Most of you who know who I am know that ministry is something I’m passionate about. I’ve been fortunate enough (sometimes unfortunate, but I’ll get to that later) to work in churches in various facets for the past ten years, and as a result I have experienced a number of wonderful relationships and moments.
But for various reasons, I have grown to be quite cynical and jaded, which is a typical response for a 20-something (ok, late 20-something, but shut up) to feel, especially if they’ve spent a large amount of time within the Church. Through my time on different ministry teams, I’ve seen and done a number of terrible things; all things that were borne out of good intentions, but nonetheless, things that have unfairly hurt a lot of people.
I was passionate, but that might have been my overarching mindset. When you’re guided only by passion, you tend to overlook the small, minuscule details that often have an even more palpable effect on yourself and other people than the bigger ones. I very much had an idealistic mindset in regards to ministry (and still do to this day, although it’s a bit different of an idealism than it once was), but no matter how big and “honorable” my ideals were, far too often I succumbed to my humanity and innate sense of selfishness.
Lessons weren’t fully researched. Sermons weren’t practiced enough (literally and figuratively). Relationships weren’t followed up on. Prayer requests were taken, but not always fulfilled.
I could keep going, but my ego can only take so much self-awareness right now.
These are things that every person in ministry (and to some degree, in general) deals and struggles with, so I know I’m not special in them and should therefore not allow their existence in my life to dictate my perception of things.
But they kind of do. So much so that I actually haven’t attended church on a regular basis for quite some time; at least since I’ve actually worked in the church. Having moved out to Arizona back in November, I’ve allowed my new location to be my reason when telling others, but in my mind I know that it goes so much deeper than simply not knowing the lay of the land.
I’m burnt out. Have been for quite awhile. Much of the reason for my jadedness is my own fault—which is something I’m painfully aware of—but moving beyond my own personal shortcomings, I believe there are some very legitimate ones for this outside of myself. Ultimately, I choose how I respond to them, and I’ve responded poorly at times, but the existence of these very reasons are cause enough to talk about them in hope that we can begin to eliminate them.
As an example, I attended a church this morning just down the road from my house. When I’m trying new churches out, I like to go by myself and keep to myself. The reason for this is twofold:
1) I’m an observer. I prefer to sit back and watch something taking place before I determine my role within it. This hasn’t always been the case, as in my younger years (fogey alert), I was always attempting to be the center of attention and control the environment. This still creeps out from time to time, but I’ve begun to develop a preference to observation and contemplation above the other option.
2) It’s interesting to see how long I go without a single person approaching me.
That second one has produced some interesting results, as in almost every church I’ve attended within the past year I’ve gone through every service but one without talking to a soul (outside of the door greeters and parking ministry people; don’t even get me started on the parking ministers). Nobody said a word to me. Is it a two-way street? Absolutely. Should I expect every person in the church to approach me? Not at all.
But come on.
I interned at a fairly large church one summer, and at the time my cynicism was really starting to take hold. I invested heavily within the youth that I was working with, but outside of that, I decided to try for the first time my experiment of seeing who would approach me.
I went through the entire summer without a single person talking to me during “adult services”. Outside of the youth group, nobody even knew who I was.
I realize I’m being nitpicky by focusing on this single idea, but it’s a pretty telling idea, nonetheless. If a staff member (granted it was temporary) of a church can be so anonymous within his/her own body of believers that nobody even knows who they are, how much easier would it be for the layperson?
The underlying reason for my reluctance to invest in a church again is due to my desire to avoid fake love. Everybody knows that on Sunday morning between the hours of 8 and 1 p.m. (depending on which service you attend), and long before the football games get started, we are at our most surface level best. We care deeply about each and every person that walks through the doors. So deeply that we take the time to ask how they’re doing, but maybe not so deeply enough that we actually answer their return questions honestly. There are more smiles on a Sunday morning than the rest of the week combined.
It’s an understandable thing we do, as we can’t always be unpacking our deepest, darkest insecurities and worries in a setting like that. And sometimes we just want to be in a positive environment that would perhaps counter our own negative one. I totally get it, and I agree with it myself.
But that doesn’t mean I have to like it. That doesn’t mean it HAS to be this way. Do I know how to fix this? No, I don’t. Perhaps it’s not for me to know; perhaps my only place is to simply ask the question and hope that someone far more capable than I am can find the answer. But then again, nothing I’m asking is anything new. These are things countless others have wondered, and have even attempted to address.
I’ll keep asking the questions, though. And I’ll keep earnestly searching for the answers, hoping that others are doing the same, and perhaps we can align our paths together and search beside each other. To me, that’s what the Church is and should be.