In search of roots (or, “what are the real issues?”).

The last number of years have been pretty challenging for me. Most of you know that I spent a number of years as a youth pastor and during that time I changed a lot as a person. I changed a lot as a Christian. I count those 2.5 years as some of the best in my life (the word ‘best’ is not to be confused with the words ‘easy’, ‘joyful’, ‘fabulous’ etc). I saw a lot. I thought a lot. I did a lot. I became disillusioned with a lot of things including middle-class suburban life, Evangelical Christianity, and the influence materialism was having on my life. All of these things changed me.

Now there are probably others out there who can identify with this sort of paradigm shifting, life-altering sort of experience and what I want to note is that there are different ways of dealing with this.

Towards the end of my time as a youth pastor I began to develop some bad habits. Things started appearing in my life that may or may not have been bad in-and-of themselves but these things lead to other things which resulted in me living a dishonest (less than abundant) life. I was so overwhelmed with life/employment situations and so frustrated with the confines of Evangelical Christianity and white middle-class piety and I’m not sure I really knew how to handle all of this.

Last night I sat down with a good friend/mentor in my life to talk about some things I’ve been struggling with and he posed the following question to me: “Ok, so what are the real issues?” What? At first I didn’t know how to respond. I couldn’t really pinpoint any “real issues” in my life that manifested themselves in bad fruit. I couldn’t think of any internal issues that showed up certain ways on the outside.

But I’ve been thinking about this since last evening. And while I’m still (obviously) processing a lot of these things I think one of the internal issues that manifested itself in a particular way on the outside was bitterness. I didn’t start out bitter. I started out frustrated but the more and more things I saw and experienced caused this frustration to slowly turn to bitterness. I began to hate a lot of what I was exposed to in Evangelical Christianity.

I won’t delve too deeply into the sorts of things I’m talking about here because I’m still working through them but perhaps I can touch on them at a later date.

Also, while I’ve begun to realize the root of bitterness in my life this should not be confused with me retreating and embracing much of what Evangelical Christianity has on-tap in the developed world. No. A lot of that is still bullshit and still frustrating but I’m hoping that from here on out I can use those things and those emotions to write a different sort of story for myself in the grace and peace of Christ.

So, here’s to life. Triumphs accomplished. Failures experienced. Second chances. And, above all, grace that refuses to allow us to remain the same.

ps – Today as I was thinking about all these sorts of things I read this blog by Don Miller and, needless to say, it hit be square in the face.

  1. societyvs said:

    I had the exact same experience – I also was a youth pastor for some 1.5 years time period and in that time I changed quite a bit. I also grew frustrated and later bitter with what I saw in the church. I ended up leaving and dealt with the bitterness, I don’t really have hard feelings towards the institution, but like you, I want to see change as we go forward.

    I ended up leaving church altogether and haven’t been back in 10 years…time to time I stop in but it’s not the same…I know the behind the scenes of this spirituality all too well (also an Evangelical type church).

    When I left, I grew up. I continued to further my education, got married, bought a house, and now live a pretty decent life. I blog on religion because I still love the faith, regardless of the ordeal I witnessed and wanted changed…blogging is my chance to get some thoughts out there and maybe see some change?

    I think your a pretty level headed guy with a very good head on his shoulders…and your studies have allowed you a lot of depth on this faith. If you can, run a church and change it from the inside…it’s a good way to give back.

  2. Paul said:

    Great posts, yours, Donalds and societyvs. 12 step would use the word resentment – bad roots produce bad fruit. It is sad that so many Christians waste their lives.

    So societyvs, your advice to JT sounds good for both of you.


  3. michael nakou said:

    Thanks for your honesty. If we can’t be real with ourselves we can’t be real… “the highest and most profitable learning is a true knowledge and humble opinion of oneself” thomas a kempis.

  4. Andrew said:

    Ive felt the same way many times. I too have become increasingly frustrated with middle-class suburban xtianity, evangelicalism and the church in general. And sadly that has led to alot of bitterness. Something I still constantly struggle with and am trying to always circumvent but can never really find a way around.

  5. jt* said:

    Thanks for your feedback folks. I know I’m not the only one out there struggling and longing so it’s great to hear other people offer their experiences and insights as well!

    @Jason, cool to hear you too were a youth pastor and had a similar sort of experience as myself. Looking back on the last 10 years, would you have changed anything in regards to how you responded to the bitterness? Do you feel, even now, that this bitterness can be used to fuel and greater longing and motivation to see/be some sort of change? You’re last comment made me smile as my wife and I want to be involved in starting some sort of small, organic feeling faith community with a group of other folks at some point.

    @Paul, I think resentment is a word that could be interchanged for bitterness in my experience. At the very least, my bitterness has lead to some resentment.

    @Mike, always love hearing from you dude. I too think honesty and transparency is key and yet being honest seems to be among many pastors (or church leaders) biggest fears.

    @Andrew, good hearing from you. Enjoying getting to know you better!

    I’ve been asking myself some questions that I’d like to pose to the rest of you. Take a stab if you feel so inclined!

    a) For those who have felt the sting of bitterness, as you reflect of the way you have reacted thus far to it, how do you feel? Do you feel you’re on track with where God might want you to be? Do you feel you’re living an abundant sort of life or has the bitterness caused walls to go up and been a death-dealing force in your life?

    b) For those that feel disillusion with much of Evangelical Christianity, or institutional Christianity for that matter, what other options might there be? I suppose there’s a tension that I’m trying to hold here that I think we see in the scriptures and it looks a bit like this: i) It doesn’t seem that Jesus came to start a new religion, yet ii) what Jesus was talking about seems to have real implications that can be fleshed out in the lives of an embodied community. I think that the church is important (this would be hard to deny I think), yet much of what we see called “the church” or “Christianity” seems to be so far from what we see in the scriptures. What are your thoughts on this?


  6. Andrew said:

    a) I find the bitterness, while at times can feel great, is mostly harmful. While i do gain a sense of pride, it also comes with a sense of superiority that makes pride what pride is when its at its worst. So no, i do not feel on track with where God wants me. Rather i find it tends to isolate me from God more than anything else and that is something I really need to examine more carefully. Basically the bitterness leads to judgement which leads to isolation. At times it feels great because I feel that I have surmounted society and the pressures or found cracks and flaws in modern christian logic and I feel I have found a way to get closer to God and what his original plans for us are, but then instead of utalizing these new realization I tend to judge those who either have not realized or have realized differently.

    b) i agree with what your saying and your questions are my questions too – however I dont have an answer yet, so im going to see what others say and then maybe jump in again later

  7. societyvs said:

    “Looking back on the last 10 years, would you have changed anything in regards to how you responded to the bitterness?” (JT)

    No. The bitterness was a normal experience for what I seen as not being heard and the church pretty much keeping it’s status quo only to fail time after time. The bitternesses served to make me think about the real issues at hand and what needs to change, and how.

    I loved church (God), I really did, one year I even attended some 250 meetings (which is crazy when you think about it)…but I could never get enough of this faith and learning (it captured/captivated me). I can never be critcizing for not loving God or even supporting the church.

    But that all changed when I started to see an agenda amongst the adults towards the youth…which I never understood myself. So I kept my ear open and started to continue to learn about the leadership and the way they did things, I sensed hypocrisy. Eventually, as I finished bible college (6 years in church by this time) I found many of the churches I attended lacked something I knew I had and wanted more of…sincerity. That is what made me walk out those doors in 1999 (May to August) and not want to come back.

    Truth is 10 years later I am not bitter, everyone meant well but sometimes you learn that maybe you are walking ahead of them, sooner or later they just disappear in the distance. Like the Beatles in their song ‘In My Life’ – I loved every one of them.

    “Do you feel, even now, that this bitterness can be used to fuel and greater longing and motivation to see/be some sort of change?” (JT)

    Yes I do, and I find that is what it will always do if used positively. Bitterness turns into action at some point, and what you need to see changed your mind will begin to wrap around since you cannot change the past – but you can change the future.

    “You’re last comment made me smile as my wife and I want to be involved in starting some sort of small, organic feeling faith community with a group of other folks at some point” (JT)

    We need more of you, we really do. As much I likely wouldn’t go back to church (you never know) I also think about the next generation of people that follow this faith in Jesus…do we really want them to fall into the same trap that we did? I sense a real open-ness and sincerity in you, I don’t think you will sell-out your convictions for numbers or figures.

  8. James Tonn said:

    I just read your blog to Mollie and she said it was an article I could have written. This is true. The best part is – seriously it feels amazing – is when the bitterness subsides, and the church looks so cute, wrapped up like a baby in its intolerance, and is growing up oh so fast. This is the delight of seeing with fresh eyes, how the Bride of Christ is truly beautiful – she just has terrible days, and I know at heart she means well.

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