Over the last several months I’ve discovered that I am on a journey of exploration, and have been for quite sometime. It’s one I never asked for and would rather abandon if I’m honest. It’s a journey of questions. It’s a journey of wonder and wander, of treading brazenly and finding the edges- the boundaries- of what a relationship with God looks like. Who is He, really? Where does Jesus fit in all of it? What parts are merely hyperbole that I have taken as gospel since I was 5 years old, and what parts are so foundational that I’ve trampled them my whole life without examining what’s under foot?
You know, just some light stuff, no big deal.
Anyway, in all this exploration and examination, I keep pressing inward. At my weakest and most exasperated, I still manage a half-hearted “God, I just want to know you.” And you know what’s crazy? I think He’s trying to show me, and I continue to be surprised at what I’m discovering.
Something that has been a big “Aha!” moment for me is seeing the way that many churches and individuals relate to and experience God. It has been so revealing for me because, although I serve in these churches, although I love these people and enjoy what I get to help create, and although I feel there is immense worth in creating experiences and environments that foster an ease in approaching God, I do not connect with Him in these ways that have become the new tradition. And if I don’t, then I suspect there are others who don’t either. Now, does this mean that I abandon churches that place high value on creating environments and experiences? I don’t think so. If anything, I feel like I might have been drawn into these places specifically becausethey are based on a style that isn’t my own. How can I grow when everyone thinks like me?
I don’t think it’s an either/or situation. I think it’s a both/and. For far too long preference has been mistaken for doctrine. Let’s just forget that notion, ok? Preference accounts for about 90% of the church experience, so if you’re trying to place some hard and fast lines in the sand in that 90%, you’re going to go crazy. Believe me, I tried. It doesn’t go well for you, and almost no one else even knows there’s an issue.
Instead, here’s how I look at it. This journey I’m on has brought me to this conclusion: There is the God in the experiences- the events, the gatherings- and there is the God in between. He’s the same God in both instances. I just happen to relate more to the God in between. And I have to tell you, understanding this about me has caused me to find more purpose in those pieces of ministry that don’t appeal to me as much. As I whisper prayers to just know God in the day-to-day while separating loads of laundry, I realize the importance of praying this while I’m fostering moments for people to know the God in the experience, too.
I work hard with a group of amazingly talented people to create an experience for those who will walk through the doors of the church. We pray for God to do “big things.” We pray for “life change.” We want to see “amazing” things happen. And I truly want these things, I do. It’s just that when I pray like this, I feel like I’m not connecting with the God in between. So what do I do? When we start praying for “big things,” I start praying for some of us to go out to lunch afterward and look our waiters in the eyes when they ask for our drink orders. I start praying that someone would feel compelled to show kindness and humanity to a stranger and know that this is a BIG. THING.
When we pray for “life change,” I pray for an intense honesty to start bubbling up inside a few friends who’ll be sitting in the crowd, an honesty that drives them to fight and hurt and mend and grow into people who could have never been as strong and healthy without those other people in their lives. I pray for some folks to experience empathy in ways that almost cripple them in the best ways possible.
These things are amazing, to me. And this is the God in between that I so deeply resonate with, the God who takes experiences and then moves them into mundane beauties. I connect with this God who puts on flesh and walks around with us, which is why, in a lot of ways, I connect with Jesus… because He really is the God in between. Big, amazing life-change happened wherever He went, but none of it was sexy. But can He use sexy? You bet. And bombastic. And laser-filled. And I can be a part of all those experiences without feeling the need to latch on and connect the way other people do. It’s cool. The God in the experience meets me as the God in between, and that is overwhelmingly beautiful and merciful and loving to me.
So wherever you are on this spectrum, I encourage you to find the ways God speaks to you without disregarding, running away from, or diminishing the ways you might not connect with. It’s a gorgeous thing when we live as a people with variations and colors and disagreements and preferences, because we find God in all of it- the experiences and in between.
Candi is a singer/songwriter, author, and homeschool-teaching-mom/wife/cupcake baker extraordinaire. She and her husband Jonathan are the founders of a nonprofit called Sycamore Abbey, with a mission to bring ministry leaders back to life and equip them to encourage vitality where they lead. She is a woman seeking to find the extraordinary in the everyday. Learn more at candipearsonshelton.wordpress.com, or follow her on Twitter @CandiPShelton