I'm one of those guys who grew up going to church. Actually, let me rephrase that. I grew up in the Church. It's a subtle difference, I know, but I think there was something more than my weekly attendance to sing songs and hear the preacher preach. There was a lifestyle of faith in my home, and it stuck with me.
There's something about growing up in the Church that makes you approach things a little different than people outside the Church, those who came into it later in life. It's not that either one is better or worse, just different. I think the biggest difference is how each one views and reacts to their own original crisis of faith. Maybe this is me being ignorant to the struggles of others, but this is how I see it.
Someone who decided to join the Church later in life has grown up with assumptions about what the Church is, and what it means to be part of the Church. When they decide to join, it's usually the result of some struggle that makes them face their priorities. Somehow, the idea of being in the Church becomes greater than the idea of being outside of it. Sure, this internal struggle has many facets and in practice is much more complex than this, but at its core this is the transformation that brings someone to the Church.
People who grew up in the Church see things from a whole different angle. For many years, people like me hold an assumption that church is something you do, that being a part of the Church is something you are. But somewhere in the teenage years, you start to question those assumptions. It comes to you as a crisis, but it's really the struggle of every young person to build their own faith.
So what's the big difference? I believe it's a subtle, yet infinitely important distinction. One faces the choice to become a part of something, the other faces the choice to not be a part of something. At least that's how I saw it when I was younger.
I was used to having a preacher or youth minister show me the difference between right and wrong. I had grown accustomed to being part of not only a faith-based group, but a social group as well. I had somewhere I considered a safe place, and it seemed to protect me from the outside world and from myself. Questioning my faith felt like pulling the rug out from under me, leaving me to topple to the floor without that net of support.
For years after my crisis of faith began, I focused on filling that void. Finding a new voice to guide me, a new group of friends to support me. I tried to replace what I thought I had lost. And though I filled many of those gaps, I started to realize that I was missing the point. Yes, a community is important in growing your faith, but it's secondary to finding and defining your own faith.
There was one point in 2006 that changed me, but I didn't identify the change for years. It was 1 thing said by 1 guy, whose name I can't remember, and who I didn't spend much time with. Honestly, I don't even remember the exact words, but I remember the message.
We were having a college ministry planning meeting, something a little bit informal to let the students and leaders decide on the direction of the ministry during the coming year. We were discussing the idea of going around our neighborhood and mowing lawns as a way to love our neighbors. It was a cool idea, and everyone started making their own contributions of how to make the project as meaningful as possible. The discussion started to be taken in a specific direction, in which we would plan to chat with the resident about the Gospel while we did their yard work.
It was this person's response to our plan that caught me off guard. He said we were using the favor of mowing a lawn as a way to manipulate people into listening to us. That we were serving people with an agenda. He asked us why we couldn't mow lawns just to show love to our neighbors, to serve others as Jesus would, and why would we poison that by making our agenda more important than their needs?
His message rolled around in my head for months, even years. I had lived with the assumption that "good Christians" told people about Jesus all the time. That if you really believed, you would "share the Gospel" at every opportunity. Yet, I knew that street preachers and bullhorn prophets were missing the mark. I knew that the guys who stood on sidewalks and tried to reel in passers by to show them the error in their ways somehow weren't spreading the Gospel as Jesus intended.
This conflict unsettled me at first, but I finally realized that it put meaning to the feelings I couldn't define.
Now, if you hear me "preach" about anything, most likely you'll hear some paraphrase of Matthew 22:37-40. You'll hear my explanation that Jesus's biggest sermons focus on who we are and the consequences of our actions rather than listing out rules for us to follow. You'll hear me say that the only thing Jesus ever commanded during his earthly ministry was that we love God and love each other
God has given me opportunities to learn this lesson in practice. Once, it was a repeat of the lawn mowing idea from 2006. 3 of us went around looking for lawns to mow. At the first we barely talked to the resident, and we moved on after about half an hour of yard work. At the second house, we met Mama Chris.
Mama Chris was an old woman lived by herself in a small house in a rough part of town. She barely kept her house livable, giving us the opportunity to not only mow the lawn, but move some junk out of the house also. The more we saw, the more we wanted to help, and she was following us, pointing us toward boxes to move and where to move them. She was thrilled not only to have a helping hand, but also to have company in the house. She sat us down, offered us all a glass of water and a snack, and we heard all about her life.
What we couldn't have known that morning is the immense blessing we would get from this woman. All morning she had a smile on her face. All morning she shared stories about her family. We heard about her mission work to Haiti before it was called Haiti. We saw her picture on a plaque from her church, thanking her for the great ways in which she served the people around her. We heard her decades of wisdom, about how to help others, how to be a good steward of your resources, and how a handkerchief's fanciness is determined by the thickness of the lace border around it.
What started as a morning meant to serve others ended up being a huge service to me. I was reminded what a true servant's heart looks like. I got to see firsthand, that if you choose to love others in the name of Jesus, you don't have to say word about Jesus for Him to make his presence there. And sometimes you don't have to say a word to preach the Gospel.
I won't sit here and tell you that I have everything figured out. I don't think that will ever happen during my lifetime. For now, I can only try to keep living The Greatest Command as I make my way through my next crisis of faith.
Always moving forward,