Years ago I had one of those conversations that will FOREVER be burned into my mind. It was with the area director of a para-church ministry that worked with local college students. And while the entire conversation was fascinating, one thing stood out. One phrase in particular:
At the end of the day, if “the church” was TRULY acting as the Church, there would be no need for para-church organizations.
He said it so nonchalantly, absent any tone of condemnation, or even bitterness. It was just a casual matter-of-fact commentary on the reality of Americanized Christianity. If the church in America (but, it’s not limited the the US), was focused solely on the the business of Jesus, aka making disciples and meeting the needs of the most marginalized, then all the para-church ministries outside the church wouldn’t be needed.
It’s an interesting hypothesis. And, personally, I’m not interest in debating whether he was correct or not. (For the record, I think he is.) But, I am interested in taking that conversation to a deeper level as it applies to our story and where we find ourselves right now as a family and as an organization.
The truth is simple: In our three years as a NON-FAITH-BASED organization, we’ve had more people ask us about our faith than in the previous 20 years together. On the surface, it makes sense. When you’re faith-based, the assumption is there.
But, if we’ve learned anything it’s this: Be careful of assumptions when it comes to proclaiming a faith in Christianity. It means different things to different people. And, honestly, I’m so tired of navigating conversation and unpacking peoples assumptions. Recently, we did a presentation at a church in a community that experienced a youth suicide last fall. Truth be told… we don’t typically work with churches. Our family suffers from serious PTSD from evangelicalism. I’m not sure we’ll ever go back to Maine, even to visit, for that reason. (Or if we do, we just won’t tell anyone! Kidding… sort of.)
But we also know, from unfortunate experience, that kids in the church need just as much help when it comes to the mental health conversation than those who aren’t. And there’s a convincing argument to be made that they need it more. There’s a lot I can say about that particular experience. And maybe one day I will. But for now I will say this:
We were called in after out first presentation (first of three) because someone was concerned that we didn’t talk about Jesus. Something we were upfront and honest about at the beginning. (And I want to say that the people responsible for bringing us in knew this, understood why, and were 100% supportive of our decision.) But this other person did a deep dive into our website and podcast looking for
ammunition against us evidence of our faith and went so far as to call us humanists and compared our work to that of the Church of Satan.
Seriously. I can’t make this up.
And it was at that point that I stopped the conversation and told them that while our work is important… protecting my kids from more church-related trauma is my top-priority and if their church wasn’t a safe place for them we would walk away right then and there. Thankfully, the pastor spoke up and not only encouraged us in our work but made it very clear that he understood our work, our goals (personal and professional) and that he was an ally in the mental health conversation.
A welcomed breath of fresh air for someone that was about to pass out (figuratively) from holding my breath for so long.
That past few months has had me on the ropes. Rethinking church (yet again), how we move forward in community, and HARD changes that need to be made. Holding onto Jesus and letting go of everything else.