A new narrative has emerged lately
I have recently started to think about the narrative of many mid-twenties Christians who say that they grew up in a church that was legalistic, anti-gospel, and boring beyond belief. Additionally, this is usually in juxtaposition to them talking about their current church or ministry that they sit under, saying that it is uniquely Biblical and useful. In trying to be helpful, I would like to say to most of these people that they are describing themselves more than these churches of their past.
I want to tease this out because I have some thoughts and perspectives that may prove useful in sorting out our pasts which, very honestly, must inform our futures. I am hopeful that there are more charitable and constructive ways to think about our past church experiences that bring about better perspectives going forward.
I do think that the body of Christ changes in key areas over time
I think it important to start with a concession. I do think that there are many churches, denominations, and whole cultural movements within Christianity that ebb and flow. Slide from faithful to floppy. This is true or else we have no use for the thought of there being revivals in our past, and hopefully (through prayer) in our future. That is just an anecdotal argument for this line of thinking.
I have been in churches under multiple pastors over a span of time. I have seen their zeal at the beginning and after a while only certain ones sticking with the zeal and faithfulness. Pastoring can be quite hard but I have seen good pastors and others that need more heart healing, ego busting, and theological studying under their belt.
When people say that they were under some unhealthy pastors in their childhood, I can very much see that. Would unhealthy pastors allow legalism to reign and egoism to rule? Yea.
So, I do want to concede to the fact that many people probably were taught some horribly legalistic burdens within their religious upbringing. But, there is a separate trend that I have seen happen contrary to that.
The Immaturity of One Person Sees Most Others as Immature or dull.
This is a basic fact. We have heard this said in other ways; if everyone around you is acting like a jerk, then you are the jerk. If everyone around you is immature, your projecting onto them or don’t have the vision to be able to tell the difference. This is often how we view our pasts in various domains.
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The interesting thing is that the people of which I am talking about usually aren’t immature, anymore. They are experiencing some really great stuff in their lives. Like being in small groups and volunteering at church. They are starting families. They are done with their first degrees and contemplating future ones. These aren’t bozos.
But they may be short-sighted in this area. There may be an assumption that since they weren’t strong in their faith as a teen or child, those who were in charge of them were to blame.
This isn’t a wrong line of thought but I hate that it is the assumption of most people.
A Lesson for the Future from Maturing
But is all this really an issue? Does it matter to know, 100%, if our pastors taught us wrong or if it was actually you and me, in our immaturity, who just didn’t understand what was really happening in all those times of communion, the sermons, and weekly Bible studies?
I think it does matter. There are two things that we need to realize.
Firstly, the church and theology are much bigger than we would have imagined. Not knowing this puts us into a position where we do not have a firm grasp of where we have been, theologically. It puts us in a position where we can easily resent other Christians for their beliefs and, worse yet, what we think they believe.
Usually, the people who bring up their disappointment with their churches growing up are also not too fond of the whole tradition. People growing up in a First Baptist on the corner by their house now disenfranchise with the whole group, not realizing that First Baptist churches across the land might, actually, vary widely. It just makes for a sloppy, uninformed judgment that isn’t helpful.
This leads to a second thing. This all can cause you to put too much stock into your understanding of the church you are in now. If you think this new church has answered all your questions just wait until it doesn’t. Or until something happens, within those new walls, that make you have new questions that are even harder to answer.
What happens when we glorify things beyond the water they can actually hold is that one day the bubble will burst. One day the status quo won’t be enough and you won’t be able to overlook some of the things you have been able to in the past and the current present.
There exists this issue that if you don’t make peace with the church at large, with all of its infallibilities and weaknesses, you are going to run into some major walls with your faith. It casts before you a self-fulfilling prophecy of your current church falling out of favor with your likings.
Part of understanding this is reframing your childhood and developing years’ understanding of the church. You can’t look back at that church, that youth group, those Christian friends and see all the bad in them and none in you.
You have to understand that you are part of the problem.
Maybe your church experience was completely unacceptable. There is room here for you to settle with that. But, I don’t want us to assume that there isn’t something that we can learn about ourselves when thinking about this. We have plenty of weight to carry in this interchange.
What we need is to assume our responsibility and let Jesus handle that within us instead of scapegoating much of it as we chalk it all up to having a crapy church experience earlier in life. Maybe the legalism you experienced was a naive understanding of how the Gospel actually works. That is fine, its something we all wrestle with for a time. However, it is good to know where your infallibility starts and the church’s ends.
Yes, you may have grown up in church your whole life and maybe Never knew that one thing, but you have to take what you can from that and move forward. Having a framework that says, “all churches like the one I grew up in are terrible” is missing the point.
But it is also holding you back, in my opinion. Like a memory you can’t forget and a person you can’t forgive, this isn’t healthy. Stop carrying that. It is bad for you and the stigma you end up casting is hurting, not helping, the church.
I try to touch on subjects that hold us accountable for what is happening in our hearts. I think that is how we mature. I don’t mean for this to weigh you down but for it to surface things that may lay at the bottom of some murky waters.
If you would, help color my perception in better understanding by filling out this simple survey about your early church experiences. It would go a long way in understanding what you’ve gone through and how I can best write. Also, leave a comment below. Thanks all!