Help! I Grew Up In The Church & Survived!

Growing up in a charismatic, conservative Christian environment, l spent a great deal of my youth viewing life through Black & White tinged glasses. I thought I understood the rights and the wrongs, and I lived my life, the best I could according to these ideals. However, the longer I have followed Christ, the more I have come to realize that these same glasses are transforming and I find myself viewing the world through glasses with a grey hue. (You should also know that I struggled over the usage of gray or grey, but went with the 'e" because it looked good next to the word 'hue.') 

I grew up in Church. I grew up in a family that was heavily involved, and in positions of leadership. My world revolved around the church. We lived by that saying, "if the doors of the church are open, we will be there!" And here's the reality. I LOVED IT. I was deeply entrenched, from youth leadership, to being member of the band, to being a worship leader, and later a staff intern. I lived and breathed local church. I even planned my high school schedule and high school years around serving in the local church. 

One thing that went hand in hand with my experience growing up was a strong sense of right and wrong. From the top down, our church and leaders pounded into us their worldview, a view revolving around absolute dedication to the local church, and by local church I don't mean in general, I mean, that one local church, absolute dedication. There was also a strong sense of morality imposed by both my parents and the church. I knew all of the answers, the rights and wrongs, and got most of them right. 

I remember hanging out with a group of friends, and one of our friends who was new to the faith looked at us and say, "you guys are so naive." I laughed and clawed back... but looking back, she was right. I was naive. I was innocent. I was protected, some might even say, I was sheltered. I have now been a Pastor for 8 years. First, I served as a Youth/Young Adults/Worship Pastor... truthfully, I probably should have changed my name to Utility Pastor, because I did everything from change light bulbs to paint, to decorate for Christmas, to crisis counseling. After that I was apart of leading a team that launched an urban startup church, located near our Arts District, the University and Downtown, and most recently we launched Engage City Church, and have been in the 'burbs for the last 3 years (Wow! 3 years already!), so I am aware that in to some, I am representative of both the institution and the problem, and yet I am still caught in the turmoil of it all.

Normally, it's at this time in articles like these that I throw all caution to the wind, dissect every flaw in the system, diagnose every unhealthy action, shred the institution and those responsible for leading it... Generally, in these moments, you charbroil your past, repent of judgements and judgmental attitudes, and proclaim that you are now living on a new level of enlightenment and that your church and your past needs to grow up and get with the program.

But I'm not interested in doing that. I am interested in tension points. 

I believe that the Bible is very clear on many issues, and lays some very clear groundwork on what it means to live a Christ-centered life. I also believe that the Bible is filled with many ambiguities which require diligent thought, prayer, and thorough study, before we adopt a position. I think of Jesus words in Matthew 18, when he spoke about binding & loosing, and I realize that we have the authority to rightly divide the Word of God. I believe that we are to wrestle with it, to struggle with it, to rejoice in it, find peace in it, chew on it, and ultimately live by it. 

My bristling response to my friend who suggested I was sheltered, was nothing more than a naturally defensive response to somebody taking a shot at the way you were raised. Many of you have grown up in a very similar fashion that I did. Many of you are now wrestling and struggling with things that you once considered absolutes. Many of you have even walked away all together, chalking up this wrestling to hypocrisy, and so you walk away from anything connected to this, because you are desire to live an authentic life. I would even venture to say that their are many of us who are adapting and re-shaping our beliefs according to the ways that we want to live, and instead of chewing on the text, we hold it an arms length, redacting the portions that challenge us, and embracing the good for me parts. 

See, this is the part of the article where I shift gears from the institution and start poking holes in the way I was raised and I begin to speak eloquently about how I have discovered my true self, and I look back with embarrassment and shame over the way I was raised. 

But I'm not interested in doing that. I am interested in tension points. 

I was sheltered. The implication of the language literally meaning, that I was protected. My parents intentionally created a groundwork for my life that was intended to be a buffer for me against the things which might come and try and de-rail my life. On the surface, you might react and suggest that they created a false sense of security, and they hid things from me, and that the church is also to blame for creating a fantasy realm for me in which I lived, and some of those things might be true, but may I suggest that they were simply fulfilling their God-given responsibility.

You can be mad at your parents. You can be mad at your pastors. You can be mad at the institution of the church, but what are you made about. When I was a little kid, I had a 730PM bedtime. I hated it. I hated that in the summer I had to go to bed before the sun was down (our City has incredible summers where the sun doesn't set until 10pm). But as I got older, my bedtime changed. First, 8PM, and then 830... Finally 9PM, and then the big jump... 10PM. After a certain age, any time before midnight, and after that, I was an adult, I could do whatever I wanted. 

Did they make the right call? Yes. Did I always agree? No. Did I always like it? No. Did it change and adapt as I grew? Yes. Did I think at some point that this was a decision was a direct incumbrance to my freedom? Yes. Did I proceed to stay up all night and really late, and do as I pleased for a while? Yes. Do I now go to bed at a reasonable time because I have to get up for work and I have young children? Yes. Do I really like going to bed early now? Yes.  Am I using this as an illustration for the development and evolution of our faith? Yes. 

You can be angry all you want. You can despise your childhood, and declare hypocrisy and deception, or you can consider the fact that as you grew and developed, so to did your understanding of your faith. That some of those Sunday School answers were in fact just that, Sunday School answers designed to build a framework that was eventually intended to fall away once you have grown, developed and matured, understanding that this framework was established as a foundational tool for you to use to ultimately decide what you will bind or loose in your own life. 

Things are not as simple as they once appeared. That is truth. You have now grown and matured to a place where you are challenging this framework, where you are wrestling with real and vital questions of faith, but I would like to encourage you today... it's time for us to live in the tension points. It is possible for you to re-shape your view, and to wrestle with your understanding. It is possible for you to embrace the ambiguity and the struggle, and to continue to move forward. I would encourage you to be inspired by these tension points, extend mercy and grace, and know that it is ok to live on a case by case moment by moment basis. I believe, this is in fact, the simplest and purest form of putting your trust in Jesus. 

You don't have to all the answers, and you don't need to have them all right now. But you do have the opportunity to walk and talk and live with on a daily, step-by-step basis with the only person who does, Jesus Christ. 

Trust isn't easy. Trust is hard. Tension isn't easy, but without tension we have no peaks and we have valleys. Music is predicated on the build, release and resolution of tension. The moments that make create television, movies or plot points in your favorite novel or short story is brought to you by the letter 'T'  -- tension. 

You mad bro? Don't be mad ---- WRESTLE. 

Brett Esslinger is a Husband, Dad, Son, Brother, Pastor, Speaker, Leader, Writer whose life goal is to help people unlock their potential and fulfill their life's purpose. 

Follow Brett on Twitter, Instagram & Facebook: @brettesslinger and of course over on Snapchat at: brett.esslinger


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