remained in a home group of the church where we had recently interned. During this time of searching i sent Pastor Richard* a link and an excerpt to an article on Detoxing from Church that i discovered over at the off ramp.
"... In order to BE the Church, we need to leave the church. In other words, in order to truly become God's people as he intended, we must abandon our cultural version of organizational church. The application of this statement might vary, but it must happen. And as we abandon the church to become the Church, we will go through a detox period."
The excerpt encapsulated our experience. i hoped that Richard might understand why we left the church to become spiritual vagabonds. Over the next few months our correspondence indicated that he just did not get it. As we corresponded, he questioned my calling to ministry because "i was not fitting in" with the way church works. He somehow forgot that prior to my internship with him, i pastored youth for 8 years.
Pastoral ministry as Richard defined it simply does not look like a good fit for me either. Yet i could not shake my calling to pastor God's people. My calling does not fit the pastor/manager ideal of a program oriented church. In the past three years of our quest, my wife and i began living as missionaries in our emerging cultural landscape. We left the old way behind as we sought to become a new kind of pastor in this postmodern world.
i had hoped that Richard might try and understand my transition even though it did not resemble his experience. But he just kept trying to fix me and help me fit in with the church as he understood it. i did not need fixing, i needed understanding and encouragement. We had not even discovered the whole emergent conversation at this point so we were alone and thought that we must be off-of-our-rocker.
Our lives have changed drastically from a year ago. Our journey has taken us to a place of revitalized spiritual health as disciples of Christ. Just yesterday Cheryl and i met with Jessica*, who expressed an interest in becoming a part of our little community we call The Quest. We listened as she explained her situation and the questions she deals with about being a Christian. In her life it "just does not work" and she "does not fit the church." When she related the response she had gotten from her church it sounded very similar to how Pastor Richard dealt with me. i got it.
Cheryl and i spent the next several hours sharing and getting to know this child of God as she asked the tough questions. We listened, shared our experiences and just talked about life, God, faith, music, work, the church and our culture. The time just flew by. After 3 hours she mentioned that she felt "validated" by our conversation.
i asked her if talking with us had helped her out on her journey with Christ. She said, "Yes, I've been thinking along these lines you spoke of for a while but have not had the words to express it to anyone." My jaw almost dropped to the table because several weeks earlier i had gotten almost the exact same phrase in a response from Jesse.
Jessica’s words reminded me that true discipleship is helping others journey with Christ. We will meet with Jessica again as we have the start of a good friendship brewing here. She left the coffee shop feeling encouraged about what God is doing in her life and the world she lives in. Helping others find their path with Christ feels like an amazing privilege that God has granted us. We are so blessed to see others benefit from the years of struggle, discouragement and pain that we went through.
* = Names Changed