Last year marked a lot of big changes in my faith journey. Guided by not much more than a strong sense of calling and a gut feeling, I entered into the process the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America calls “candidacy,” the process of discernment, study, and interviewing that marks the beginning of a career in ministry. It was a big shift from what I had previously thought I would be doing with my life, and for probably most of the people I know the decision to go into the ministry seemed a little out of the blue.
I can’t blame them. I’ve never been a “Jesus freak.” Never carried a bible around and I only recently started wearing a cross necklace. I curse (a lot). I watch movies that are rated R and my radio is pre-set to the local classic rock station, not Christian pop. I don’t audibly pray much and I don’t try to invite people to church unless they want to come. I didn’t go to a Christian college and I wasn’t part of the campus ministry program. In short, I don’t really fit people’s expectations of Christianity, certainly not the type of Christian who goes into ministry. Certainly not in an age when millennials are leaving the church in droves, and certainly not in a time when it’s difficult to imagine anybody going into the ministry, much less a 20-something, liberal-arts-educated, progressive, third-wave-feminist woman.
So why did I decide to go into the ministry? Why did I pack up all my belongings, uproot my husband, and leave behind a lucrative career in Washington, DC to attend seminary for four years in the Twin Cities? Why did I decide to go into the church at a time when church membership is down and atheism is on the rise? Why did I choose to turn toward an organization blamed for suicide in LGBT youth, for Islamophobia, for turning back the clock on women’s equality, for child molestation, for denying global warming, and many other faults?
The answer all comes down to this: I believe that faith is deeply powerful, that faith transforms us and empowers us to be more than we can be by ourselves. I believe Christianity has the potential to tear down walls, build bridges, and raise up communities. I believe a true understanding of the theology at the core of the Christ narrative calls us to a radical faith in action, calling for an end to prejudice, judgment, hate, and violence. Radical faith means radical love, radical justice, and radical charity. And it really must be radical, for Christ was nothing short of radicalness embodied.
We are at a crossroads right now. The mainline church, of which I am a proud member, has been stuck in the past for too long. Instead of using the church as a place to invigorate people to action, our churches have become more of some sort of heritage preservation society. And that’s the real reason why millennials are leaving. We don’t need church potlucks or quilting clubs or pancake feeds. What we need is a place to feed our spiritual hunger and heal our brokenness. A place to make us feel the love that we can’t get from social media, to mobilize us to action against the social injustices we see highlighted every day in our newsfeeds. We need a place where we can be in community with each other, where we can finally drop the mask of inequality and privilege society has tied around our faces for too long. That’s the potential of the church I believe in, and it’s what I’m fighting for.
For my non-Christian friends, it’s okay if you don’t believe. Really it is. I’m not going to judge you (and if you ask me, God won’t judge you for that either, but that’s for another post). I’m not in this to convert people or to get people to sign some sort of faith pledge. I’m not even in it to get anybody to go to church. I’m in the business of grace and love, which for me happens to come from God, but maybe it feels a little different to you. That’s not the point. The point is everybody needs to know deep down to their very core that it’s okay to not be perfect. It’s okay to just be you. Because in a time when perfection takes just a click of a button in Photoshop, one carefully edited Facebook post, or one scroll through Pinterest, we all need to be reminded of the beauty of simple human existence in all its brokenness, and that can only come from grace.
And if you don’t feel that way just yet, that’s okay, too. That’s what ministry is here for. That’s what the church is here for. To lift you up and make you feel that grace from the tips of your toes to the top of your head. To make you feel radically, completely loved. To give you the power and courage to share that same love with everyone else around you, until we are one big global community of radical love.
It’s a bit idealistic, I know. A bit overly ambitious maybe. But that’s the kind of power I believe in. It’s why every morning after reading about the latest shootings, yesterday’s bombing, this week’s cyber-attack, I still get up and choose to be Christian, day after day. It’s not always easy, but it is always powerful.