I have this amazing ability to make any situation awkward. It’s a gift, really. If you’ve ever spent more than 10 minutes with me you have probably experienced this phenomenon. Whether I’m saying the “wrong” words or doing the “wrong” action, I make it weird. I am an uncomfortable person.
I think that is probably the reason I left the church.
Now, when I say “left the church,” I don’t mean abandoned my faith, I mean stopped working for the institution of the church. I left my career in youth ministry after 10 years, even though I really, really didn’t want to or even feel like I should.
“Well then why did you do it, Katie?” is what you’re saying to yourself right now. I don’t want to sound overly pessimistic or defeatist, but let me explain.
I am an excellent youth minister. I am a skilled teacher, preacher, and relationship builder. I taught students more than “Jesus loves you but he really doesn’t want you to have sex so please stop touching each other because it’s a sin.” I engaged them in theology and testing their faith. I showed them how to have a real, personal relationship with the savior of the world. I created an intentional, safe place for teenagers to wrestle with doubt, fear, and all the insane things they struggle with in their daily lives. I focused my ministry on understanding how people are shaped and transformed to live in the world in new ways after they walk out the doors. I was real with them and they were real with me. And we had a freaking blast doing it.
But all my raw, honest energy was, and is, uncomfortable.
Sometimes it was uncomfortable for the youth, but overall they’re great at embracing uncomfortableness and moving towards making their boxes a little bigger. Adults, however, are generally bad at being uncomfortable, especially when it comes to their churches.
Broadly, church membership has become a club membership. Religion has become an affirmation system; I come here and put money in the plate so that you can tell me what I want to hear, then repeat a week later. It’s a closed feedback loop. But the human experience tells us that we usually become better people through disruptions in life. We grow by being forced to be uncomfortable.
Our world has changed an incredible amount in the last 10 years. In 2007 I was rocking a Razor and updating my AIM away message. Now I can’t go 10 minutes without looking at my iPhone. We are connected in ways no one dreamed of 10 years ago. So why, then, are we doing church the same way as we have been for the last 50 years? Outside the church we live in an advanced world, but inside the church we add a praise band and we think we are “contemporary” because we have changed it just enough to be different but not enough to be uncomfortable.
This way of church anesthetizes us. If you are the exact same person you were walking in the doors, as you walk out, you have not grown. There has been no change in the way in which you interact with the world around you.
We grow when someone comes in and pulls the plug and disrupts us. Disruption is the heart of the Christian faith! Jesus made a whole bunch of people really uncomfortable and it got him KILLED.
Not that I am even close to the awesomeness of Jesus, but I think my uncomfortableness has gotten me kicked out of churches, simply because I wasn’t okay with being comfortable.
I wasn’t allowed to be my full, true, authentic, uncomfortable self in my role within the church. I was trying to offer more than the watered down, sunshine and rainbows Gospel and I was called “liberal” and “irresponsible.” This happens to so many pastors. Some are forced into leading a double life (at my last church I literally had to make two separate Facebook pages; one for my real life, and one for my church life. I was leading a double social media life because my real life was too real). I was told that I had to fit into a mold perfectly and if I spilled anything over the sides of that mold I was accused of “not caring about youth” and “not working hard enough.”
Why are pastors not allowed to express their whole truth? Why can’t we be three dimensional people who wrestle with the same stuff as everyone else without being accused of going off the rails?
Rob Bell was on the podcast “You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes” (great podcast, great name) in 2013. During this episode, he talks about how the only faith that is worth having is a faith that can handle the entirety of the human experience. You cannot just edit out the dark or messy parts. A faith in the modern world should be able to encompass the whole spectrum of this insane existence. Uncomfortable faith isn’t an issue of not believing Jesus or having doubts, it’s about how we hold onto the story. We can white-knuckle faith to the point of not being able to entertain the idea of other information or opinions, or, we can have faith in a living God and trust in the mystery and wonder of the Gospel.
For me, I found that I could not reconcile living a double life. I realized that despite everything I have ever hoped or dreamed of for myself, I could not continue to serve an institution that did not think of me as a human being with a myriad of thoughts, opinions, beliefs, and ideas, but instead considered me to be a nuisance. I could no longer be a part of the wheel where no one confronts the issues but quietly talks about them on the sidelines.
Do I hate the church? No! I LOVE the church. I love the message of the church and the embodiment of Christ that the church shows the world. Will I go back to church? Absolutely! I can’t wait to be back in a church. Church is my home and my first love. Do I believe in the mission of the church? More than most things in this world. Do I think it can be better? So much yes. But I don’t think I fit in enough to try and make it be better. I think I’m just enough of an outsider that I don’t fit into the role of youth pastor in 2017. Maybe it’s the tattoos. Maybe it’s the fact that I have lady bits. Whatever it is, I make people uncomfortable, and no one likes to make a mess.
So I set it down and have walked away from my call to ordained ministry with youth in the United Methodist Church. Because right now, I don’t fit anywhere. I don’t know if I will ever fit anywhere perfectly, but it has to be a better fit than it has been in my past experiences. I need a place that allows me to be my true self, to live and struggle in my experiences. A place that will enjoy the journey with me. I need a church that actively and intentionally engages in being uncomfortable.
If I can find a place like that, I’ll pick my call up off the shelf and wipe away the dust.