On Serving God Outside "the Church"
For many years I was an amateur Christian, in two ways. One, I was an unpaid laborer of the church, a volunteer like so many of you. Two, I did it for love: love of Jesus and love of others.
When I quit my job as a journalist at the age of 28, I threw myself whole-heartedly into church service, specifically leading in Mother’s of Preschoolers ministry. Serving gave me a sense of purpose and community, and a chance to use my gifts outside of the home. I was aware throughout this season that I was both giving and receiving from the arrangement. And, as I once heard author Donald Miller say, I like people telling me I’m good at things, and thankfully, God can use that.
But about ten years ago, something shifted. I became a Professional Christian. I began to speak to moms’ groups (although I started out speaking for free). And then I began writing a book. I got a literary agent. Marvel of marvels, I sold that book. Then I got a speaking agent. And that became the era that I attempted to launch what I jokingly referred to as “Amanda the Christian Lifestyle Brand.”
Almost every aspect of my life began to feel to me like something I needed to package and sell. My mothering. My marriage. My friendships. My recovery from co-dependency. My sobriety. Even – and this is weird – my vulnerability and authenticity. My brokenness and floundering had to be wrapped and packaged for inspiring consumption. I consulted marketing teams (all of whom gave me conflicting advice). I began posting on social media like mad. And every speaking engagement I did – whether a humble MOPS group of 30 women or a women’s ministry event of 500 – was not only a precious moment unto itself, it was a potential step to the next thing, to something bigger.
It's been an amazing blessing to have a professional Christian ministry, and I signed up for it willingly. I met almost all of you through this journey and I love the chance to share ideas with you! I think I was obeying God is this season, and it was a good time in almost every sense of the word. But some aspects of the professional Christian gig, especially as it relates to publishing, was both exhausting and corrosive to my soul. Not only did it make being present difficult, it also hid this sinister hook in every place I loved and served: the belief that I needed to be successful in order to have something to sell, and that success was measured in numbers. Always, this vicious cycle was present to build an audience so I could prove I deserved to have a bigger one.
A breaking point came for me last year when, after months of jumping though hoops, outlaying money and proving I could grow my platform, a publisher that ostensibly was looking for “not-famous Christian voices,” turned down my second book project in the very last stages of the pitching process, citing too small of a platform.
I called my friend Terry and sobbed into the phone: “Can I just be myself now? Is it enough to just be a regular person now?” She said, yes, of course it was.
So here I am. Back to being an amateur Christian. And here’s where it led me: I’m now a professional in the secular world.
In April, I got a job working as a group facilitator in a recovery facility for men and women with mental health and/or substance abuse issues. I now spent 12-15 hours a week teaching them what I have learned teaching in churches for the last 10 years: healthy boundaries, communication, friendship skills, self-care and stress management. I teach about attachment styles (thank you Milan and Kay Yerkovich for all the work we got to do together and what you’ve taught me), trauma and recovery, and understanding our own family histories.
Tied with my job as volunteer moms group coordinator, this is the best job I have ever had.
There are so many things I love about it. But my favorite thing is that each 45-minute group I lead is just that: being present with these humans for 45 minutes, holding space. They aren’t going to buy my book or sign up for my newsletter. I’m not hoping the next group will grow (actually, my favorite groups are when there are five people in the room, and I get paid by the group, not the person). And though I never say his name, I feel God with us all, loving each of us, rooting for us, holding out healing to these men and women who may not ever have called on his name. I feel every day this immense love for my clients, and it’s God’s love for them. Being in that love, experiencing that love is absolutely addictive. I can’t get enough.
And for now, it’s more than enough.
My beloveds, I hope there is something in this story for you. You don’t have to be an online professional Christian to be feeling the need to perform, to be your own kind of Christian lifestyle brand, or to feel that every moment you live is somehow supposed to get you to a better, bigger next moment. Maybe you also need to call a wise friend – or talk to Jesus – and ask, “Is it okay if I am just myself now? Is it okay to just be a regular person?”
Let me be the one to say it to you today: yes. It is enough. And every time you just show up to be present with other regular people, there is God in the midst of you, loving you all.