I have been a Jesus follower for most of my life. In fact, I've been following Him for so long that I don't remember not following Him. When I was in 5th grade I asked Jesus to be the Lord of my life - I remember the powder blue suit I wore the day I was baptized. I was super involved in youth programs at my home church (Southport Heights Christian Church) growing up, I went to Bible College (Cincinnati Christian University) and earned Bachelor's and Master's Degrees, and I've been in "located church ministry" for over 16 years now. Sounds like I should be pretty good at this being a disciple of Jesus thing … but I'm not. Recently I discovered a deep, deep problem in my spiritual journey.
The journey I was tracking with wasn't mine.
Strange as that sounds, I'll bet I'm not the only one that has realized this mistake. Let me tell you how this happens … As the pastor of a church, I spend a lot of time thinking about, praying for, and generally worrying over other people's faith. In my mind all of these individual journeys collectively become the faith journey of our church. It is here that my identity crisis begins. At first it is easy to keep the faith journey of the church separate from my own faith journey, but as time passes, my spiritual well-being tends to rise and fall with the spiritual well-being of the church. Without noticing it, the two become intrinsically connected … but I can't see it ...
- I can't see that I am no longer growing my own faith; I'm too busy trying to grow the church's faith
- I can't see that my spiritual strengths are beginning to atrophy from lack of use because I'm too focused on everyone else's strengths and weaknesses.
- I can't see my spiritual journey anymore, I'm too busy looking at everyone else's.
- Unbeknownst to me, my weaknesses … and doubts … are deepening.
Before long, my identity is tied up in everything around me, specifically the rise and fall of the church, and I stop looking for the pitfalls in my own faith.
- Spending time with God turns into enduring time for God.
- Ministering to people becomes working for pay.
- Spiritual growth in the church turns into a check mark for organizational success.
- Questions become doubts.
- Conviction becomes guilt.
- Sin grows unbeatable.
As a leader in the church, I am now leading out of fear instead of following out of faith. Fear of failure. Fear of God really showing up. Fear of being found out. I am no longer a follower of Christ; I am no longer following at all. I've lost my way. I think this is one of the greatest "blind spots" of pastors and leaders today. It is a blind spot because we usually don't see what we aren't focused on. We focus on the spiritual growth/failings of the church so strenuously that we ignore our own spiritual needs. It is a blind spot because we very rarely allow people around us into our spiritual journey deep enough to see the difference. It is a blind spot because we would often rather try to fix everyone else around us instead of taking a good, long, hard look in the mirror. So today, take a good look.
- Look at your spiritual health - not the church's and not someone else's. Are you advancing in your faith or falling away from it?
- Look at your habits - what you are doing and what you aren't doing. Are you exercising your faith or is your faith beginning to atrophy?
- Look at your entire life - physical, emotional, and spiritual. Are other areas of your life falling apart too? Physical well being? Temper? Emotions?
- Look at your struggles - Are temptations growing stronger? Do you find yourself in compromising positions more often?
No one knows they need to be found until they first realize they are lost. If you are where I was, you can find your way again, but it isn't easy. It takes some thick skin, some perseverance, and a lot of help and grace:
- Thick Skin - God will take a scalpel to your spiritual journey and separate it from the journey you thought you were on. Surgery hurts.
- Perseverance - This is the part where the Holy Spirit begins to heal you. Think of it as physical therapy to reengage your weakened muscles.
- A Lot of Help - You can't do this alone. You will need a cheering section and an accountability partner. People you trust, who will help you, not judge you.
- Grace - While your perspective will change, it will take a while for your lifestyle and habits to come along. I'm so grateful for God's grace!
For me, my spiritual journey feels fresh again, for the first time in a long time. I feel like I am climbing the mountain again, which is both frightening and exhilarating. My muscles ache, my mind swims with doubts, and I'm just taking small step. But I know where I am, and I know where I'm going. It feels good to know my way again.