I was in ministry for eight years and within the last two years left to go into the non-profit world. When I entered into full-time youth ministry in 2004, I did so as an enthusiastic 25 year-old wanting to make a difference in the life of a teenager. My time in internships and serving as a volunteer helped me realize a calling I had working with adolescents, especially in their spiritual development.
And for the most part, I was able to do what I wanted over my eight years in ministry. I never really had an elder or church member be completely obtrusive (save a couple of isolated incidents) and mostly had great support for what I did. The thing is, I got the sense I was doing a job people appreciated. Teenagers are not the easiest population to serve, and despite the reasons people appreciated me, they usually did.
Yet, it seemed to be the bigger picture and the overall direction of the large organized church that was unsettling. What I saw through numerous leadership meetings and conversations over coffee seemed to be markedly different than what I saw to be important in the ministry of Jesus. This might seem like an arrogant attitude, assuming I know what is important to Jesus, but my heart and conscience told me something wasn’t right.
And, my job here isn’t really to cast stones on the churches I used to work at, but more to explore the tension between what I know about Jesus (which isn’t enough) to what my eyes and ears have taken in about the American church.
Simply put, I see a system where those on the “inside” have it better than those on the “outside”. And, those on the “outside” have no desire to come in.
A majority of teenagers I work with now in support groups want to have some relationship with God, but don’t want anything to do with organized religion. They don’t trust churches or the overall idea of how God is represented by various groups and systems. But, when you ask them simply about Jesus or God the attitude is generally pretty positive.
They just don’t like the people who represent God.
There seems to be more said in scripture about what Jesus did than what he felt. There are only a few times where we get a glimpse of raw emotion from Jesus and typically these feelings are intense and left no doubt as to the problem. One of those is the story of Jesus clearing out the temple. Through most of his ministry, Jesus seemed to keep his head about him – even in death he said very little. But in this story he looks more like a mad man than a rabbi.
I think Jesus was so angry because his father was being misrepresented.
He saw those charged with the priesthood caring more about their pocketbook and their systems.
The outsider and the marginalized knew nothing about God other than what they saw at the temple and synagogue where money was being made and nit-picking over scriptures and social issues were commonplace.
You can see why Jesus did what he did. And, why he was so upset.
I don’t work for a church anymore and spend a lot of time with those who will likely never step foot in a church. While many of their complaints about the church and Christianity are not fair and founded in anecdotal observations, many of their issues come quite honestly.
You see, I believe Jesus cares about those outside of his church as much as those on the inside. And when those on the outside feel less loved and valued than those on the inside……….
The church might have a problem.