“I Don’t Care About Being Right Anymore” (by Marshall Pickard)


Alright, confession time.

As I recently boarded a plane to Italy, I began reading Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code…

I know, I know. As a pre-teen evangelical, I promised myself I would never commit the cardinal sin of reading such a blasphemous book. But I mistakenly thought it was set in Rome (not Paris), so I gave it a shot.

Here’s a quote I found quite interesting from the book’s nerdy but awesome (Tom Hanks, ya’ll) protagonist, Robert Langdon:

“[E]very faith in the world is based on fabrication. That is the definition of faith—acceptance of that which we imagine to be true, that which we cannot prove.”

Wow. That’s some deep stuff—some philosophy that hits hard against my need to always be right.

My experience with church has been this: I was raised as a PK, so I had to be “on” all the time. Even running in the halls as a kid would result in an intervention from the deacons, and with my every move being so scrutinized, I felt more like a Kardashian than the son of a clergyman.

I’ve always loved the Lord, but I was more than happy to head off to my liberal arts university (albeit, Christian) for some time away from the dry religious season of a rough last semester in high school. Hurt too many times, I needed some distance from the family of God.

But at school, after some space to heal, I got plugged in again at a local church and eventually found myself participating in an accountability group and leading a weekly small group in my dorm. I learned that church was more about “doing life with people” and less about performing the letter of the Law flawlessly.

And yet, there still remained the question of doctrine. At my university, I was challenged to look outside my box and ask big questions about my faith. Often this left me more frustrated than I felt I could stand. With so many interpretative differences inside the church, how could I know what to choose to believe? Eventually, I basically adopted a stance Socrates would have been proud of: admitting I ultimately know nothing.

One thing I do know is this: knowing Jesus is so much more about humility than knowing all the answers.

But still answers are important because in the south, I live in a society soaked in the Christian subculture, and I occasionally find myself at odds with it. I am still frustrated at gender bias in the global church. I think Pentecostals focus too much on prosperity, but I think Calvinists focus too much on suffering. I hate how the Church responded the recent World Vision debacle, and I cringe every time I hear someone equate Phil Robertson’s crude comments from last December with “the Gospel.” I think we all talk about “feeding the poor” too much because none of us actually do it. I hate interdenominational spats and heated theological Twitter battles over unresolvable issues.

And I honestly don’t care whether you went to see God’s Not Dead or Noah at the movies or what you thought about it.

But I’m not actually angry at the Church. I just often find myself out of place—too progressive for the Church and too conservative for the world.

Visiting the Roman Colosseum this week, I thought long and hard about the suffering of Christians slaughtered in this ancient arena.

For them, the Church was their lives. It was definitely not a place where you had to have the right answers or pretend you believed everything you are supposed to believe.

For these early believers, church was a place to meet Jesus—the ultimate truth—often through the community of others who also risked their lives to tell of the goodness of God.

No offense to Rome, but after seeing the grandeur of the Vatican, I began thinking about what Jesus—the man who scolded the religious so often—would think about the production we’ve made church.

I think he would turn the temple tables of our insistence to be right, our theological debates that never get anywhere, our hurtful intolerance for one another, and the false idols we have fabricated and propagated.

Then he would turn the table back over, break out some bread and wine, and invite those who don’t have it all figured out to have a seat. In place of religious dogma, he would teach us the message of Ephesians 4:3—finding peace from all life’s questions by choosing to live in unity with our brothers.

There in his sweet company, the disillusioned Church wouldn’t care so much about being right anymore.

Marshall is currently backpacking all across Europe (the lucky guy), having spent the semester  abroad on the same trip I went on last year. Read more from him on his blog, The Train of His Robe.

“Why I Stayed” (by Hannah Schuerman)

churchsign-1I don’t know when church-going became a part of who I am, but I guess faithfully attending every Wednesday and Sunday for 22 years has a way of turning into a habit. Over the short amount of years that I have been alive, I have had plenty of reasons to leave church, most of which deal heavily with the reality that people suck.

It’s true! I have been around different leadership styles, different personality types, different worship styles, even different theological viewpoints- all within the same church!

To give you a little background about my temperament: I am pretty easy going with most things, it takes a lot to get me riled up and even more for me to speak out against something. I am a natural-born leader, and when a leader is needed (whether in academia or in the church world) I tend to rise to the occasion. Because of these seemingly contrasting parts of my personality, I often am critical of leadership but rarely do I do anything about it.

You see, I am definitely smarter than my pastor. This is a thought that I have actually had on many occasions in my short adult life and I guarantee it’s something you’ve thought of as well, if you’re a regular church-goer. Where does this feeling of superiority come from? It’s easy for me to see problems within the church and think of a magical cure-all to the situation. As the logic goes: if I can do it, how come my pastor can’t? The answer then, obviously, must be that I’m smarter than he is.

Sometimes, I get really undone with what I see around me in the modern day church and church culture. I think about all of the sad injustices I have seen in churches, both with my own eyes and through news outlets. The lying, the distorting of scripture, the abuse of the pulpit, the misconduct of pastors, deacons, and clergymen, the exploitation of children, the gossip, the politics. That list, though it is not conclusive, is enough to make me sick. If I think too long about what happens in most churches nowadays, it is reason enough for me to leave on fair grounds. There are so many great things about The Church too: a strong community, a place to encounter Christ, meeting people, the chance to use your gifts and talents- the list is a long one.  But I have had to take a step back sometimes and ask myself: why do I stay in church?

The major theme that links these problems- and is a common theme among Christians today- is the inability to practice what is preached. So often, we hear wonderful sermons and devotionals about loving our neighbors (Mark 12:30-31), “judging not” (Matthew 7:1-2), and forgiving those around us (Matthew 6:14-15)  but are unable to keep these scriptures in mind when dishing out hatred, judgement, and unforgiveness. Please don’t get me wrong, I am one of these people! In fact, I’m probably the worst one of us all. I am guilty of almost every sin in the Book.

God has reminded me of something recently and it looks a little something like this: Be the change you wish to see in the world. Now, most of us internet folks will know that that is a quote from Mohandas Ghandi, but the words are a truth that resonates deeply within me. The first portion of that truth is that I have to get over myself- I must submit to authority and realize that it’s not always about me.

The question why do I stay has no concrete answer.

I stay in church first and foremost because I need a community of believers who I can connect with. I stay in church because I want church culture to be different. I stay because I want to see change, but I cannot wait for someone else to come along and change the culture of the church. I must to be the change that I want to see. I stay because I’m not perfect, I need as much grace as I can get, and I need to learn how to extend that grace to others. I stay because I have forged lasting relationships with people and because I have gotten involved with the worship and youth departments- allowing passions of mine to develop more fully.

The only way of learning how to walk out Scripture is to practice it. I must show kindness, learn to control my tongue, give of my time and energy. Remembering that what I do “unto the least of these” is what I do to Jesus. Because, sometimes, if you aren’t helping, you’re hurting. Imagine what the church would look like if everyone would stop talking and put their hands to good use. Instead of complaining that this or that isn’t right, why don’t we all take a moment to reflect if our complaining is actually helping the problem at hand. I had a mentor of mine explain to me that when I find myself being frustrated with the happenings in a church, I must ask myself if something is a preference or a problem. If it is the latter, then it needs to be prayed about and addressed according to scripture. If it’s the former, then I need to get over myself or leave. So if you’re disillusioned with church right now, I encourage that you stay for a little while longer and change your perspective (and your attitude) and see what happens.

Read more from Hannah on her brand new blog!

“Faithful Till the End” (by Caroline Eaton)


When I was eight years old my parents called a family meeting to announce that my dad was quitting his job as a stockbroker and my parents were going into fulltime ministry.

As an eight year old, I was really supportive of this new plan, yet I had no clue how much our entire family life was about to change. All of the sudden my dad was home a lot more, and we started hosting weekly “house meetings” in our living room, where people would stay into late hours of the night worshipping and hearing from the Lord. In fact, people were always over, and before long, privacy was a thing of the past, and our finances drained.

As different as my parent’s new job made us from every other family, I loved this time. I loved watching my parent’s minister to others. There were some really tough times, and it would’ve been way easier for my parents to give up and return to the “American dream” lifestyle we were used to. People abandoned the ministry, money was tight and my parents didn’t always know what direction the ministry was going in (it was years into this journey before my parents actually called it a church).

But more than anything, my parents taught me what true faithfulness looks like. Throughout every season, every hardship and every moment when they could’ve left the ministry, they remained faithful. Not only did they remain faithful to God and His vision, they were also always faithful to their people. Even when people left without a word, or worse, in a dramatic (and in my opinion pointless) rage, abused their authority or deliberately acted against the counsel they asked for, my parents were always faithful to them, and they always always always loved them.

I saw the Lord work through my parents in amazing ways simply because they were willing. They weren’t spiritual prodigies or even Bible scholars, but when the Lord called, they said yes. Their “yes” resulted in lives changed in unexplainable ways.

I viewed church as a place people could come for love, healing and acceptance, because that’s what my parent’s church gave them. Church was a place where people were protected and encouraged as they grew in their walk and transformed to be more like Christ. In middle and high school, church was home. It was extremely comfortable, and as the pastor’s daughter, I was loved and supported by everyone.

Church became a struggle when I moved away to college, though, so I became a professional church hopper. All of the sudden I didn’t know everyone, and people weren’t as interested in me as they were back home. When you’re the pastor’s daughter, getting involved in church takes no effort at all. You are immediately on the inside track, and you get more hugs in ten minutes than some people get in ten years. But when you’re new in town, getting involved in a church actually takes effort, and I was not used to that.

I got involved in a church once in my freshman year, but left because instead of protection I found pressure. After that, I hopped around from church to church without ever finding one that was “good enough” for me.

It was a hard lesson when I finally learned that church does not have to be about me. In fact, it’s a lesson I’m still learning, but I’m taken back to the biggest lesson I learned from my parents: faithfulness. Like any other commitment, it should take some effort for me to get involved in a church. It should also take some acceptance and love on my end because no church could ever be perfect, but it doesn’t have to be for me to be faithful.

I’ve learned that it isn’t from a specific church that I will find my love, healing and acceptance; it’s from the Lord. I’m still struggling to figure out what I want out of church and what I can/should give to it, but maybe this revelation will make getting involved in a new church easier than it has been in the past. Maybe I won’t give up when it isn’t an easy fit or I don’t get as much attention as I’m used to.

My journey has taught me that church, like life, can be messy. But when approached with a pure heart, it can also be a beautiful place to freely worship and find community. My parents unending faithfulness to the church, and God’s unending faithfulness to me (despite my self-centeredness and church-hopping habit) makes me believe that the church should be a place that doesn’t give up on people, even when people give up on the church.

Read more from Caroline on her blog, the College Cosmopolitan (such a great blog name!) or Twitter.

“Learning the Importance of Community” (by Christy Armstrong)

churchsignMany young people at some point find themselves feeling the need to break away from the familiar, to branch out and try new things or at least try going without something.

People who were “raised in the church” are definitely not exempt from that.

Some of my earliest childhood memories include things like snacking on animal crackers in Sunday school as I learned about the story of Noah and how he built a big boat and boarded it with his family and a bunch of animals.

Many of my relatives have been faithful churchgoers, and church has long been part of my family’s collective narrative. However, my portion of that story has included me questioning why on earth church was necessary.

That happened when I moved out of my parents’ Tennessee home to attend college full-time. I chose to go to a Christian university close to home that just so happened to be close enough to attend my longtime church if I so chose.

Somewhere along the way, church started feeling like work.

My university required students to attend regular chapel services about twice a week. I took required Bible courses, which I also attended multiple times a week. While I did enjoy it, a small group Bible study in my dorm was another item I had to add to my schedule. By the time I got to Sunday, I sometimes felt “churched out.”

I was strangely OK with missing church services because I had long believed that the most important aspect of my faith was my relationship with God – not the worship songs and other things found inside the confines of a Sunday service. It’s a relationship, not a religion, I caught myself thinking.

During my senior year of college, I was accepted into a cooperative study program that allowed me to study journalism and take on a newspaper internship in Washington, D.C.

While I did visit a few D.C. churches during that time, I spent many Sundays in my apartment. While my four roommates were genuinely nice people, I often chose not to attend services with them because I wanted the alone time.

That semester was an instance when a great deal of opportunity was thrown my way at a very difficult time in my life. To make a long story short, I had experienced a lot of unfortunate things the previous semester, including a car accident that left me with injuries to multiple parts of my body.

While I knew it wouldn’t solve my problems, I knew I needed a change of scenery to motivate me to stick with my studies and graduate in a reasonable amount of time. I applied and was accepted. It seemed meant to be.

Still, I was in constant physical pain due to my injuries, and I also faced new difficulties like getting used to courses that were more academically challenging. I approached my class load, big city journalism internship and part-time student worker job with one main goal: survival.

Some days, even survival seemed like a lofty goal.

Sunday mornings with a cup of coffee, a Bible and a notepad became a weekly respite from all the stress. Like I did most days, I desperately prayed that God would give me peace.  Those mornings spent sitting at my dining table and watching through my window as the sun rose higher and higher above the Capitol Hill skyline felt like answered prayers for peace.

Church was only an occasional part of the equation. At that time, visiting new churches almost seemed counterproductive. While I could have spent more time looking, I never did find a church that felt like home.

Separated from my usual group of friends and church members, I began to feel incredibly lonely – depressed even. It was then that I realized the importance of community.

The Bible has this to say about that:

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” – Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

I was woeful because it felt like I had no other person to catch me when I was at risk of falling. I believe God does not want us to be lonely or depressed. On the contrary, he loves us. While he is certainly capable of speaking into people’s lives one-on-one, he can also prompt his children to encourage each other.

That pretty much sums up my feelings on the importance of being involved with a Christian community, the kind that you most often find in a church setting.

While I have often prided myself in being a strong, independent woman, I have recently felt the need to get away from a “Me and Christ vs. life’s challenges” view on life and get to a place where it’s more like “Me and Christ and my brothers and sisters in Christ vs. life’s challenges.”

Don’t get me wrong; God is still the only one who can satisfy my every need. Still, I believe there is a reason for attending church that goes beyond listening to a sermon or singing worship songs or praying (all things that can be done at home alone).

No community of believers is perfect. We’re all sinners who can’t measure up to the awe-inspiring grace that God offers. But being part of a Christian community is actually worthwhile – imperfect though it may be.

Christy is a newspaper reporter and columnist in Tennessee. Read more from her on Twitter @ChristyArmst