When I was in seminary I was usually a little on the “liberal” side in my views on theology and social issues. Back then it was things like believing women should be afforded the same opportunities in ministry as men, thinking we had some choice in our salvation, and that justice was as much a part of God’s plan as the salvation of individuals. I never fell outside what would be considered by most to be Evangelicalism, but I was a bit of a deviant compared to the mainstream.
Fast-forward four or five years and I find myself in a completely different situation. I am a pastor in what is commonly referred to as a “mainline” denomination. These are denominations that have been largely written off by Evangelicals (and mainline denominations have returned the favor) due to their liberal stances on theology and practice. I now find myself in the position of being one of the conservatives in the denominational milieu. My life has flipped in a matter of a few years. It’s odd to find yourself in the position of being written off by the stream of faith you used to swim in (not that people do this personally, but that most of those from my past wouldn’t give much credence to a mainline pastor).
There are a couple lessons I’ve learned along the way that are proving very helpful in my current situation.
- Getting in arguments doesn’t get you anywhere. In my current position I see the immense value in holding deep conviction while engaging others in a grace-filled and dialogical manner. My goal is to love all people, no matter what our disagreements, in the hope that this builds the foundation of meaningful engagement.
- You have to be sure of who you’re serving. Paul’s words in Galatians 1:10 are a compass for me, “Am I now trying to win the approval of people, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people I would not be a servant of Christ.” My call is to serve and follow Christ. At the point my concern about how others from any perspective might view me supersedes this call I have rejected my calling.
- Stereotypes suck. I know they can be helpful in generalizing at times, but a significant part of the people in mainline churches don’t fit Evangelical stereotypes and a significant number of people in Evangelical churches don’t fit mainline stereotypes. If we’d get to know each other instead of labeling each other it would be great.
Let no one ever say that giving your life to Christ is boring. Holy crap I feel like my life has been an insane roller coaster over the past 8 years–and I love roller coasters. Here’s to the fun of God’s life flipping!