It started junior year of high school when I went to my friend’s charismatic youth group. The room was dark, the music was loud and there was a lot of dancing. People were crying on the floor, shouting unintelligible languages and jumping.
It was the weirdest, most electric thing I’d ever experienced. I was "on fire" for God.
I was raised almost completely out of church by completely Christian parents. I’ve only recently come to understand what it was that hurt them about church and why they can’t bring themselves to go back. It’s an unspoken bond not unlike people who’ve experienced something traumatic like a car accident. The connection is in the eyes, in the way we talk about who we were as compared to who we are. When I was in high school and on fire for God, I thought my parents were scared. Little did I know, God is scary.
The problem with revival is that it is a fleeting notion.
While in high school and on fire for God, I was a leader for a campus ministry called CRASH. The name came from a group of rhinos running into buildings or something Christian-edgy like that. We met once a week on Friday mornings before school, and it was my job to lead sermons for the 15 or so students brave enough to show up before school and worship. When I didn’t sleep through my alarm, I dragged my younger brother to school at six and planned out lessons five minutes before I was supposed to deliver them.
I was really terrible at leading CRASH. My ego and self-confidence levels were at an all-time high with practicality trailing enormously behind me. That was a serious problem with my brand of Christianity. It was more about me believing unwaveringly in my own enlightenment than it was about sharing God’s love. I saw myself as a revolutionary Christian leader whose stories were sure to circulate for millennia to come. It was all about the sexiness of healings and loud worship and not at all about listening. But one time, I did do something right. “Right,” meaning "impactful."
Our group met in the old theater of the high school. Our small following didn’t come close to filling the 1,000-seat auditorium, but occasionally that worked in our favor. On this particular morning, I was talking about how we shouldn’t be scared to spread the Gospel to each and every person we meet. I’m sure I quoted (potentially misquoted) the verse about how if we deny God before man, then Jesus will deny us before His Father.
From the stage, I asked for a volunteer to come stand on a box. After a long pause, I got one. He slowly approached the steps to the left of the stage and stood next to me. Then I asked him what he was passionate about. I had also been talking about how God works through our passions and that we should be bold about those as well. Like a good revolutionary, I took this simple question and made something radical and showy out of it.
I jumped off the stage and ran toward the back of the auditorium. By the time I got to the door, my participant, viewers, fellow leaders and church instructor were all very confused. From the back of the auditorium I shouted at my participant and asked him again what he was passionate about. He responded, but I couldn’t hear him—or rather, pretended not to. I kept having him repeat it at increasing decibel levels until the boy was screaming from the box. I felt like Brad Pitt in Fight Club.
Everyone laughed as I walked back up, and the electricity of emotion overwhelmed the group. People were nervous (and maybe a little bit excited) about the concept of yelling in front of their peers.
“If you can’t yell about God here, in an empty auditorium with all of your friends, how are you going to preach the Gospel out there [I pointed to the rest of the school] in the real world?” I baited them.
One by one, students walked up to the box and yelled at me. Like I said, this was the highlight of my CRASH career. At the end of the meeting, our church advisor, Paul, talked to me about the lesson. He was a youth pastor at a local Baptist church and much shyer than any of us.
“I’m not sure I could have done that, man. If you would have called me up there, I’m not sure I could have yelled like that. That would be way out of my comfort zone,” Paul said. I could barely hear him talking over the sound of my already bulbous ego being further inflated with the hot air of spiritual elitism. I was more spiritual than a grown man who was working as a youth pastor! That was worth, like, 3,000 revival points!
The problem with revival-driven ministry, as I’ve come to understand it, is that it leaves its believers high and dry when they run out of steam. It’s a dangerous act of creating unrealistic expectations and glorifying actions. Or at least, that’s what I’ve seen in my friends from my old church who don’t go anymore. That’s how I felt after I cooled off for God and realized I’d been placing all the importance on the “acts of God” as opposed to a relationship with God. I felt like I’d been chasing healings and miracles and revivals for so long that I’d forgotten how to be a normal person. I also felt like normality was defeat, that if I wasn’t speaking in tongues during algebra, I wasn’t pleasing to God.
One of my friends listens to a pastor who says that the opposite of Christianity isn’t atheism, it’s idolatry. I think he’s right. The tricky part is that we make idols out of some really cool things sometimes. Whenever the mission becomes more important than the person for whom we’re doing the mission, we get in trouble.
Accepting grace is probably one of the hardest things for humans to do, especially in a culture where we’re made so very aware of our shortcomings. But just like anything else, accepting grace is a balancing act. The charismatic church I attended through high school was focused on just that. We were good at accepting grace. Weirdly enough, that was kind of our thing. We were so good at accepting grace and believing ourselves to be revivalists that we didn’t really have room for the guilt of our transgressions.
If there’s anything I’ve learned about God, it’s that all my formulas fall short. Grace is so strange because it doesn’t fall into the natural cause-effect relationship of our Earth. I’m starting to think the relationship is what’s most important—that no matter how many healings I’ve seen or auditoriums I’ve yelled in, quality time is what’s most important.
Jordan White started writing in the sixth grade when he told a girl that he wrote poetry in order to make her like him. Turns out, she wanted to read some of his poetry—so he started writing and never looked back. Read his blog here.