Nicodemus: Help, I'm Lost and Disconnected

Westmont Horizon, 2002

"I am a minister in the Independent Christian Church (sometimes known as part of the Stone-Campbell Restoration movement). I have been a pastor for twenty years and have gone through much study, soul searching, in regards to my role as a preaching minister. ... Ten years ago I went through a paradigm shift which some may call Pentecostal spirituality (praying in tongues, prophetic moments of hearing God speak more clearly, etc.). Five years ago I was caught up in the midst of postmodern scholarship and how to reach postmodern people. It’s like I recognize the beauty of Pentecostal worship and spirituality on the one hand and Eastern Orthodox liturgy and historical rootedness in the canons of the early church on the other. I guess you could say I am feeling somewhat lost and a sense of dissonance at the moment....

"… I feel so disconnected to networking or connecting with other Christians and ministers like myself. Any help or suggestions would be greatly appreciated. ... Even though I am a long time teacher in the church and should be farther along than I am in this journey of faith, I am asking questions and needing some spiritual guidance." – Nicodemus

(That’s right, folks. Through the magic of the Internet, the Horizon has begun receiving unsolicited Nicodemus questions from far beyond "the Westmont bubble.")

What makes this space appropriate for replying to your question is that someday it could come from any of us here at Westmont. Christian faith is a living thing. It takes us to unexpected places: "Leave your country, your relatives, and your father’s house, and go to the land that I will show you" (Gen. 12:1). "Send some men down to Joppa to find a man named Simon Peter. ... Ask him to come and visit you" (Acts 10:5-6).

Where will you be in a quarter century? Where will American evangelicalism be? A new article in The Atlantic monthly chronicles the constant change, death, and renewal of religious movements worldwide, including Christian ones. You, and we, will be caught up in those changes in unforeseeable ways, whether or not we welcome them.

So how do you negotiate the tumultuous present, let alone the unforeseeable future?

First, keep reaching. Keep reaching far into the ancient past (the Bible and "Church Fathers"), back to your own heritage (the ICC that trained you), over to new Christian neighbors (the Pentecostals and Orthodox God has put in your life), and out to the unfolding present (the postmodernity that surrounds us all). Reach wherever you sense the presence or the prodding of the Holy Spirit, and subject everything you see there to the test of faithfulness to the good news of Jesus Christ.

Even this may produce dissonance for a time. However, if the Spirit really is in these contexts, you will eventually get an ear for hearing the deeper harmonies.

Second, walk with others. Jesus sent his people out two-by-two to keep them from getting lost in their own harvest (Luke 10:1-2). He told them that they would be as sheep among wolves (Luke 10:3). Peter followed his advice, and took "brethren" with him to Joppa to meet Cornelius (Acts 10:23). Whether you "go out" geographically or culturally or theologically or intellectually, do it with at least one trusted fellow disciple from your own background. You need the companionship and the accountability – and so do your friends.

Companionship is as important in adventuring as it is in missions. When the young Jerusalem Church heard about Samaritans receiving the Good News, the apostles sent Peter and John to check things out and extend the hand of fellowship (Acts 8:14-17).

It is wonderful that you are discerning the Spirit’s presence in Christian traditions besides your own. But in your question I don’t see you doing it with others, and I think it explains your sense of isolation. It also puts you in considerable spiritual danger.

Third, come back home. Before and after going and sending comes gathering (Acts 8:25). Your travels have changed you. Returning home to the local church that formed you in the first place will let it help you interpret your own transformation, and also let it share in that transformation.

Our culture tends to romanticize the solitary adventurer who leaves home, never to return. In the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus calls this an exercise in arrogance, not heroism. (Students: Don’t diss your home churches!)

Whatever its faults, your church at least gave you the eyes and ears to appreciate your newly found riches. Having reached out, you are now its fingertips. Show your community what you have seen, and let it help you test whether those riches really are as precious as they now appear. Here too, it helps to have traveled together. Think of how grateful Peter must have been on returning to Jerusalem that he took people with him to Caesarea (Acts 10:45).

The reunion may not be easy. For proof, read about the council of Jerusalem in Acts 11-15. But anything less is a cop-out. Truly spiritual discernment happens in community.

You may feel awkward posing this question after twenty years of experience leading a church, but I find your example inspiring. It shows that the wrenching changes my students (and my colleagues) are going through are only beginning. With Spirit-given destinations, faithful companions, and loyal church homes, our travels can be steps into community with God and neighbor, not out of it.

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