The past few days, our congregation has been involved in the spiritual discipline of writing our individual faith stories – our faith journeys. It has been an interesting and challenging work. Most interesting is that many of us don’t have a story… or at least a story that involves Jesus. Many of us have stories that tell of a relationship with a church, but not a relationship with Jesus.
Perhaps, as I suspected for many years, those of us who have been a part of the church for most of our lives know something about Jesus, but we don’t seem to know Him. Instead of having a relationship with the living God, we have a theology about the living God. Like the flu shot, we have been inoculated with just enough Christianity we may never catch the real thing. Instead of being Christians, we end up just being religious.
Our lack of a story may speak to the heart of our demise as a church. If we do evangelism at all, we don’t seem to do it well. And we don’t do evangelism because being a part of a church is nice but usually not life-changing. We like Christianity, but we are not excited about a faith that has transformed our lives. Let’s be honest, why would we talk about something that is just nice but is not life enriching and life-changing.
To fit our religious experience, we redefine “Christian”. Instead of a Christian being someone who has given Jesus lordship of their lives, who are wholeheartedly doing all Christ has asked us to do, we pick and choose our way through the Bible accepting and doing what we have decided we should do. Instead of being a no holds barred Christ follower, we see being Christian as being synonymous with “nice” … and that is often to only carefully chosen groups. One can be a “Christian” and still believe almost anything. The Bible is not terribly authoritative.
What’s your story? What were you like before you gave your life to Jesus; how did you come to know Jesus and how has He changed your life? A simple story but not easy to write. I have thought about mine for years, thus it has become easy to share.
BEFORE. I went to church every Sunday and attended every church function. The church doors were open, we were there. Church was not a bad experience, but it didn’t mean any more to me than being a member of a club. When I left for college at the ripe old age of 17, since He meant nothing to me, I left God behind. On the outside I looked fine: A better than average athlete, a better than average student, able to get a date with just about any girl I wanted, came from a well to do family, had nice cars to drive, many good friends, and headed to college where I would rush the only fraternity on campus and be elected President of the Student Body. I had the world by the tail. On the inside it was a different story. I was frightened, insecure, drank too much, couldn’t maintain a relationship, was angry at everyone about virtually everything. My life was in chaos and I was miserable… and nobody knew it.
HOW. The summer of 1965 my brother and I spent the break from college driving and camping across America, visiting every state and national park we could find. We ate one meal a day, slept on the ground and had a blast. During our travels, Bob initiated several conversations of a spiritual nature. Something profound had happened in his life and he wanted to share it. I made it plain that I wasn’t interested. In those conversations, he told me that Christianity was not a religion but a relationship with God made available to us through Jesus. He said religions were man’s attempts to reach God and Christianity is God’s attempt to reach humankind. In a very emotional conversation, Bob challenged me by saying, “Jesus wants to be the Lord of your life.” I said, “Really.” (Read that sarcastically.) “I don’t need any help from Jesus. I can run my own life.” Bob looked at me with his clear, light blue eyes and crushed my God barrier by saying, “Oh, really. How are you doing so far?” I was pissed because I knew he was right. After I had cooled down that night, comfortably tucked away in my sleeping bag, I prayed a sad little prayer. “God, if you think you can do something with my life, give it a try.” And God answered that prayer.
AFTER. From then on, I would like to say we were off and running. It is more like we were off and crawling. I could say that in the beginning, we had a rocky start, but the entire journey has been a bit rocky. I have fallen on my face time after time, screwed up relationships, hurt people, disappointed people and disappointed myself. But in some dramatic ways, God has changed me. I am no longer angry and hate filled. I like or love almost everyone I meet. My priorities have changed from things to people, from success to significance, from drinking to dry, from fearful about everything to excited about what life with God has to offer. Where there was once chaos and fear there is a peace that supersedes everything else. Is life perfect? No. Am I perfect? Far from it. But, thank God, I am certainly not who I used to be. For this, I, and the people around me are profoundly thankful.
So, what’s your story?
Copyright © 2018, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved
Bill McConnell is the Interim Minister at Norwood Christian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press.