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.


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.

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)

Listening to Your “Gut”

Have you ever felt like God was telling you NOT to do something? Did you ever begin to prepare for something, and all of a sudden this feeling in your “gut” just tells you stop and do something else? Yeah, that happened to me today.

You see, I was supposed to have a job interview today… and I didn’t go. Why? Why would I not go to something that could benefit me and my family? Because from the moment I received a call and accepted an interview, something in my gut kept saying “no.” I have never gone back and forth so much about going to an interview until this moment. Sure, there have been plenty of times where nerves simply got in the way; but this was different.

When I’m nervous, I usually try and pull any excuse I can think of to not do something, but eventually end up doing it. In this instance, I didn’t try to pull any excuse. I did my research on the employer – they’re fantastic; quite literally, they have five-star reviews, a good pay rate, it’s close to home, and it’s in a field that I enjoy working in. And yet, I still felt my “gut” tell me to not go.

I continued to feel this way all morning as I prepped myself. Eventually, it occurred to me that I needed to spend some time in the Word; I’ll be honest…I do not tell myself that very often, so I knew this was serious business. Well, go figure – I left my Bible in the car. So instead, I decided to open the Bible app on my phone and hoped that the verse of the day could shed some light on the subject. And what I came across was this:

“I have tried hard to find you – don’t let me wander from your commands.”
-Psalm 119:10 NLT

Now, I’m sure this could be interpreted in many different ways and I had to sit on it for a minute. However, I think I knew what it meant from the moment I read it. My biggest difficulty in my faith is not having full control over my life. Recently, I made a commitment to let God lead and to listen to him more often instead of making my own outright decisions. In this moment, despite all that would be good with this potential job, I think God was telling me not to go; or in the case of him leading me – “commanding” me not to go. Why? I have no clue. The best I can tell you is that He has something else in mind.

(I know, I know – cheesiest answer in the book, but that’s all I got for ya.)

But there could be another answer to this question of why He would tell me not to go. You see, I’ve been fighting myself on creating this blog for quite some time. It’s something that I have felt God pushing for me to do for awhile, and I never felt like I had a justifiable reason to start it. And yet today, I felt God saying “it’s time.” I don’t know if not going to the interview and creating this blog instead are actually connected, but as of this moment, they appear to; and I think it was one of my first challenges in this new commitment I made.

If you’re still reading, please know that I fully intend this blog to be harsh at times in the future; but also know that anything I post is simply my opinion and interpretation of how I see God working in myself and/or other areas of the Christian world. I do not expect everyone to understand my thought process, but I hope that you are willing to listen and have an open-mind.