11 May Getting Uncomfortable
By Jono Lippman
Can I be real for a moment? My early experience with church was rarely positive. I grew up in a community that valued academic and financial success higher than authenticity and relationship. While my family loved Jesus, I rarely felt like our loud, Armenian family ever fit in the three-piece-suit-setting of church. Even as a child, I was frustrated, feeling like I was a burden instead of part of the church community.
As I moved through high school, I realized I had something I could offer my student ministry: volume and musical ability. I realized the church values extroverts, so I became a leader. During that time, my pubescent-hormonal self recognized I had something a lot of Christian girls valued: a guy who could play acoustic guitar. My desire to lead others to God was quickly overshadowed by my hope that some girl would find me attractive.
I may have started with good intentions, but as young leadership can go, I became more infatuated with being influential while I forgot about serving. I would lead worship on Wednesday nights, feel good about my contribution to the church, but then go home and look at porn or, if I was “lucky,” steal away time with a girl to “talk to her about deeper things.”
By the time I graduated high school, I was so frustrated with myself and so burnt out from leadership that I lost the desire to be part of a church.
For some reason, I assumed church leaders had to be perfect, but I saw my sin, selfishness, lust, and pride, and I hated who I was becoming.
By the time I graduated high school, I was so frustrated with myself and so burnt out from leadership that I lost the desire to be part of a church. I spent the good part of the next two years avoiding churches and Christians because I found them to be judgmental. In reality, I was angry, embarrassed, and cynical, but I was not ready to admit it.
Throughout college, God worked on me and softened my heart ever so slightly, and by the time I graduated, I once again entered into ministry. I was single, twenty-three, untrained, but passionate, so a church decided it would be a good idea to make me the pastor of their college and young adult ministry. To start things off, they asked me to spend the first two months preaching verse by verse through Song of Songs, which is a book of the Bible that describes the sensual love between a man and his wife.
You can imagine how awkward that set up my ministry at the church. Throughout my year there, I quickly fell back into my personal pattern of cynicism, deconstructionism, anger, and resentment toward the people there. I spent many nights ranting to friends about all my frustrations with the church and Christian instructors at school. Like any good college student, I could deconstruct any subject or thought till it was a pile of dust. I became very talented at tearing down other believers.
My friends were worried about me, and even my own mother said she loved me but didn’t like me.
One time after I delivered a message to the youth at church, a friend of mine said, “Most people rearrange the room, but you ripped up the house, pulled up the street lights, and went down the street to tear down the park.” I was not in a healthy place. My friends were worried about me, and even my own mother said she loved me but didn’t like me. I felt trapped, so I made a drastic decision. I quit and bought a ticket to Europe.
My intention was twofold: to get away from everyone and everything I had known, and to figure out what I was going to do with my life. I spent the good part of the next three years traveling and working with people in different cultures and international contexts. I would say “yes!” to every opportunity presented to me except for one—I would never work at a church again.
Back in the states, in the summer of 2012 I worked as a backpacking guide in southern Yosemite. My job could be summed up by this statement, “Face your fears.” I had made a profession out of making people step outside their comfort zones, but one afternoon I felt convicted when I realized I was comfortable. So, I thought, “What am I afraid of?” Two things came to mind: working at a church and taking science classes.
God has transformed me as a leader and has brought me to a place where I now feel joy, gratitude, and purpose.
I did not want to go back to a church. The church body, to me, was a place where congregations used and abused their leadership to the point of burnout and then sent them packing. Yet, I sensed the voice of the Holy Spirit and it was stronger than my persistence. So, I followed.
Four years later, I have grown into my position at Northshore. God has transformed me as a leader and has brought me to a place where I now feel joy, gratitude, and purpose. During my time at Northshore I also faced my other fear—I took science classes and am about to finish my education as a Physician’s Assistant. Northshore has reinforced in me a love for the body of Christ, and my hope is that, as a medical professional, I can lead others to discover Jesus.
Northshore has been a blessing to me and my family. It was a terrifying decision for me to accept a job at the church, but the more invested I became in the mission of Northshore, the more I have loved this community. I thank God for my experience.
Jono is part of the Family Ministry that will be launching the Kids Summer Camp this July for kids entering grades 1-5. Register today.
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