The summer of 1999 was the last time I was a Christian.
I am still under the miracle of God’s grace and am still being transformed by the power of His resurrection, but I use the word ‘Christian’ to describe everything else.
That previous year was one of the most difficult for me since junior high, but it was not without its blessings. Before that summer, I had the limits of my faith tested and I had my character pushed to its breaking point but I was left holding onto the strange, new sensation that God really did love me despite my depravity.
My freshman year in college was over and a few buddies of mine and I packed up and headed to Yosemite National Park for the summer. I met the girl of my dreams, discovered new passions of mine, and realized that Amazing Grace could be my life’s song… and that was just in the first week.
When I look back to that period in my life, I can point to that summer as the last time I genuinely loved worship music. I wanted to write it, play it and share with anyone who would participate with me. I was excited to hear about these new songs being written in far away places such as England, Australia and Texas by people with cool names like Redman, Zschech and Crowder. I was eager to learn them and take them back to my college Christian group. It was the summer of the ‘open E’ chord structure which showed up in every worship song and was new to my butt-rock, bar chord trained fingers. Other Christian college students who had come from the South to spend the summer in Yosemite were talking about this thing called Passion Conferences and this Woodstock-esque event they were planning the next year. I had the sense that America was on the verge of a big movement in worship music and I was stoked be in on the ground level.
That summer was also the last time I really cared about what other people were saying about Jesus. I had my opinions and beliefs mortally wounded previously, so when people were giving me sermons on CD by guys like Louie Giglio and John Piper, I ate it up like a starving man at a buffet. Someone handed me a book by Piper called Desiring God and it might as well have been the lost book of the bible. I had the feeling that I was about to witness a revival in the USA that was going to be so obvious it would generate mainstream news headlines.
That was a good summer.
I left a part of my soul in Yosemite, buried somewhere along the Merced River or at the base of Bridal Vail Falls, places where I swore I heard God speak audibly to me.
My summer had inspired me to make happen the ridiculous notion that I could make a living by making worship music and doing ministry. Before long, I was leading worship for the campus Catholic group at my university who had decided they needed to spice things up a bit and I began interning as youth leader at a local church. These jobs led to permanent employment at church and my vocational church career had begun.
I can not remember exactly when it happened but somewhere along the way I became a cynic. I started to see things and experience situations that caused me to doubt the divine connection to what I had previously loved. Maybe it was the first time I collected payment for worshipping with the Church, or maybe it was the first time I was wounded by a church. Since then, my cynicism has been allowed to grow and it has become my trademark in many ways, a trait celebrated by those who know me.
Cynicism is not always bad and I am a firm believer that cynics and skeptics are important parts of creativity and reinvention. But cynicism left unchecked can grow into a dangerous thing. Somewhere along the way, a person whispered in my ear that I was justified in my anger and at some point I convinced myself that the people who had hurt me represented all of Christianity. My participation in Christianity was dealt a near fatal blow last year when I was laid off from the first church I had loved since the summer of 1999.
Over time, my cynicism has given me a hardened heart. I have grown to feel awkward during worship time at church and I cringe at even calling it that. I am usually uninterested in reading the newest life-changing book out there (I think its Crazy Love by Francis Chan). Christian music is like Kryptonite for me and I legitimately boycotted a large Christian bookstore chain for a few years. There are elements of the Christian subculture that genuinely disgust me and they are the bathwater to my baby, I sometimes wish I could throw it all out. When I meet people who have the same passion I had that summer, I question their true motives in my heart. When the lights go on, the fog machine kicks in, and the projection screens drop down, I immediately shut down. For the past 6 years I have been in ministry and I have often dreamed of what it might be like to have a ‘real job’ in the ‘real world’ working with ‘real people’.
I can not honestly say that all of these things are from Christ.
As pastors and church leaders, we sit behind the curtain and make a living in the dirty details of Christianity, thus we are unusally prone to be overcome by cynicism. We make tough decisions that keep us up at night and often times, the youthful idealism that propelled us into ministry dies within months of starting. Too often for me, I saw the homeless in my own community go unnoticed while the church upgraded its sound system. The leader exposes this fallacy and corrects it but the cynic internalizes it and walks away with a callous on his soul. I was the cynic.
But I am done with cynicism. It is my drug and just a little bit could make me relapse. I have been dealing with my hard heart in several ways recently and I am pretty sure it is an easily preventable and curable disease. This may sound elementary, but consistent spiritual discipline reaps a Christ-like perspective on life. This sort of perspective allows you separate the things of Christ from those that merely bear His name. Lack of spiritual discipline leads to all sorts of disobedience and unhealthy spiritual habits. The media/communication/executive pastor or leader especially needs to be deliberate about his or her spiritual life. You are the fast food employee who knows all too well about what goes on in the back. You must focus on the bigger picture: God has you where you are for a purpose and that purpose is to make Him known. Delight yourself in Him and He will show you the ministry in your job.
I do not want to fall back in love with pop Christianity, I just don’t want to end up hating it. Somewhere beneath all the bureaucracy, business and cheesy plastic is the transforming news of the Gospel… it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.