How I Learned to Belong in the Church

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electric_guitarBack in the days of high school youth group at church, I noticed that we didn’t have a worship leader. So I picked my guitar up after a two year hiatus, played three songs over and over again for five months, and then failed fantastically in front of the 60 students in my youth group because I didn’t realize how hard it was to actually start a song in the right key as the leader.

I played guitar for years. Many of my friends from college knew me as a guy who leads worship all over the place, in small and large groups. Though everybody seemed to have a guitar, worship leading opportunities always sniffed me out.

The more I pitched in, the more responsibilities I received. Soon I was in charge of a worship team at a church with 300 to 400 people in each service (at least it felt like that many people).

Once I was put in charge, things seemed to fall apart in a matter of months. Ironically, that’s a long story…

Being perfectly honest, I didn’t really care all that much about music or mastering the guitar. I felt called to create in a different way. As I stuffed my guitar away in the closet, I began to discover writing. The more I invested in writing, the more it fit everything God seemed to be doing in my life.

I began to realize that I was that same kid who filled his copy book in sixth grade with zany stories.

I was the same kid in seventh and eighth grade who sat at a primitive computer with his friend each day after school rewriting fairy tales from the perspectives of the villains who believed they had received a bum wrap.

As I honed my craft as a writer, I began to notice lame church websites. People in church said they were writing a “blog” when they meant “blog post.” The elitist professional in me cringed.

Maybe I could help?

At one church in particular, I offered to help with some writing projects right when a huge need emerged for someone to handle communications. I threw myself into it and developed a newsletter and kept the basic day to day operations going. I really loved it.

After a few months of this, we began to talk about creating a team, and then one day I had a group of four or five people sitting across from me, waiting for me to lead the communications team. At that moment, something within me clicked, “I am not a leader. I do not want to do this.”

God had been warning me over the past year or so at this particular church to not become a leader. Things were just ducky so long as I could throw myself into my work, create stuff, communicate, and do all of that. However, once I started to lead people, it all stopped being fun.

Thankfully, I didn’t languish in a leadership role for long. Circumstances provided an easy way to pass off leadership to someone with those gifts. She’s doing an amazing job because she knows how to work with a team and get the most out of each person. I, on the other hand, work great on a team, but I’m not the person to lead it.

God has made it abundantly clear to me over the past year: Do not lead.

I create stuff. I don’t lead people.

I’ve been trying to unlearn that since I was 15 years old.

What Are You Passionate About?

There’s an old trick that pastors learn. When someone comes to a pastor and says, “We should have a ministry like _____,” pastors know to respond: “You’re passionate about that idea. How about you lead it.”

I can certainly relate to pastors who get everything dumped on them. They need to hand off responsibilities to capable people or they’ll lose their minds. However, passion does not make a leader. Passion just means you care about something.

Over and over again, I stepped up to help with ministries that I cared about. I was passionate about worship and creative work, but I always ended up in charge and completely miserable.

I’ve worked in the nonprofit world long enough to know that passion does not lead to competent leadership.

After so many false starts and dead ends, I’ve learned two things about belonging in a Christian community.

1. If you do what you think you should do, you’ll burn out.

2. If you serve within your God-given limits, you’ll find a lot of joy.

When I think about serving others through my writing, I honestly sort of write it off in unguarded moments. It’s like, “Nah, it’s just fun. It’s not a big deal.”

When I think about leading a team of creative people, I want to buy the most expensive MacBook Air on the market and beat myself over the head with it.

God has called me to write. I’m not a leader of writers. I’m just a writer. There may be writers out there with leadership gifts. I’m not one of them.

There is freedom and peace in knowing our boundaries. When we know who are and what we’re called to be, we can just settle into our spot in the body of Christ. The more we realize what we can’t do, the more essential the fellow Christians around us become. Before we know it, we’ll become a living, breathing, interdependent, nurturing community.

Best yet, I’m not standing up there on Sunday mornings to botch the opening lines of the songs. Everybody wins with that one.

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8 thoughts on “How I Learned to Belong in the Church

  1. brambonius

    I thought all men were created to be leaders, and all women to be helpers? Is not being a leader a denial of your God-given role as a man?

    (sorry, couldn’t resist this remark with all the stuff about men and womes and their roles in the church going on online at the moment)

  2. Jennifer

    This is so telling, and sort of funny, Ed. The big joke is if you think of the idea, you get to make the idea a reality. But, that’s not always the smartest thing, is it? I find that I can lead in certain areas, but, when my kids were in “real school” it was certainly NOT in parent committees. Hives. Yuck. Me no likey.

    People ask me why they struggle with running. The first thing I ask them is Why are they running. It’s the same question you ask above, in a different vein. Are you leading because you were asked or leading because you were called. When we do the things we are called and created to do for sustainable reasons, it’s simply gorgeous.

  3. Tony J. Alicea

    Oh man, I can definitely relate to finding your giftings rather than responding to the “current need”. It seems to be a conundrum though. Many people want the space to grow in their giftings but fewer people seem to willing to step up and lead or take on administrative tasks.

    Like you said, they come to the pastor saying “We should do ___” The pastor proceeds to empower the person to do it. They quickly change their mind about how much they want to do it.

    Part of finding a place to develop gifts is finding a group of people willing to step up and run with it. They don’t have to do it forever, but so few people are willing to actually do the not-so-fun part of ministry.

    They just want to grow in their gifting and not do “all that other stuff”.

    I can’t tell you how many people I’ve heard saying “I’m not gifted in children’s ministry”. It’s said as a joke but it’s also a sad reality.

    I believe the answer is finding likeminded people with the same giftings. Then within that group, identifying the best people to step up in the different areas.

    Every gift and talent must be stewarded. That means doing the not so fun things to be able to sustain the environment of growth.

    To quote Michael Bolton from Office Space in response to the counselor asking what people would do if they had a million dollars:

    “If everyone listened to her, there’d be no janitors, because no one would clean s**t up if they had a million dollars.”

  4. ed Post author

    I love the suggestion to gather people together and then sort out the leader. That’s partially what happened to me. I quickly saw that I was in over my head and that the woman sitting next to me was the perfect person. It’s amazing to see how much more everyone accomplished with her because she knew how to empower people and to follow up.

    The other angle to ministry that I just didn’t have time to explore here is the idea that a ministry is until death do us part and that it must always be learned via sink or swim. I’ve found that ministry done in seasons with training can help make it seem a bit easier to handle, but that’s a whole other post! You’re right though, sometimes ministry has some aspects that must be dealt with head on.

    And regarding your last note… I actually cleaned the bathrooms at my church for years and enjoyed it. I’d much rather deal with literal shit than the shit I dealt with as a worship leader any day. If someone called me up tomorrow and offered me either position, it’s a total no-brainer for me!

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  6. Stephanie S. Smith

    I love your two suggestions on finding joy vs. burn-out, and have completely found this to be true. That’s awesome you discovered your niche and then had the courage to turn down an opportunity that really wasn’t for you.

    For similar reasons, I’m not currently “leading” anything or anyone. I’m content with this because I’ve learned that leading is not the only quantifiable goodness you can bring into the world; you can contribute quite a great deal by serving where you’re needed, writing a good word, being a listening friend. And I support the leaders in my life and let them do the front work :)

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