Thursday, August 9, 2012

What I Learned While Growing Up in the Church

I do not write this to blame or shame the church. I write it because for better or worse, whether out of good intentions or not, this is what I learned. This is my story.

I grew up in church my entire life. My first memories of church are when my parents started looking for a new one; I was 4 years old or so. The church they chose is one that I went to from the age of 5 to roughly 18.

Most of what I learned would be vehemently denied by those who taught it to me. It is true that not all of this was taught to me by word, but it was taught or affirmed in deed every time I was in the church. I am aware that other factors besides the church influenced me as well, my parents, ATI, the books I read. The church was still one of my main influences and even though they didn’t teach some of these things outright, they also didn’t discredit them. Sometimes what you learn has as much to do with what isn't said as with what is.
I learned:
  1. That God speaks 3 ways: the Bible, spiritual authorities (pastor, Sunday school teacher, guest speaker), and your parents.
  2. That the Holy Spirit is real and important but if anyone is talking about him they’re probably letting their emotions run their life.
  3. That, given the chance, every guy would choose to have sex with any girl available.
  4. That speaking to young men is flirting.
  5. That God is good and he doesn’t mind making you miserable for your good.
  6. That truly spiritual people are constantly repentant, depressed, and consumed by their shortcomings, sins, and failures.
  7. That if you aren’t growing spiritually then it’s because you missed a day of Bible reading and prayer.
  8. That growing spiritually is somehow linked to being thought well of by church authority and being very busy at the church.
  9. That young people never have worries since they have no responsibilities and therefore have much energy and lots of time for God.
  10. That young people should be given more responsibility and become adults as quickly as possible.
  11. That young people do not need to be listened to or respected because they are young.
  12. That young people cannot be trusted with responsibility . . . Unless the church leadership feels differently in the moment. In which case, let the young people do it all. They have time.
  13. That I am a sinner and will be until I get to heaven.
  14. Lots and lots of verses that I can easily recall at almost any time.
  15. To respect my elders. Unfortunately to the extent that anything an older person said was right, simply because they were older.
  16. That God wanted to help me not to sin but he couldn’t because I was rebelliously holding on to my sin, even if I wasn't aware of it and didn't know how to stop.
  17. That I should try with everything in me not to sin but that I would always sin anyways.
  18. That God was very forgiving but this was no excuse to sin.
  19. That if I thought God might be speaking to me something that was kind, then that was my flesh trying to imitate God. But if I was convicted that was always God.
  20. That being a Christian is extremely hard.
  21. That growing up, getting married, and having kids is extremely hard and depressing.
  22. That if you stopped coming to church or started going to a different church you were backsliding.
  23. That when “backsliding” people left the church they were quickly forgotten.
  24. That anyone who did not cover their faults well enough would be a more spiritual person's ‘project’.
  25. That some faults were more spiritual than others. If you were always concerned that you didn't pray enough then that was a fault but also a kind of badge of spirituality. But if you had an anger problem that was not spiritual.
  26. That accountability partners were the answer to not praying and reading your Bible regularly. Also that accountability partners never work because the last thing you need when you’ve screwed up again is another person echoing the voice in your head telling you that you should really try harder.
  27. That if you can’t think of a sin to confess at any given moment, you should confess your pride.
  28. That missions and other countries are very important.
  29. That the Holy Spirit does stuff in the mission field that he won’t in church or at home or probably in my country at all.
  30. That sex is bad, evil and horribly ungodly. Except if you’re married. then it’s embarrassing, inappropriate to ever mention and just another hard part of marriage.
  31. That women don't hardly have a sex drive unless they're dating. Then it is very hard to keep it under control until you get married. Once you're married though, you'll have to work at actually wanting sex with your husband.
  32. That Jesus died on the cross to save me from my sins so that I could get to heaven and escape hell.
  33. That having a devotional, including but not limited to prayer and Bible reading, every single morning was the key to a relationship with God. Also that everyone, except possibly a few really spiritual pastors, failed in this key element by missing a day every now and again or by having it in the evenings.
  34. That prayer rarely accomplishes anything except misguided hope.
  35. That children are sinful little brats that must be tamed.
  36. That evangelism is necessary even though neither those evangelizing nor those being evangelized actual like it.
  37. That people very rarely ever get saved.
  38. That, as a young person, if you smile nicely, speak respectfully to adults and don’t get into any obvious trouble then everyone (except for your parents) will be astounded at how mature you are, and have immense respect for you as a person and a Christian, while never finding out who you are or what you actually think.
I could nearly write an article about how each of these have affected my life. I have had to unlearn most of these beliefs and it has been hard. There are a few here that I am grateful for. I still respect my elders, although I am aware now that age does not guarantee wisdom. I am grateful for the amount of the Bible that is always readily available to me through constant exposure; in spite of the fact that I have had to unlearn most of the interpretations they taught me.

I am especially grateful for the emphasis my church placed on missions. I still plan to live in other countries largely because of the exposure they gave me. I am most grateful that they taught me that Jesus came to save me. In my case, having to experience my beliefs about Jesus change drastically from what they taught me was absolutely worth being introduced to him so early.
This is my story.

I share it partially for Pastors, teachers and church leaders. I am grateful for your work. I believe that most of you want to teach and promote Jesus and are willing to learn even from me. What is the legacy of your church? If it's been around for a few years then you can ask people to find out. You probably have a statement of belief written up, but what are you actually teaching? Are you experiencing what Jesus said, "My yoke is easy, my burden is light?" Because I very much want you to live in that experience, both for my sake and yours.

I mostly share it so that possibly, if you believe the same things that I did, then you can gain the courage to reevaluate what you believe and what those beliefs are actually producing in your life. If your beliefs about God and Jesus do not produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control in you then I challenge you that what you believe is not true.

Do you identify with any of these? What was/is the fruit of them in your life?