Don’t Be So Typical

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When I was young, there was a girl in my local church that I looked up to. In fact, I often considered her my mentor for my early faith growth. I was in my elementary years, and she was a teenager in high school. Unlike most teens her age, she didn’t seem mind me hanging around her and we ended up becoming close friends. We went to movies, theme parks, and regular parks where we just hung out and would sometimes talk about church topics. I thought she was super cool – not your typical church going girl. She was a tomboy, had piercings, etc. She helped me understand what it really meant to love others, regardless of age, race, sexual identity, etc.

During this period of my life, she decided to open up to her family and the church family and made it known that she was a homosexual. Honestly, I’m not certain of the events that occurred after that moment. However, I knew she got hurt emotionally to the point where she left the church that we both attended.  The fact that she was hurt to the point that she had to leave upset me on many levels. Not only did I lose a close friend, but I lost my mentor.

**For context purposes – this was in the early 2000s when more people were starting to come out and The Church was trying to figure out the best way to talk about it more openly, and I’m under the assumption that my home church did not handle to situation in the best way they could have**

I think there was hope that someone would step up to mentor me or attempt to bond with me in a similar way afterwards. Unfortunately that took several years – about around the time I hit middle school.

We got a new Youth Pastor around that time and to this day, he is one of the chillest dudes I know. He was not a typical church goer either. Not only was he very chill, but he was great at discussing the abstract concepts of the Bible that most people don’t like to or know how to discuss; and he also illustrates just about everything – his sermons, what he reads, what he listens to, and what he’s thinking. It is legit cool. He helped me understand how fascinating it is to read the Bible on a deeper level and helped me to know that it was okay to have ideas or questions that may be different from what is considered the normal faith view.

I’m sure at this point you’re wondering what I mean by typical. When I use this term, I’m referencing those who follow the typical faith schedule:

  • Go to church every Sunday
    • This includes immediately going in, saying a few hellos but generally just going to your pew to have your worship time, listen to the sermon, then go home to watch the football game.
  • Read Your Bible
    • Really just reading Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John which all have the same story from different perspectives.
  • Praying
    • Saying the same prayer every day or just asking the Lord to provide you with what you think you need (but you really just want).

I’m not saying these things are necessarily bad. I think some folks need this kind of faith schedule to a certain degree in order to keep their faith intact (but that’s a whole other blog). I tend to refer to these kinds of folks as the sheep because they are the people that need to kept reigned in by whoever takes on the role of the shepherd.

Now the shepherds, or the non-typicals, go beyond this criteria. They reach out, check on people and get deeper into the faith. The non-typicals, or shepherds, have a tendency to be intimidating to the sheep at first because they’re different; they don’t match what they’re used to; but the non-typicals are so necessary for change to happen. I guarantee you that I would not be where I am in my faith today had it not been for two people I had talked about earlier.

Jesus is the very definition of the shepherd. Sure, he’s often referred to as the Lamb because he was the ultimate sacrifice. However, he was also the shepherd that led the sheep to renewal. The Pharisees, who led The Church at the time, hated Jesus. Those who were unsure of Jesus challenged him, and were then challenged back with new ideas and teachings. Jesus hung out and helped the outcasts. He made change happen. Jesus was non-typical.

Since our mission to try and be like Jesus, that means our goal should also be to become non-typical. I think we all start out as typical, or sheep. However, I believe at some point in our faith journey God wants us to become shepherds, or non-typical. Sheepdon’t make change in other sheep. The shepherd brings the change and the sheep will adapt, learn, and grow.

I know a lot of people who seem to be stuck in sheep mode. Whether it be out of fear, or if they just don’t have the right teacher, I don’t know. I do know that some of these sheep will call or beg for change and then get upset when change doesn’t happen. So here’s my message to you:

If you feel on your heart that something needs to change and you are simply surrounded by sheep and no shepherds – become the shepherd. Don’t be typical.

For those of you are not ready to be shepherds: Do not fear the non-typical. They are there to help you. If you have concerns, talk to them about it. They are there to guide you.


Why Love in the Church is Important

Let’s talk about looove. No, I don’t mean the romantic kind of love. I’m talking about the love of Christ! This is a Christian blog after all. More specifically, I want to talk about why love in the Church is so incredibly important.

Throughout my life, I have heard some backlash towards the love movement in the Church – the push to spend more time building relationships with others rather than smacking the Bible in someone’s face in the first moments of acquaintanceship. Is my bias showing a bit? Oops.

The backlash I tend to hear is that the love movement is too frilly; doesn’t get down to the nitty-gritty – the stuff that makes folks uncomfortable; and/or generally does not strike the fear of God into people like past movements have or attempted to.

I certainly understand those concerns and, like many movements of the past, it may need some adjustments. However, the main goal of showing love and building relationships with others over time is a huge foundation that is critical to the life of a Christian. Yes, the uncomfortable stuff and fearing God is important, but we forget that throughout all of Jesus’ teachings, love was part of what He said was the greatest commandment.

36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.38 This is the great and first commandment.39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

-Matthew 22:36-40 (ESV)

By now, I think most Christians understand the importance of loving the Lord. But look back at verse 39. Not only does it say that “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” but right before that, it specifically states that this particular commandment is just as important as loving the Lord. Just. As. Important. You know how huge that is?

Even Paul, in his letter to Corinth, talks about the importance of love in anything that he does.

13 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

-1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (ESV)

This portion of Paul’s teachings is what I feel is so crucial to being a Christian. We can have all of the spiritual gifts, know all of the bible verses by heart, go out and do missions BUT if you do not do it in love or do not have any love to give – it means nothing.

So, where am I going with this?

Have the love of Christ. Show the love of Christ. It’s what we, as humans, need. In a world where depression rates are consistently on the rise, political tensions are high – we need love. Now more than ever. If we, as humans, need the love of God to survive; then those who know it need to show it to the ones who don’t know what that love looks like, because otherwise humanity as we know it will sink into a hole that we may not be able to get out of.

When National Symbols Become Idols

WARNING: This post involves political content. Please note that this is simply an opinion piece. This is NOT meant to condone or condemn the recent protests.

For those of you who don’t know – this blog has been on hiatus while I had a baby. I was unsure of when I would return, but in light of the recent protests, I felt that today had to be the day. I am NOT speaking of the NFL protests themselves, but rather the reactions to the protests that I have recently witnessed.

I want to make something clear before I continue: When it comes to the national anthem and the American flag, I agree with the majority that there is a sense of respect that needs to be maintained. However, some the reactions I have seen towards these protesters are completely out of line. Some have been almost verbally abusive in nature and have come from the mouths/posts of my Christian friends, and frankly I think we need to be reminded of something.

The flag. The national anthem. Both are symbols that stand for our country, our freedom, and the American way; reminders of everyone who chose to stand for it (and in many cases die for it) in different ways. But that’s just it – they’re symbols. At the end of the day, the American flag is simply a flag and the national anthem is simply a song. They are images that we have chosen as a society to represent our nation. Sadly, within the past year, I have seen more Christians choose these images over people as though they are meant to be praised, and have placed them on the same pedestal of passion that I see them put up for the Lord – and that’s a problem.

Ouch. I think I just made some folks angry. But hear me out. For those of you are Christians, we need to look at this in a bigger perspective. We need to ask ourselves:

How much is the American Flag or the National Anthem going to be worth when we die and are facing The One who will judge us?

Is the Lord going to be more worried about how much you chose to stand for the flag or how much you chose to show love to others despite your disagreements?

For me personally, I think it’s the latter.

As the title of this post may suggest, I think we have become picky about – or even just plain blind to – our own idol worship. It’s easy to say that cigarettes, alcohol, or electronics are idols that we have placed for ourselves. However, it’s also easy to forget how anything and everything can become an idol for us; and unfortunately, it’s rather difficult to admit that something so meaningful to us as a nation could be one of those idols.

It’s also difficult to remember how important each and every human being is even though we may disagree with them. In the first chapter of Genesis, the Lord talks about making us in His image. I take this to mean that all human beings are meant to be image bearers of God; in this instance, we have to remember that the American Flag and the National Anthem are images created by man, not by God. We need to stop holding the images WE created in greater regard than the images HE created.

No, you don’t have to agree with the protests or how they are being done. However, DO remember that the protesters are children of God just as much as you or I are and need to be shown love. So, please take note of how to treat one another in times of disagreement, and ask yourself what is more important.

Why I Struggle With Church Attendance

You want to know something? I haven’t been to church in two weeks. For some of you, this may not seem like a big deal; for others, this could be shameful. This would typically bring about the question of what I would need to do in order to maintain proper fellowship with my church community, and believe me, I’m working on that. However, I’ve recently been bothered by how much Christians focus on church attendance alone, rather than the importance of fellowship and continually building our relationship with Christ.

Growing up, my mother did a great job of ensuring I was going to church often. Now that I’ve had to take on my own responsibility of making sure I’m going to church, I don’t go as often as most people think I should. There are actually three main reasons for this, and to be clear – I’m not using any of these as excuses to not go to church, but rather helping people understand where my struggles lie.

To start, I’m an introvert. What does this have to do with church per say? A lot actually. I generally struggle socializing for too long regardless of who the person is and in a church setting, socializing can be a big deal. Everyone wants to say hello and catch up on each other’s lives. I love that church communities do this; it just happens to overwhelm me sometimes.

On top of this, I believe it’s important to have a day of rest. This is typically supposed to be on Sunday, and with how scripture tends to phrase it – I’m supposed to find rest with the Lord. Finding rest in the Lord can be very helpful with a church community; for myself, however, I sometimes need to find rest in the Lord in the quiet of my own home. This is typically due to weeks that are heavily loaded with necessary social situations, and by the time Sunday rolls around, I’m completely out of energy to properly socialize and discuss faith with my peers. In times like this, I tend to be more rejuvenated through a personal study of scripture.

Lastly, there was a point in my life where I was fairly consistent with going to church regularly. Then I realized that I was having a hard time gaining anything spiritually. I was just going through the motions of the week. Go to work Monday through Friday, do something with friends or family on Saturday, attend church on Sunday, repeat. I wasn’t really thinking about anything. It was like I was a robot

I used to feel ashamed for not going to church regularly because I felt it so necessary to be there every single Sunday. Then at some point I realized that I should be more ashamed for not building my faith and my relationship with the Lord more.

So the question is: Why was I so focused on being ashamed for my church attendance? Well, depending on where you’re attending, church attendance can determine everything. It can determine how involved you’re allowed to be, if you’re qualified for leadership, etc. It’s understandable why churches focus on it; more often than not, it’s primarily to check how many people are at church each week, and they may not want someone to get involved so quickly and then leave. However, in an indirect way – it determines your faithfulness to the church itself. In my desire to be a leader, I wanted to be sure the church understood that I believed my attendance was important when the reality was that it shouldn’t have been my focus.

Our faithfulness shouldn’t be directed towards the church. It should be directed towards God. Yes, the church helps maintain the faith, but you CANNOT rely on the church to give you faith 24/7. There’s a lot of personal work that has to go into that as well. When you direct your faith at the church and focus solely on the church, you run the risk of making the church your idol.

We’ve become too comfortable with the regular. Do I think church needs to end? Absolutely NOT. I think church is a wonderful tool for fellowship. The problem is that many of us are fine with just going through the motions every week, or place our focus on something that we’ve grown up believing is important when it might not be as important as we think. However, we have to remember what is most important – the Lord. If you read this blog regularly, or if you’re looking for a challenge: I encourage you to find new ways to develop your faith, whether that be in a social setting or a personal setting.

This week, I don’t leave you with a verse, but rather a worship song I was reminded of. It’s The Motions by Matthew West. I found it to be rather fitting for this week as I was meditating on the subject of church attendance.


Uniquely Made: A Reminder

“So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Then God blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.'”

-Genesis 1:27-28

For those of you who do not know: I’m pregnant. In fact, I’m currently in my final trimester. As the due date of my baby nears every day, I have been constantly wondering what she will be like, what traits she will have, and what goals she will set for herself. This in itself has reminded me about how uniquely made each of us are; and looking back on my last couple posts (which can be read here and here), I have been thinking more about leadership in the Christian society as a whole – specifically, what traits make up a leader.

Growing up, I always had the belief that everyone was created differently, and that regardless of one’s personality, they were still made in God’s image. I can’t recall if this was ever taught to me, but it was my general thought process for quite some time. Somewhere along the line, it appears that I either forgot this thought or completely disregarded it. I think this was due to my growing desire to be a leader in the church because I had noticed that there had been an increased idea of what traits make the best leaders.

It made sense at the time, as any group that continues to grow eventually moves towards a different model of efficiency. As Christians, we desire to be equipped with the best tools in order to grow spiritually, and how can we ensure that we were equipped with those tools? With the best leaders, of course. This, however, has lead to a lack of variety in our leaders. It has also, unfortunately, lead to the forgotten word that shows how God called the “unqualified,” for he in fact made them qualified – just maybe not in how we believe people should be qualified.

Take a look at Moses for example. While speaking with the Lord at the burning bush, Moses was unsure of himself. Specifically, in Exodus 4, Moses begs for God to send someone else to help the Israelites as he is not an eloquent speaker. While God did provide Aaron as a helper, He still managed to work through Moses through the course of getting the Israelites out of Egypt, and throughout their time in the desert.

Let us also look at Jeremiah. In the first chapter of this book, God speaks with Jeremiah and appoints him to be a prophet. Jeremiah, however, does not believe he is qualified due to his young age. Yet the Lord encouraged him and told him not to worry, as He provided the words and visions that Jeremiah was to prophesize.

These are just two examples of God qualifying the “unqualified.” We may think we know what is best for us as Christians, but the reality is that we don’t. Only God knows that. Some of you may argue that God only uses people like Moses or Jeremiah to throw things for a loop, to show that He can use anyone for what He needs but doesn’t do it often. I just don’t think that is the case. In fact, I feel as though God does this more often than we tend to believe.

I leave you with this verse today:

“God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.

-1 Peter 4:10-11

While it may be more efficient to have specific traits or personalities in leadership, we have to remember that God has an infinite amount of traits, gifts, and personalities to give and is more than able to use those to shape a capable leader. In fact there are likely trait and gift combinations, personalities we have yet to even see or fathom in this lifetime because He is likely waiting for the right time to use them. We are made to be in his image, and I think that requires a need for humans and leaders to be different.

For those of you who are current church leaders: Please remember that while you may think you know what is best for a church, God may bring something else entirely different that is necessary for change. Do not allow yourselves to be stubborn.

For those of you who feel called to leadership, but have yet to secure a position: Don’t give up. If this is God’s calling for you, He will get you there. Do not forget that there will be trials and continual growth. You may be like me, and don’t match what most churches want, but God will use you in the way that He sees best.

Hearing the Call…And Then Not

“The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.”

-Lamentations 3:25 (ESV)

In my last post, I spoke briefly on the need for young leaders in the church, and more importantly for there to be more mentorship for these young leaders. However, if I am being honest, there is some personal bias in my thought for that need as I had felt cheated out of plenty of church leadership opportunities for quite some time…and now it appears that I’m in a conflicted position – I am no longer hearing a call towards anything in the church.

At one point in my life, I felt that God was leading me towards worship ministry. I found out in high school that I had a decent singing ability, and began participating in my church’s worship team soon after. The reason I felt the calling to this ministry specifically was due to how incredibly connected I felt to Him as I worshiped, whether I was singing with the team or not. As I continued to work with the worship team, I decided to make my desire to become a worship leader known and ask if I could lead one Sunday in the future. That was when the excuses began.

“You’re not quite ready yet…”

“You need to read your Bible more first”

I get it. I was young and still needed to grow more, and yet I felt stuck. I think the worship leaders saw this, and they eventually began a worship leader training program. It was wonderful and it did allow me the opportunity to try leading a few times. Unfortunately, it did not last due to some changes my home church decided to make. It seemed to be poor timing.

I went on to study music in college at a Christian university, and eventually switched to a different major as I felt like I was not getting the right kind of training I really needed. However, I managed to get involved with a campus group that sent out teams of worship bands to churches who needed them, and that was a wonderful experience. My desire was continually renewed with each church I went to, and yet it appeared my desire was only allowed so far.

When going to college, there is a good opportunity to visit other churches in general. I visited a few but nothing truly stuck. My heart felt like it belonged back at my home church and yet every time I went back, I was told to try more churches by many members of the congregation. I felt like I was being shut out. On top of this, my college had a chapel service that would allow those interested to help lead these chapel services. I was only invited once, and with each passing year, the chapel service became more performance-like; a worship setting that I did not have a desire to be a part of.

After college, I attempted to work with the new worship leader at my home church so that I could have some mentorship and maybe learn a few things, and it yet it did not feel right; it felt as though it was an obligation to him. I do not think that was his intent and I do not blame him for it. I did attempt to apply for a few worship leader positions in other churches, and of the ones that got back with me, I was turned down.

So here I am. Defeated. In fact, I feel no call to anything.

I have no clue what God wants of me. I keep trying and trying, only to get pushed back down. I had no solid mentor. I had to push on my own and yet it feels like I’m right back at the beginning. I’m at a point where I don’t feel much connection now, and I’m constantly asking myself:

Am I meant for something else?

Why am I not feeling this calling anymore?

Am I losing my faith?

Some would say that it sounds like I’m losing my faith. Some would say that it’s God preparing me for something greater. However, I would argue that I am in a place of waiting. Despite the fact that I no longer hear the call to lead worship, I don’t hear a call elsewhere at this time either. In fact, I believe I was put in this predicament because God is telling me to wait. I don’t know what for, but I have chosen to accept it. It wouldn’t be the first time God has made people wait.

Noah and his family were on a boat for 40 days and nights. Moses and the Israelites walked in the desert for 40 years. Jacob had to work for 14 years to be with Rachel. I could go on. Until I hear something, I will simply continue to work on my faith.

“But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.”

-Micah 7:7 (NIV)

Millennials and the Church

I once had an older peer tell me that all Millennials want in a church is entertainment. As a Millennial, I was a bit taken aback by this statement and spent a good deal of time processing it. This was not the first time I had heard this from an older peer, and I had to ask myself: Is all I want is entertainment? Is that all I set myself on when I go to church each Sunday? For myself, the answer was no; but then I had to relay the question to my generation as a whole.

As a general note, I will say that there are likely those in the Millennial generation who seek entertainment, or the “good stuff, not the hard stuff” when it comes to church culture. However, I also want to point out that there have been plenty of churches who focus on entertainment and solely on “the good stuff” before the Millennial generation began. So while there are likely those in my generation who seek that in a church, it is also likely that there are groups of people who have sought that in other generations for quite some time.

So why does the Millennial group get this much flack from churches today? Personally, I think it is a combination of misunderstood actions and assumptions. It’s true, we go check out a church and then don’t go back if it doesn’t meet our needs; however, when someone doesn’t come back, I think many church leaders and/or community members have assumed that those who are younger and do not stay is because they aren’t being entertained enough due to the association of how much my generation grew up during the tech, cell phone, and video game boom – which has lead to the belief that many of us consistently need or want something to do. Despite this, there are couple key factors that I believe church and community leaders aren’t seeing or asking about.

For one, there seems to be a different desire for what Millennials are seeking in the church. We don’t want to just settle in ANY community; we’re not necessarily looking for a church home that matches the church affiliation we grew up in; and there isn’t a desire to agree with everything that a pastor preaches on. The big thing that matters for us is authenticity. This has to be found in both the church community and the church leaders.

For some, this requires the building of a deeper relationship but what we want to see is how real are you going to be with us on the forefront. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but if we step into a church that only believes Millennials will want entertainment, are you going to be willing to try and build a relationship with us? Most churches I’ve gone to are very friendly when I first walk in, but there’s a lot more to that initial layer of hello’s and how are you’s. In fact, it can be pretty obvious how you really feel based on your body language or how you choose to phrase things. When you act one way and feel another, it can be obvious and therefore we don’t want to stay because it’s clear we make you uncomfortable.

On top of this, there is a bigger desire to discuss deeper topics to further spiritual growth. I’ll be honest, part of the reason I get tired of church sometimes is because I feel like I’m hearing the same stories or the same sermons over and over again; or I feel like the sermon is getting ready to hit this big point where I’m going to be like “Oh snap, I really need to get myself together”, and then it doesn’t. Yes, it’s great to have reminders (as humans, we often need it), and I certainly don’t expect there to be a deep discussion of faith every Sunday, but if I’m leaving most Sundays without something of substance to chew on, what do I do? Continue focusing on that devotional that’s so easily applicable every day of every year? Sorry, that doesn’t do a lot for me either. Some of you may say: “But Whitney, that’s what Bible studies are for!” Sure, Bible studies can be great to really delve into that deeper focus I’m talking about, but churches shouldn’t be relying solely on Bible studies to do that for their community either.

Lastly, there appears to be a fear in a lot of churches. It’s the normal fear of gaining new church leaders, as it can often cause a major shift in a church. Plenty of churches now have leaders that are of older and wiser age, and lately, I’ve been noticing the difficulty of young leaders coming into the picture. There are so many teens, and so many that are just out of college, who have a desire to take part in the church in a leadership format and certainly have the potential to do so, but are then shut down. Some of the arguments I hear are:

  1. “Well, we just can’t pay them.”
  2. “We don’t think they’re ready for that kind of responsibility yet.”
  3. “Oh, they need to go and experience other churches first.”
  4. “They need to grow more spiritually first.”

So, hold up. You’re going to hold them back for the reasons above? One, most of us understand that we can’t be paid in a church setting. Secondly, if we need more experience or need more growth, then work with us on that – mentor us. Help us learn what we need to in order to become a good leader. We can understand if we’re not quite ready yet but don’t expect someone else to be the mentor because that “someone else” might not really be there. If this continues to be the mindset for church, the church will eventually fall out of existence because they were unable to continue the growth that is so necessary for any of us.

I leave you with a passage from Romans, as I hope you may keep it as reminder for yourself, whether you are young or old. We are all part of a community, and while we do function differently, we need to be able to work together.

“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more high than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these member do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the the others.”

-Romans 12:3-5 (NIV)