Today, I shared something with my church that may or may not have shaken them up regarding my work in the youth ministry. I think I caught a lot of the people in the room off guard, and, on my end, I regret not voicing these feelings sooner. It hasn’t been the easiest time ever finding community at the church I grew up in—a surprisingly common experience, from what I’ve heard—but it’s also led to the deep experience of learning how to focus on what God is doing in times when my own needs aren’t being met. While some may question why I would keep going to a church that I felt didn’t meet my needs, I think it’s worth noting that the Christian life isn’t always about our own needs. A lot of times, it’s about being humbled and invited into deeper growth and reliance on God; it’s a bit like putting yourself in handcuffs and throwing the key away. (That’s an inside joke; looking at you, Modus.) But it can be difficult to keep one’s arms raised during the struggle; even Moses had to take a seat and get some help.
The point is, in sharing my perspective on the ailment of the church in the area I am most acquainted with, I learned that I am nothing to hope in. There were many moments on Saturday evenings when elders would reach out, bright-eyed, and ask how I was doing and encourage me to continue doing the good work of youth ministry, and today, I felt like I had really disappointed them. My mom (for whom I am deeply thankful) has been faithful in reminding me that the only person I serve is God and to not worry so much about pleasing others or thinking about how they see me, but I am learning that it is a very difficult, uniquely human aspect of church ministry. I want to make the elders who taught me in Sunday school proud. Whenever I stand up to speak in front of the church, there’s still a remnant of the really timid, on-the-verge-of-tears, young boy from years ago. This is not to say that I am immature (though in many ways, I still am); this is, in my estimation, an honest account of how the transition period in a young servant’s life looks. It’s not easy saying hard truths as a kid.
However, in saying today that with respect to the youth the church is sick, I hope I have not been misunderstood as making a judgment rather than a diagnosis. I said what I said partially because there is a dull fire shut up in my bones, and I have grown weary with holding it in, but also because sickness is still a sign of life. Too often, we take statements like “the church is stumbling in this way” or “the church is sick in this way” or “the church is weak in this way” as assaults rather than verifications that the church has breath. I believe that as long as there is life in the church, in a person, in a community, there is hope for God’s redeeming work. Sickness becomes praise, weakness becomes triumph, and sorrow becomes peace in light of the redemptive aspect of God’s actions. I often sadly share about picketers telling event-goers that they’re going to hell not because of how offensive their methods are (and they are offensive) but because they have put people (who may be innately and unknowingly craving the riches of the Gospel) in hell before they have even had a chance to be drawn by true grace. I wonder if we are too quickly defeated in our relational encounters and our experiences of life’s natural rigors, forgetting that though people may intend to harm us, God intends things for good to accomplish the saving of many lives (Gen. 50:20).
To close, I just want to say that I still love the church I grew up in. The church has been a model of faithfulness. Many members in the church have served longer and seen more than I have. I want to cooperate in what God has planned. I want the youth to know Jesus as their Savior, as their Friend, as their King. The church may be sick, but Jesus is the Great Physician. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
“fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isa. 41:10 ESV)