In the Christian church, we always talk about right from wrong; questions like whether or not to send your kid to a private or public school, how much you interact with the modern world, and when is a good age to get married.
In particular, I believe these conversations are very prevalent when it comes to people’s spirituality, in particular how people pray (charismatic, or traditional), how they live their life, and what kind of crowd they are around. Oftentimes if individuals do not fit the dominant Christian archetypes it can leave people feeling misunderstood.
In order to get at this issue more extensively, let me share a little of my personal story. I was born and raised Christian, I was brought up to be a good little Christian boy. Now, as an adult, in many ways I can still be similar to that boy. I can assure you that at my heart I am the most kiss ass goody two shoes Jesus loving young adult but I always had a bit of a playful, slightly rebellious, odd humored, and maybe even a devious side to me.
I was the kid who loved our youth group prayer sessions but would also be secretly waiting for when it would be over.
I don’t have some flowery saying to make the pain go away, I’m the guy who will respond with “dang that sucks”.
I am not the person who can sit in prayer for hours at a time, I have to be active and accomplish tasks.
As you can see there are many ways in which I do not fit the mainstream Christian narrative, I felt as if who I was at my very core needed to be changed, like my strengths as an individual were not good enough.
I began to search for why I felt so alone. As I started asking around and see if people felt similar, the conversations I had revealed that so many other people feel the same exact way. Many people who we interact with on a daily basis feel like their spirituality is inferior to those around them.
1. Think about the root cause
Where does this inferior feeling come from? This is not as complicated an answer as you think, and the truth is it all boils down too one word; expectations. Expectations are all around us, they come from others, they come from our society, they can even come from ourselves. For example, oftentimes within the church people begin to find a home. They begin to finally understand what having a spiritual life is all about and begin to live a certain way. These individuals want others to experience the love of God and with the best intentions, try to get others to experience the same joys.
However, instead of leaving room for others’ individual experience people simply try and mimic whatever has worked for them onto other people. It is as though these individuals have found the exact formula of how to live that anything other than their way becomes a deviation, a less than ideal version of experiencing the love of God and living this truth out. Although there are good intentions, each person has their own experience and may do things a little bit differently.
We as individuals differ in our preferences, by having this one formula as the ‘be all end all’ way of living is a guaranteed way to make people feel unwelcomed as a dominant personality type begins to circulate. By having expectations whether intentional or unintentional, they can begin to create a divide in lifestyle.
2. Understand the difference between culture and truth
We need to get rid of this mainstream archetype of what we think a Christian should be. One of the most beautiful things about humanity is the fact that we are all different. When we all try and become the same individual we are not becoming a unitive whole but rather an inauthentic version of ourselves. Just because Christians are trying to achieve the same end goals does not mean that there is one singular way to be. Just because someone has gifts that go against the mainstream Christian archetype, it does not mean that the individual is not trying to manifest the same mission that everyone else within the church is.
In order to solve the problem, it is not that we need to change the truth or doctrine of the church, but rather the culture. So much of these misunderstandings can be cleared up if we understand the difference between truth and culture. Truth is what we believe, the basic facts of our faith and spirituality. These elements are more set in stone; However, the culture within each church and religious organization is much more fluid.
When we mistake cultural preferences such as the mainstream Christian archetype for a doctrinal truth, this is the exact moment where people begin to feel unwelcome and unwanted. The Church needs to be more culturally accepting of these differences. We need to stop being so caught up on if people are home schooling their kids, or the personality types that “every Christian should have”, or how much people are relying on grace.
We need to start understanding that everyone is going to have a different way of living these principles out. It does not mean that we disagree on the truth, it just means that we all have a different cultural lifestyle, and that is ok.
3. Understand that you are not alone.
I do not know who you are, or what has happened to you, but what I do know is that I want Christians who dare to break the mold of what most people think a “Christian should be”, people who can be authentically themselves rather than trying to conform to becoming the same individual. I want everyone who feels like their gifts don’t matter to feel like there is a place for you. Even though it may not seem like people truly understand who you are, the church should be a place where your full potential is understood. Just because you may not fit the stereotypical norms of Christianity, it does not mean that you are incapable of changing the game and redefining what being a Christian actually is.
4. Go out, live it out, and own it!
Begin to have these conversations with people and question why these ideals are in place and what we as a church a to encounter them. Start to look for these who feel misunderstood just like you. Start to find people who have a similar spirituality to yours but still leave room for those who have a completely different approach than you. Begin to fall in love with who you are rather than people’s projection of you. It can be a lonely place challenging the norms but this is exactly what the apostles did. They dared to break the norms and chose to be authentically themselves. Perhaps this is an idea that needs to be reintroduced to the Church today and perhaps in trying to lead people closer to God, we are unintentionally trying to take the personality out of the person.
Jacob has always been passionate about athletics. He enjoys anything active, outdoors, and with people. Jacob desires that every Christian stays true to their own individual gifts and talents rather than become the ideal person people may want us to be at times. He has been an avid leader in local youth groups, mentor to others, and even a Christian Missionary in Scotland. Jacob is currently studying Business and Marketing through the Minnesota Community College program. He would love to get to know you and your own story as well. If his story resonated with you or you need someone to talk to reach him at email@example.com.