Remembering the Sound

As a leader in a church for several years, the one phrase I heard the most from attendees in response to a message or worship set was “I felt like God was speaking directly to me.” I’ve known that same feeling several times, but it’s amazing how astonished we still get when that sentiment washes over us, no matter how often.

This morning, I went to church for the first time in as long as I can remember.

Yes, I spent every Sunday in a church building for the last few years – because it was my job. And consequently, I haven’t stepped foot in one over the last year and a half. But today, I chose to. I showed up, and I stood up, and I prayed, and I closed my eyes. I wept during worship, as every single line projected on the front wall felt like God speaking directly to me.

Jesus, I forgot what You sounded like.

I’ve seen You and I’ve spoken of You plenty over the last year, and maybe I thought that was enough. Maybe I led myself to believe that just knowing You are there is the same as having a relationship with You. It’s as though we’ve been roommates for quite a while, sharing walls and bills and house rules. But this morning, I remembered why I wanted to live with You in the first place. You’re the only one who’s ever created a safe space for me.

I may not be on a church staff any longer, but now I work with many churches across the country in a different capacity. I believe that the American church does a good job of making space and giving grace to those who don’t yet “know better.” In church-world, we refer to them as the “unchurched.” The ones walking through our doors for the first time ever or the first time in years. The ones in need of Jesus and community.

But what about the rest of us, who do “know better?” The leaders and attendees who are often loudly held to different standards in order to set an example and be a light to the lost (who mostly have no idea that they even need to be found)? It’s rare that anyone acknowledges or even expects us to need Jesus and community once we’ve already found it. Where is the space and grace for us to wrestle with doubt, or ask hard questions, or process our pain?

We know that we should strive for perfection, but we’re wired for failure. We’re told to represent Jesus, but it often puts us on a pedestal that was never meant to hold. We prioritize living in such a way that no other person should need to disapprove or rebuke us. And then we stand on stages and preach that it’s not our place to judge others – only to love.

But this morning, I felt freedom from the tension of Christian leadership standards for the first time. I walked into a church burned-out, hurting, and searching for hope. And rather than finding a fix, or succumbing to the pressure of needing to just let it all go, I found a place that simply gave me a seat. As Christians, we love to tell others there is freedom in dropping their chains, but we don’t even help hold them up while we’re talking.

I might not have let go of the weight I’ve been carrying, but I’m grateful to have found a place to rest. I feel secure in knowing that I really don’t know anything at all. I feel relief in not having to have it all together for the sake of other people’s faith. I remembered the voice that told me that this why we’d need a Heaven. And that's enough, for today.