Have you ever felt like you were a part of a group yet somehow excluded from it? We can take so much pride in a group and claim this group as our own; however, if something comes along and threatens our reality within that group, things can start to shift. I found this to be true with my Christian faith.
I am a “super senior” at Southeastern University, meaning, I am in my fifth year of undergraduate degree. I am studying to become a youth pastor and a counselor. One of my considerable realizations during my college career stems from how I lacked understanding of certain theological concepts and the terminology surrounding them. Because of this lack of understanding, resentment in my heart grew towards my university and the Pentecostal community.
It took me two years to fully recover from the hurt experienced from the theological underpinnings in my church context. My issue spawned from lack of explanation and my understanding of a certain strain of theology which led to my experienced exclusion from within the church.
We as the church, if not careful, can be good at forgetting that not everyone within the church understands theological concepts. Language and its implications can be harmful if they are not used correctly. Too often language can be exclusive. Language and an education of theological concepts can give life to the members of the church, or can take it away.
We as the church, if not careful, can be good at forgetting that not everyone within the church understands theological concepts.
I have personally been in the church all of my life and grew up as one of the best in Bible drills and Bible verse memorization. The church, knowledge of God, and of the Bible was my pride and joy; however, what I did not realize is that my church did not preach on the Holy Spirit for the vast majority of my life. It was not until age thirteen that my church had a sermon series on the Holy Spirit. When my church did teach on the Holy Spirit, it wasn’t a being that gave spiritual gifts and empowered miracles, but was reduced to only being a guiding presence for the day. So, when I started going to college, I saw other people being filled with the Holy Spirit and manifesting gifts, while I wasn’t. It felt as if I wasn’t good enough. If the Holy Spirit is giving them spiritual gifts and not me, then there must be something wrong with me. Maybe I’m not as good of a Christian as others.
However, the implicit consequence was that I felt required to do more in order for God to love me. The God that I loved and grew up loving, suddenly did not love me anymore. No one would affirm or believe that in my context, but that was how it felt to me in my experience. The language that the individuals in my context were using was not one of inclusivity, but of exclusivity. This was something that I struggled with for two years before finally being taught about the reality of the Holy Spirit, and realized that baptism in the Holy Spirit was not at all about levels of Christianity or performance.
The problem here is that I was not educated on this particular area. When I finally became educated, I was freed from my thoughts that I was inferior to those around me. Some who led the church did not know I was uneducated in my understanding of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We need to realize that not everyone around us comes from the same theological context. So, what is the solution? We should seek to educate the people around us without assuming that those around us know what we know or have experienced our similar upbringing. We should be aware of the language that we use and how it affects those around us.
One of the best ways to spread language’s positive impact is to provide education by encouraging questions. Someone who is having issues with a lack of education on a Christian practice or thought will likely not speak up for themselves or explain that they lack knowledge in a particular area, since they may be ashamed if they do not have that knowledge. It remains one of our jobs to create space for questions from our church body.
One of the best ways to spread language’s positive impact is to provide education by encouraging questions.
In order for this to be better done in the church, the church needs to foster stronger relationships. For example, I had multiple people tell me that my lack of experience did not mean that I was less of a Christian. I was not drawn to trust them, because of the surface level relationship I had with them. When a trusted friend provided me with the space to wrestle openly with this, I accepted the reality that my identity was not separate from Christianity.
The essential need for us as the church is to walk alongside our members when they are wrestling with theological issues – doing so gently – providing a non-shaming space for them to explore their thoughts, beliefs, and doubts. This space can be most effectively actualized with persons whom one is comfortable with – which will likely be a longer though rewarding process – and needs to be done in close community. As a church, we should strive for better relationships with our siblings in Christ to properly utilize language that creates spaces for questions, doubts, education, and learning.