I was a rare breed of young churchgoer. My father thrived at Bible college, and while my brother and I were growing up he would frequently whip out his books on Hermeneutics and Bible study techniques.
Names like A.W Tozer and C.S. Lewis graced our bookshelves, and it was understood that if you had a question about something you heard in Sunday school it would most definitely be a lengthy discussion (oftentimes a debate with at least three different translations of the bible on the table and as many concordances to match). When I was little, I longed for the days that I could go to youth group because I knew that it would be more my speed. When I finally made it, I was the kid with a Bible the size of my head, a notebook, and multicolored pens. I was not expecting to struggle there, and was shocked to discover that Christianity wasn’t just intellectual.
For me, the chance to flex my study muscles was the purpose of every week, it was then that I was in my element. I wanted to soak as much up as I could so that someday something would click, and I would be good, “church-y”, or just useful in some way. What I wanted more than anything was a grand and beautiful purpose. I was quickly disappointed. I would take studious notes at youth group, I try to have a spiritual experience during the worship songs, and pray and pray for guidance and the ability to be right and good.
Countless evenings of my youth were spent journaling and praying and overthinking, trying my hardest to flip some switch inside me that would make me “good”. I knew from what I was taught that I was fundamentally wrong (I was a sinner) and that in order to be called by God I had to be better, but try as I might I never could look or act like the image of a Good Christian, like the image of a Christian I was raised with.
As I have grown more and more I realize that my ideas about the church and the point of it all have been internal and focused on myself. If the point of church is to be intellectual (or to be seen as intellectual) then it isn’t fulfilling or sustainable. The way that a person feels changes with the season. If you didn’t get enough sleep, or forgot to eat breakfast, or didn’t get the chance to talk to your friends or significant other at all that day, then the way you feel about God and the church will be in constant flux. A God whose character is based on how we feel will begin to seem frustratingly distant and inconsistent, when, in reality, it’s us who can’t seem stay put.
Recently, the members of the Wesley Leadership team attended a leadership retreat. One exercise asked us to consider why we commit ourselves to this campus ministry. If I were answering this question in my early teens, I would have said that the reason I serve the Church was to find my purpose and eventually become the kind of person that God could be proud of. Today, my answer is the opposite. I am already the person that God wants me to be, because my value in Her eyes is not contingent on my reading just the right verse or studying just the right subject. The person that I am, the people we all are, are exactly who God wants. I am loved. I am Her child. Accepting this has taught me that what God wants from me, from all of us, is servitude and love.
And we don’t need to be any “perfect” version of ourselves to do that.