I walk into church.
I know what to expect. I’ve been to plenty of churches and services before.
I’ve been a Pastor’s kid. I’ve been a volunteer. I’ve spoken up the front. I’ve been on staff. I’ve been part of committees and organising groups.
I know church culture like I know how to drive a car. I know what the people are doing up the front.
I know most of the songs. I know the typical Baptist liturgy, the three-song sandwich.
I’ve sat through plenty of prayers. I’ve let the bowl pass plenty of times. I’ve taken the bread and the juice regularly. I’ve listened to plenty of people’s stories. I’ve heard sermon after sermon after sermon.
I know what to expect on a Sunday morning.
But what I didn’t expect was that feeling of being more burdened when I walked out of the service than when I walked in.
That surprised me.
For a few months, having recently finished up my position as Youth and Young Adults Pastor, I found myself confused.
I thought going to church would now be easier. There’d be no pressure, there’d be no one watching, there’d be no one expecting anything of me. I could sit, I could listen, I could let it all wash over me as I reflected and worshipped God.
But, there I sat. I sat hearing those prayers, listening to the songs, concentrating on the sermon, and participating in the gathering. Yet, the more I did this the worse I felt, the more the burdens piled up on my already heavy shoulders.
As I’ve reflected on this experience there are no doubt plenty of reasons for feeling like this. The loss of previous identity, the over-cynical nature of my mind, the attitude of my heart toward church. I also realised that what I was looking for was grace, hope, and a sense of God’s love for me personally.
Instead, I was given proof-texted lifehacks for a healthy life. I was being fed fast-food that seemed to taste nice at the time but became ugly as time went on.
For a season, I sensed layers and layers of guilt being added to me when walking out of a church service. I was guilty about my relationship with Jesus. I was guilty about my actions and attitudes toward those around me. I was guilty about my parenting. I was guilty about my spending habits. I was guilty about my responsibilities.
I came out feeling like I wasn’t doing enough. That all I needed to do to be living the Christian life was to do more of whatever was taught that particular week. Rather than finding the alleviation of guilt, shame, and sin that the worship of God through the Spirit brings I was finding my already full to-do-list was being added to.
As I look back on my own brief ministry and church experience I realise that little time is spent providing opportunities of being fed God’s grace.
The church service is often a place where people come once a week, if you’re lucky, and seek to hear God through his Word with his people. Yet, I know I have been guilty of things, of just giving fast-food topped with ice-cream for dessert. Often we give a short-term fix to long-term problems. We give little balm for their hurts and pain, providing cheap Band-Aids that soon lose their stick.
In youth ministry we often plough ahead with the program. We outline what’s coming up and hit the main topics of relationships, sex, social media, and other ‘youth culture’ issues. We often bring the fun, the excitement and the loud. But it is also about time we as Youth Pastors thought about bringing the grace.
How do we provide spaces for young people, and those in our church, to understand that God is a God of grace?
We’re all very good at giving advice and providing correction if something doesn’t go the way we think is right.
We’re all very quick to help with the practical but often unwilling to sit with the pained.
The disruptive kid at youth group. The youth leader who always brings the negative. The parent who is always on your back. Each needs grace.
People are not only sinners but they are sufferers too. They are enduring life and busyness and all that comes with the daily tasks of living. It’s a wonder so many make it into church on a Sunday, or to youth group on a Friday as it is!
Let’s not attempt to fix people. Let’s provide spaces where God can work his grace.
A while ago I wrote a post about what I wished I knew when entering youth ministry. This is part nine of a series dedicated to elaborating each of those eleven points. You can read part one, part two, part three, part four, part five, part six, part seven and part eight here.