I've been thinking about this post for a while and if I even wanted to write it. I've been afraid that talking about the subject would include much finger pointing, more that I'm comfortable with. But I realize that I can't not post on this, so I'll focus on grace.
I think grace is really the root of the problem. I've spent my entire life hearing about grace from the pulpit, my parents, the bible. I've been given more grace from my parents than anyone deserves, it drips from the pages of scripture, but I've rarely experienced it in church. All I see in church is 'this is how we do things'.
I grew up thinking that I had to earn my way into heaven. I was raised in a Reformed church that preached all five points of Calvinism. I heard time and time again that God chose me and that I had nothing to earn. Actions speak louder than words, so I learned otherwise. I was never the smartest, never the fastest, never the better looking-est, so I never felt as loved as the other kids. One of the other guys I grew up with in church was really smart, he skipped a grade. Another was really funny, he did Jim Carey impersonations. The other was the pastors kid, so I didn't have a chance there. I was the 4th spoke on the wheel.
When we got to High School I started playing the guitar. I even played bass in the jazz band. That impressed a lot of people at school, who thought that was pretty neat. Joining the church band was another story.
"the guitar's too loud"
"can you turn off that distortion, it'll make the older folks angry"
"You can't wear what you would normally wear to church, you've got to dress up"
The first 2 were aggravating, but not serious, because I would just do things the way others wanted during rehearsal and do it my way during the service. The last one always got to me, it still does. Why on earth do I need to change to come into church? Why do I need to lie to everyone to play the guitar? I understand not wanting me to look like a mess, but why do I have to have khaki's on? I've never once worn Khaki's to anything other than a dress up event. When did Worship become a dress up event and why doesn't anyone else do it? My grandmother doesn't even dress up for worship anymore. Come on already.
On youth group trips we were allowed to bring our cd players (no iPod's yet) but we weren't allowed to bring any non-Christian music. I didn't own much, just Jars of Clay and Seven Day Jesus (I wasn't ready to admit to the rest). So I brought whatever. Yes, the Smashing Pumpkins, Miles Davis. I hoped someone would ask me what I was listening to so I could really be a rebel, but it never happened.
I went to a Christian college that wanted to be a church. Aside from being extremely unhealthy, it was just plain silly. Just before my first semester started they threw out a rule that required all men to wear collared shirts. (This was the year 2000 by the way. Nothing significant except that they had just crawled out of the enlightenment in 1999.) There was no more rule, but for some reason everyone expected us to follow it anyway. Well, screw that. I'm not fitting myself into your mold. No thanks.
I played guitar in the worship bands, because even my freshman year I was pretty much the most advanced guitarist on campus. (That's not boasting. It's kinda sad actually because in the grand scheme of guitarists, I don't rate very high at all.) Nearly every idea I suggested to the band was laughed down. I wasn't the 'Worship Leader' so my input was trash. (I almost always default to someone else's idea nowadays, if it's at not completely ridiculous, because I want others to 'own' and 'lead' the worship music as much as I do.)
Somewhere along the line I realized that the trick to being successful in a church was to appease people. Not challenge, not inspire, not lead, but appease. So I started appeasing. I became an RA, I worked on the maintenance team, I worked security. I joined student government, I became a 'Leader'. My opinion was valued, but I never voiced my opinion, just what others wanted to hear.
I hopped churches in college, never really finding a place I could call home. They never felt like home. I always felt like I was trying to fit some kind of standard. I was charismatic enough for the charismatic churches, not open enough for the Vineyard and not cool enough for the emerging church.
I was hired by my home church to lead worship while Full-timer was on leave for 3 months. That was weird. I felt like the outsider, even though I grew up there. The most obvious decisions had to be debated and discussed before we could discuss what to do. Then we had to talk to someone else. Holy crap was that ridiculous.
As a musician I felt like a fish out of water. There was this dark, imposing, shroud of Full-timer looking over my shoulder the whole time. Anytime I tried to change things, "That's not how they do it" or "That's not how we've always done it". Here we go again. Everybody say it with me "the Christian life is full of change. This one little change isn't going to kill you."
Then I found a church that loved me. I felt like they accepted me, but I didn't understand it. It was too much for me. I spent a lot of time talking with the pastor and he seemed to listen to me more than most pastors had in the past. I felt like a real person. My wife felt accepted, which is huge for her. She didn't grow up in the church, so she's never felt like a church was 'home'.
Then they asked me to lead worship, like on staff and everything. It was perfect, so I freaked out. I asked myself "what is wrong with these people, they think the world of me". Church had never thought the world of me and believed in me that much. I told them I wasn't ready and as true as that was I deeply regret it. If I was using names in this post I would apologize profusely and kiss their rear, but I'm not so all I can say is thank you for believing in me and redeeming the church, in my eyes at least.
I floated for a year, attending a church where I learned a lot, but I did not thrive. There was no room for us to get plugged in and we felt like wallflowers. I secretly hated it, enjoying the preaching but loathing everything else.
Then out of the blue Accepting church called me. I had coffee with the pastor (do pastors drink anything else by the way?) and they told me that they were once again looking for a worship leader because they had never really filled the position, they had just had a string of stopgaps. I was excited, set to uproot my family for a volunteer position. I was on top of the world. Then they hired the other guy. That will leave you confused and depressed. I still love that church. I see their name once in a while and I remember what it looked like when we attended. I remember the sermons the pastor preached, on the John and then on Psalm 23. I remember the songs sang and the hands shaken. I feel like Paul, when he writes to Romans, 'Oh how I long to visit you and to love you the way you've loved me, to bless you as you've blessed me' (my paraphrase) but that's just not meant to be.
Then my home church asked me to lead again. The Full-timer had left and they needed a stopgap. Well, I can put my finger in a hole as well as anybody, so why not. It was a little different this time, without the shroud of Full-timer staring me down. The musicians were very open to every change I made. I didn't change much knowing that someone else might come in and change it again. I did give them all room to breath musically, and that seemed to be extremely appreciated.
The one person that told me repeatedly to shake things up was the Lead Pastor. Don't take me the wrong way, because I deeply respect this person, we just don't agree on everything. When he said "shake things up" he really meant "do things the way I want them done" because every time I shook the box, I got scolded. I was very confused. I got tons of positive feedback from congregation members that confided in me. Some of them never once complimented Full-timer and told me so.
Now I go to a church that is a stopgap, because I'm praying rather often that God will lead us somewhere, anywhere. I try to get involved in the music ministry, but every thing's gotta go through a committee before another committee can vote on it. Ridiculous. I have a music degree from a bible college for crying out loud. It's not like I'm a registered sex offender trying to do nursery. I'm a worship leader who wants to play the guitar. It seems obvious to me, but I don't see the whole picture, all I get is my frustrating little snapshot.
So grace. Grace. I've learned what it was from a church that accepted and then rejected me, but I have such a hard time extending it to the others. Why?
It's hard because I don't think they know there's a problem. They think things are fine and don't care. This is the way they've always done things, so there's no reason to change. Well, I refuse to see the world that way. Change is imminent, either grasp a hold of it and let it direct you, or brace yourself hard because it's gonna push you. I'm gonna grab a hold of it.
So I forgive the people who haven't loved me for who I am. You told me to be something and I could be that, so I faked it, but I'm done.
I forgive the churches that lead me on, telling me what direction to go, even though it wasn't their call.
I petition God for you, that he would show you grace. Not in some intellectual way, but that he would send grace to walk among you, to revitalize you. That you would become grace to others.
I thank those who have shown me grace in my fallen state. You are a rare beauty. A flower that has blossomed in a dry place. Don't ever let the gardener prune you, or the horticulturists try to shape you. Be yourself. Be beautiful as you already are and you will change the world.
I praise God for you and for your love. Oh that more would love like you do. I pray that God, who in his grace towards us sent his son, would send you to show grace to others. That your love would overwhelm the world around. That you would remain like a well that fills others and not a watering trough that needs to be filled.