My name is Jason Francis, and I have barely stepped foot in a traditional church setting for the past 2 years.
Crazy, I know. Reckless? Perhaps, but this has been my reality since 2017. This trained pastor, with two degrees in theology from respected Christian institutions, who barely missed a weekend at church in even his most sinful High School days, baptized into church culture before uttering his first words, who used to dominate Bible bowl, church classroom debates, and after church dinner “discussions” has steered clear of the institution that is practically in my blood. But do you know what the strangest thing is? I barely miss it.
Yes, there are pieces of the church world I miss dearly from time to time, cultural realities that simply don’t exist outside of it's four walls. But the main course, the very essence that motivated my faith and fervor for what I sought in church has not been missing from my plate whatsoever! You see, I left the church and found… The CHURCH!
But let me back up and give some background.
As referenced above, my love affair with church began when I was a child. I was the son of a preacher and Children's Ministry teacher, and absolutely loved hearing stories from the Bible and any opportunity to participate in church programs. In elementary school I would boldly proclaim that I would one day be a pastor, and fully intended to pursue this goal with everything in me. It went deeper than simply enjoying youth programs for me, I truly BELIEVED. I trusted that Jesus was my best friend, and I believed that prayer was effective. I embraced the reality that as believers we are called to do something special in the world, and the more I learned about Jesus the more I saw that this special thing we bring to the world must truly be for it’s benefit.
In my High School days I dropped the idea of being a pastor as I wrestled in youthful rebellion with all things I believed. Yet, even in the wrestling, I couldn’t quite shake the fact that God is real, and desires a personal relationship with each of us. After graduating High School I found my faith again in an usual (very UNchurchy) place, and pursued my dream of becoming a minister once more. However, something was different this time. I knew Jesus pretty well, and trusted that God was directing my steps, but during these 4 years of High School I had checked out so much from church culture that things barely looked familiar to me. I remember feeling very out of place, and out of touch with fellow believers. I would feel quite at home speaking with my “worldy” friends about God, the Bible, and faith, but something felt off when I attempted to translate what was in my head into the correct cultured language of the righteous. It felt like everyone was speaking in code, and had a special knowledge of practices that I barely understood, even though I had been passively participating in them for years. Things felt even more daunting when I enrolled in a school alongside students that I felt were the righteous elite. I was terrified that something I would say or do would expose me as a fraud. All I had was my earnest faith, but it did not feel enough amongst these “in the know” folk who clearly had access to something I simply didn’t.
Eventually, I started to feel that *I* was the problem. Though I had many non-believing friends who were starting to become curious about my new faith and attitude, I began to distance myself from them as I saw them as distracting me from fitting in. I set my sights on learning the language, mastering the customs, mirroring the actions, until I could fit in perfectly. After much practice, I did it! Soon I was just as righteous sounding and looking in my mind as everyone else.
I began to feel more and more comfortable, and as though I had earned my place in the kingdom. My genuine faith was still there, of course, but now I had mastered the missing piece that made me a true member of the Body. I didn’t stop there, I kept on pushing and leveling up. I got my degrees, I replaced all my friends with believers. I bought Christian branded everything, I only listened to Christian music, for a while I only watched Christian television, and if I ever per chance spoke with someone who wasn’t “in” I would find creative ways to pepper my faith into conversation by any means necessary! Because, of course, this was my witness. To let others know they weren’t a part of what I was, and if they would only take the time to join us, they could be on my level too.
I no longer felt like an outsider, and felt like I had fit in enough to make this my home. However, things took a sharp turn during my second year in Seminary when I suddenly became ill with an abdominal condition that made it difficult to sit upright in a chair (or pew) without feeling cramping and nausea. I could no longer attend church service or remain in the church environment with the ease that I used to. I was suddenly an outsider again. I began to witness my condition become an inconvenience for the faith of some people around me, and I began to HATE the practiced language of the faithful which (at the time) felt condescending to my place of pain. Suddenly, all the culture I had learned and practiced in order to prop up my faith, and that of my family's, became useless as I began to question it all over again.
I wondered, if my faith was so shaken without the specific parameters of the church, how was it truly useful at all? I have come down with a condition that made the make up of church difficult for me, but what about those people with chronic conditions that make sitting in a pew from week to week an almost impossibility? If this was the primary and ideal method for spreading the Kingdom, how could the Kingdom ever spread beyond a limited portion of the population that could fit in with this culture? Furthermore, I was someone who WANTED to come to church and couldn’t, and this felt like rejection, what about those who had zero interest at all in church culture? How could my “witnessing” ever make the world I had known from week to week enticing enough for them to come, sit in a pew, hear the messages, learn the culture, and hopefully find a real connection with Jesus somewhere in there? I was perplexed by these questions, but determined to find the answers…
Join us for Part 2! Coming soon.