Another reason I've felt "in the wilderness" on my church journey is that I've worried that I'm not serving as well as I should. Why do I feel this way?
I suppose a lot of it goes back to my "going to church" days when I was super-involved in all the goings-on. At one time or another, and often all at once, I was a Sunday-school teacher, the nursery department coordinator, Women's Ministry Bible study leader, church janitor, church secretary, church treasurer, church camp counselor, church camp prayer leader, played piano and guitar with the church music ministry, led worship, led Children's Church, cooked and served for church potlucks, ran the cafe for the Saturday night youth ministry coffee house... and so on and so forth.
Naturally, most of the time I was patted on the back and praised for my wonderful servant heart. Of course there were a couple times there when someone was jealous of a "position" I held, and did all they could to get me out - out of the position, and even out of the church. And sometimes I was disappointed that it seemed like a lot of the time we were "preaching to the choir" and not reaching out much, and it seemed like there often was a lack of prayer and a lack of real spiritual growth. But overall, I felt pretty good about my serving!
And now ... I suppose I am still seeking that recognition and commendation to some degree. I have to admit that it's hard to leave that behind.
And it does feel kind of strange to be sort of floating around waiting to see what God leads me into, instead of having all kinds of "opportunities" right there desperately needing to be filled.
And, with my teaching background, in church and in public, Christian, and home school, I kind of miss those formal opportunities to teach with a more or less captive audience there to be enthralled with my wisdom, right?
And it was pretty convenient to have the church's "mission" set out right there, and never have to worry that you weren't doing enough serving. The churches I attended had goals and mission statements and all that sort of thing to keep us motivated. They also had statements of faith so you knew exactly where you stood on the finest points of doctrine, and if you didn't stand in the right spot, you knew enough to learn to toe the line, or you could of course find another church to go to (except when I lived in a small town with only one church, LOL).
Of course, I do notice some good things about this not serving well thing. For example, I'm not exhausted anymore. And no one is pressuring me to accept positions that they "just know the Lord is calling you to do" even if I have no sense of His calling at all in that area. And I have more time to go out and visit and help people in their homes and on the streets. (I always wondered why we didn't "go forth" more - but of course we had missionaries and evangelists and such for that, and we really were busy doing really important things for the church's mission, weren't we?)
Another good thing is that I've been surprised at how much I've learned from people who don't "appear" to be well educated or theologically savvy: being a learner and a walk-alongside-person instead of a teacher/ leader actually has its advantages. For example, when you're not the super busy, organized, well trained, leader-type person, other people like you better, and are more willing to be a real friend, and just see when you're needing them and come alongside and be helpful in real, practical, hands-on caring ways. (Like pastors must wish for, you know).
Another thing - when I was going to church, probably because I've always been a kind of "Jill of all trades, master of none" person, people were constantly telling me I had this gift or that - and insisting that I exercise it in whatever program they needed my help with. Sometimes I enjoyed it. Sometimes, I have to admit, I did NOT enjoy it.
And, sadly, at the end of all that I came to the point where I had no idea any more what my gift(s) really might be and wondered if I even had any at all. Maybe I really was just a "...master of none" person. At least now I'm not under pressure to perform any of my don't-know-if-I-have-them gifts, so I can just relax and enjoy whatever Father brings along for me to do with Him. Awesome!
One disadvantage, though, of not "going to church" like I used to is that I'm not under the same good, strong, motivational schedule of serving. I have to admit that because I had the church's schedule of meetings, it did motivate me to also have a schedule of morning devotions with Bible reading and prayer and journaling, and other such "serving the Lord" things at home. I mean, I was more disciplined then, you know?
Now, it seems like my self-discipline has evaporated. I mean, yes, I chat with Father off and on during the day and night (okay, sometimes more off than on, oh dear), and I am more aware of His Presence with me (I never feel "alone in the desert without God" like I used to). But shouldn't I be more formal about it? I have to say, there's something pretty wilderness about not having a formal schedule and checklist, and a long list of "shoulds." Those "shoulds" were pretty secure and comforting in their own way, uh huh.
Wow. I thought I only had a sentence or two to say about this. But it seems that I'm hearing a whole lot of things from Father as I write this post. But Lord, that wasn't the point of this exercise, don't you know? :-) Okay, yes, I admit I really do love You ignoring my schedules! Thank You! :-)
Anyway, it's comforting to know I'm not the only one going through this "not serving well" thing. Recently, in a post called "Owner or Renter
?" at the Beyond Church Walls blog, I read about how the blog post writer and a couple friends were having a conversation about the gifts God has placed in them. And, as the writer says, "One of the things that surfaced during our conversation was a grief and frustration about the level at which we had functioned while in the religious system versus how we felt we were using our gifts now." He goes on to talk about how "sharp, in tune, and on the ball" they were then, and how he has "become somewhat complacent and dull in many ways."
But then one of his friends pointed out a pretty profound analogy:
He pointed out that we had never truly taken ownership of our gifts and callings but had a renter’s mentality. See, when one rents a home he lives there with the landlord’s permission and can only do what the landlord allows him to do. He can’t freely paint rooms, put in new carpet, or redo the yard without consulting the landlord first. But on the flip side, the renter does not carry the heavy responsibilities of ownership. The renter doesn’t have to make any repairs, spend any money on upgrades, or concern himself with the resale value of the property. A renter gets the benefits of living in a home without the burdens and freedoms of home ownership. We realized that in the religious system we functioned in our gifts and callings as renters. It was our duty to function in them but we did not have the burden of ownership. That rested with the pastor. Our gifts and callings were submitted to the authority and vision of the pastor or other leaders the same way one submits to a landlord. The pastor decided how far we could go with the gifts and callings and although we did not have complete freedom to function according to all Father had placed in our hearts, we also were free from the responsibility of having to be self-motivated and sort out how Father wanted us to move forward. We functioned within the framework that was laid out before us and did not have to shoulder the responsibilities that come with fulfilling a calling God places on one’s life. It is one thing to be accountable to man, it is another thing to function out of a keen awareness of being accountable to God.
Amen! That's the point, isn't it? I get that. I've been a house renter myself for years, and now I've been a homeowner the past couple years. I really do get that picture. And I get how it applies to my whole "I feel like I'm not serving well" moaning and groaning. It's time to get over it. It's time to lift my eyes and see what God has done for me!
He has freed me from the pressure of being accountable to man. He has freed me from the pressure of being accountable to the institution's system. He has freed me to "function out of a keen awareness of being accountable to God." And it's a joy and pleasure to walk in that freedom because Jesus IS IN ME. It's not my heavy responsibility anymore. Isn't that awesome?!
No, I am not going to worry anymore about "not serving well." I'm just going to walk this walk with Jesus, and listen to His voice, and do whatever I see Him doing, say whatever I hear Him saying. Like He did with Father when He was here on earth with us as a man.
Yes! (And oh dear God, help me to never be tempted by the deceitful security and comfort that those shackles sometimes seem to offer. Help me keep my eyes on You and Your freedom. I just want to walk - and serve - with You!).
Question: What about you? Would you like to join me in "not serving well"? Let's do it together. The "not serving well" family. What do you think? :-)