When I was fifteen, I was called into ministry. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God wanted me to be a minister. There was only one problem. I was a Southern Baptist who happened to also be a woman. At nineteen my home church hired me to be the youth director for the summer. At the end of that summer the pastor told me there was no place for me in ministry because I was a woman. The fact that I wanted to work in the Church served as proof I was a sinner. I heard his message cloaked in language claiming to be the will of God. He made it clear I wasn’t worthy of serving God. So, I left the Church, my faith, and God for while.
That was a long time ago. I’m now a minister, and I work in a church making sure the students I minister with know they are loved, worthy, and called by Christ. I thought I had put those hurtful words behind me. I thought I was healed, but I wasn’t. When I’m honest, I still hear those words in my head from time to time and every once in a while I still feel my stomach drop and the pain in my soul from those words. The new book by Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church reminded me I’m not alone and helped me heal just a little more. Below I have taken a few quotes from the book and paired it with my own story.
“Where God calls the baptized beloved, demons call her addict, slut, sinner, failure, fat, worthless, faker, screw-up. Where God calls her child, the demons beckon with rich, powerful, pretty, important, religious, esteemed, accomplished, right. It is no coincidence that when Satan tempted Jesus after his baptism, he began his entreaties with, ‘If you are the Son of God . . .’ We all long for someone to tell us who we are. The great struggle of the Christian life is to take God’s name for us, to believe we are beloved and to believe that is enough.”
I knew God called me to be a minister but I walked away from God and church because I put more value on the labels other’s put on me instead of God’s for me. On the days those words of pain show up again, I have to remember I am called God’s child and I am loved. So, are you!
I know what’s it is like to be labeled as less than worthy. God’s love is open to all and churches should be too. Searching for Sunday reminded me that “what makes the gospel offensive isn’t who it keeps out, but who it lets in.” Christians talk about a Savoir who loves everyone and was willing to die to make a relationship with each person possible. But, Christians are often better known for their hatred and judgment. Let’s remember that we are all equally unworthy of God’s love but yet God gives it anyway. Let’s remember that those we are pushing away from our churches are God’s children too. It’s painful to be told there’s no place for you in the church. It is time we focus more on letting everyone in to experience the love of God then keeping them out.
I personally know what it is like to be pushed out. I thought I was healed from that experience but I wasn’t. I had just pushed those feelings and the memory of those events deep down and tried to never think about them. This book reminded me that to truly find healing, I had to admit I was still hurt. In order to accept the good news of the gospel, we much first admit we need a Savior and healing. Rachel says it like this,
“When Jesus said he came not for the righteous, but for the sinners, he meant he came for everyone. But only those who know they are sick can be healed. Only those who listen to the rumblings in their belly can be filled. Only those who recognize the extent of their wounds and their wounding can be made well.”
We like to focus on the sins and problems we see in the lives of the people around us because then we can ignore the sins and problems in our own lives. Maybe it is time we start admitting that we are all in need of healing and seeing the church as what it really is. This quote from the book sums it up for me,
“This is what God’s kingdom is like: a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table, not because they are rich or worthy or good, but because they are hungry, because they said yes. And there’s always room for more.”
Christians need to be inviting others to the table instead of pushing them away as unworthy.
I could go on and on about how this book impacted my own faith. Instead the best thing you can do is to get your own copy and read it for yourself. Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church will be available to buy this week. It not only spoke to me as a person who has felt pain from a church but also a minister who often encounters folks who have also. I think it will speak to you too.