A very popular thing in churches right now is this idea of stories. We tell our story. We connect it to God’s story and then we listen to the stories of others. Now, I suppose this is not all that new of an idea. When I was a young Christian in my late teens, we called it “sharing your testimony.” It was, in fact, through the sharing of a testimony that I came to devote my life to serving Jesus. So, it’s not new and I truly have nothing against the process. I think it can be a very good practice in the church. The concern I have is that my story stinks.
I distinctly remember many youth speakers who were promoters of the sharing of testimony saying that “everyone’s testimony is worth sharing.” No one has a “boring” story to share. And while I agreed with that on principle, my heart was never truly in it. My story IS boring. My story is in nearly every way unremarkable and uninteresting. I didn’t do drugs before being transformed into a healthy, sober Christian. I didn’t grow up in a broken home or a home filled with abuse and violence. I wasn’t a hardcore atheist who fought against Christianity until one day God spoke to me and changed my mind. When I decided to follow Jesus, there was no marked change in my life. There was no miraculous transformation. No voice from the clouds. No burning bush or blinding light. I just prayed a prayer that someone else gave me the words for and then I started going to church more often. That was it.
So, here I am. I’m a male pastor with an unremarkable past, an indistinct physical appearance, and a “voice” similar to what is already highly prevalent in the world of Christian theology. There is nothing “new,” nothing “unique,” I can contribute. So, why tell my story? Who would even care to hear it? Most likely…no one (which, coincidentally, is approximately how many people read my blog regularly). So…with that in mind, I thought “what the heck?” I will just tell my story here. So, here it is: (And let me just say that I am not doing this to get sympathy. I’m not looking for people to say, “Your story is not boring” or anything like that. I am doing it for two reasons. First, I am hoping that perhaps as I write it I will find out that it is not quite as boring as I imagined. Or second, that in its boringness, others will find comfort in their own stories. They will look at mine and say, “That’s my story, too” or perhaps “At least mine isn’t as dull as this guy’s.” Either way I would feel like it was important.)
When I was a kid, my parents took me to church. They were not particularly religious or spiritual, yet we went nearly every week until I was in about 3rd grade. There are two reasons why I believe my parents took me and my sister to church. (1) It was expected. My dad was raised in the Christian Reformed Church and his parents were quite strict. Sundays were the Sabbath so there was no playing outside or even mowing the lawn on Sunday and they were always at church. This sense of duty was passed on to my father…at least for a time. (2) They were searching for something…at least my mom was. I know this because of a conversation I remember having with my mom one morning after church. We were in the car heading home and one of us (I don’t remember who) asked something along the lines of “What do you believe about God and Jesus?” I remember saying that I believed in God but was not sure that Jesus was really the Son of God. Now, I don’t remember my mom agreeing with that, but I do remember that she did not disagree with it. She allowed me to question faith out loud and felt no need to try to convince me of something. To me, that told me that she had some doubts about it as well (which I learned later was an accurate assessment). I don’t remember church from those days, but I do remember three things about Sunday school. (1) I remember getting bullied at the first church we went to by the older kids in Sunday school, which is why we switched to a different church. (2) I remember singing “This Little Light of Mine” at that second church. And (3) I remember that we left that second church because my Sunday school teacher had an affair with the pastor. That was pretty much the end of my church days until several years later.
From that point until my sophomore year of high school, I had pretty much nothing to do with church. But it was not like I was a troublemaker or a drug addict or anything like that. I still lived a relatively good life. I didn’t really cuss (apart from my sixth grade year where I tried to fit in with the popular crowd by swearing regularly, but it felt like a foreign language on my tongue so I quit cold turkey). I never drank alcohol or smoked (still haven’t to this day). And I wasn’t a womanizer (I did grab a girl’s butt once on a dare at an eighth grade dance, but I felt terrible about it for years afterward…still kind of do). I was, by most accounts, a good kid. I had my vices and my issues, as we all do, but nothing very notable. So, when I came to youth group for the first time (at the invite of a friend) I did not really feel out of place. I didn’t feel like the sinner amongst the saints or like the rotten apple in a basket of pristinely ripe apples. I just felt like a “good kid” in with a bunch of other “good kids” who happened to love Jesus.
So, when I went to a work camp in Kentucky and heard the story of kids whose lives were not like mine, who’d been abused or who’d struggled with drug addiction or who’d grown up with parents who worshipped Satan or something like that, it felt very foreign to me…but very powerful. If this Jesus could take their broken, messed up lives and transform them into something good, perhaps he could do something good with my boring, normal, mundane life as well. So, I decided to follow this Jesus and see what would happen. Most of my friends were already doing it anyway, so I might as well. I’ll admit that in that moment, when I prayed a prayer to ask Jesus into my heart, I cried. But I don’t think the tears were about me or even about Jesus. They were about the emotion of the moment…emotion that was not necessarily designed by the youth leaders, but certainly hoped for.
When I returned home, life was still virtually the same. I didn’t miraculously stop sinning or suddenly take on a weird glow all around my body. I simply continued to live my life as I had before. Over time, slowly patterns of behavior in my life began to shift, but they were slight, like the shifting of tectonic plates. The changes were rarely very noticeable, yet someone looking back over time could clearly see them. I began to be involved more heavily in the leadership of youth group, playing guitar and leading the singing. I started attending church services on Sunday. Eventually, I joined a church and many years later felt God’s call to full-time ministry (another boring story which I will have to tell in a separate post). That day, sitting around a campfire, listening to others’ stories at a work camp in Kentucky, I gave my life to Christ in an extremely unremarkable, boring sort of way. Yet it changed the course of my life in remarkable and astounding ways. Perhaps that is how God works. Jesus Christ died the death of a common criminal. It was a completely unremarkable and boring event that did something astounding. Through it, God saved the world. God uses the boring and unremarkable to do astounding things for us. Praise God!