“It sounds like the church is slowing your spiritual growth.”

I was in my counselor’s office venting frustration. I’d spent months reading, writing and thinking through theological concepts that I didn’t know how to express. I was convinced that many in the congregation I served as the associate pastor would have raised an eyebrow if I would have said it aloud.

She would later point out it was my perception of my role in the church and not the church itself that made be feel that way. Still, that response has been with me for years.

Recently, a quote from philosopher Jacques Lacan has informed my thinking on this:

If a man who thinks he is a king is mad, a king who thinks he is a king is no less so.

Jacques Lacan

Let’s just say, I’m learning to embrace my madness.

‘I’ve outgrown this congregation’

A decade earlier, a member of a previous congregation told the lead pastor and me he was leaving. “I think I’ve outgrown this congregation,” was the reason he shared.

The lead pastor and I didn’t appreciate what that appeared to say about our leadership.

Today, however, I wish we would have found a way to celebrate his growth. We had seen him transform from a pew-sitter to the passionate driving force behind a vital ministry in the community.

We could have celebrated him with a farewell party, rather than allowing him to unceremoniously stop attending worship.

Every experience changes me

When we talk about spiritual growth, we normally think inward. We use metaphors like deeper, which imply one is moving down, not out.

I’m not sure, however, that’s true for all of us. It isn’t for me.

I do not believe like I did in high school, college, or the early parts of my ministerial career. I’m not sure I believe the same way I did yesterday. I’m proud of that.

Last month, for example, I read a book about evolution and the development of consciousness. Last week, I listened to a podcast that really moved me. Several days ago, I had a conversation with a colleague whose life experience is vastly different from my own.

In large and small ways, each of those events, experiences, exposures–and thousands more like them–are changing me regularly. Writing this post is one.

I’ve re-thought, learned from others and assimilated life experiences into my faith. Some see this as a challenge to orthodox Christianity.

It’s not. It’s growth.

Room for doubt?

Somewhere along the line, I received the message that questions and doubts were unacceptable. There were things you were just supposed to believe without questioning. It’s just the way it is.

I remember people telling me as I was about to enter seminary to be careful. “Don’t learn so much that you lose your faith,” they said. Where did we ever get the idea that faith is antithetical to thinking, learning and growing?

While some of us see the church as a community fenced in from the rest of the world, others of us are like the raptors in Jurassic Park. We test the fences. We sense there is more to learn on the other side.

It’s a shame that our perceptions of church sometimes slow our spiritual growth.

My ideas, thoughts, doubts, and challenges have changed me… for the better. The world is wider, brighter and more miraculous.

Which is why I’m a fan of thinking, reading, learning, talking, exploring, experiencing and growing.

And, by the way, I have yet to find an area that is beyond God.

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