(A reflection I wrote last week while in Florida at The Gathering by the Sea, a conference hosted by Convergence)
So I’m at this conference. And as far as conferences go this one is pretty incredible.
The setting is Marco Island, Florida. A little piece of paradise on the other side of the country.
The people are 75 other leaders in progressive christian churches from all around North America.
The hosts are two people who’s contribution to the church over the past 15 years cannot be understated, and whom I deeply respect and admire: Brian McLaren and Doug Pagitt.
And the purpose is to plot for goodness to see about creating a bigger network of people and churches who are working for a more generous and just expression of Christianity.
So yeah, like I said, pretty incredible.
And yet, I feel… I don’t know… out of place?
Smaller and Smaller
It’s early Wednesday morning as I write this, before any of the other house guests are up. I set my alarm to wake up and write, like I do back home, because I need to get some thoughts down and clear out some things.
You see, I struggle with insecurity in a lot of ways. It shows and manifests itself in a variety of expressions and I’ve learned (or at least, I’m learning) to identify when it shows up. But while I might be able to recognize it, I can’t always figure out where it’s coming from or why.
Yesterday was the second day of the conference and I could feel it wash over me throughout the day, especially during the group discussion times. It led me to close down. Be quiet. And be small.
The conversation was about whether or not we should try and establish some sort of national Network or Association of Progressive Evangelical Churches. Which is something that, on paper, is actually very exciting to me and I think it could be super helpful and beneficial to a lot of people and churches. And it’s a discussion that I would have assumed I would have jumped at the chance to get in on.
And yet I only sat and listened. And drew in my notebook. And ate Altoids.
I could feel myself get smaller and smaller.
Recognizing the signs of insecurity.
Feeling the voice of Shame winning the interior battle, the voice who lies with words like “not enough” and “don’t belong.”
Not Enough. Don’t Belong.
Most of the time I think I do a decent job of ignoring that voice or flat out disregarding it. Most of the time I feel good about myself and am strong and secure in who I am and who God is leading me to become.
But Tuesday? Yeah, I don’t know. Tuesday not so much.
Here’s why I suspect the voice of Shame had more going for it on Tuesday. Surrounding me were men and women who had been leading churches or organizations for years and years. People who sound smart and like they know what they’re doing. And I think it just made me feel out of place, wondering what I had to contribute?
Sure, I’ve been a pastor for over 10 years. So on that level I’m right with many of these people. But in my mind none of that really counted (in terms of what we were discussing at the conference). The only thing I felt counted was this past year of being a pastor at Sojourn. I realize that might sound silly, but in my mind there was this sense that the previous 9 years of being a Worship Pastor didn’t count in terms of the conversation we were having.
So then, imagine being surrounded by people who have been in the game for years, who lead these large churches across the country, and many of whom have received some notoriety for doing so. And then me… this little kid from San Diego who has only been helping to lead this small church for barely over a year.
Like I said, the voice of Shame.
Now, to be sure, none of the people here have at all, in any way shape or form, contributed to me feeling like I don’t belong. Quite the opposite. Especially guys like Doug who personally asked me to come out and who keeps saying how glad he is that I came. So the voices of “not enough” and “don’t belong” are not coming from the outside. They are all interior voices. Which is how Shame does his thing, that sneaky little bastard.
At the moment, as the sun is making its way up, slowly illuminating the sky here on the side of the country that gets kissed by warmth first, I don’t feel any different. I didn’t wake up with any shame-cobwebs cleared. Even writing this hasn’t particularly helped get it out like I’d hoped for.
I still feel like I should have just stayed home and waited for whatever results might come out of this week instead of being here pretending like I am someone to help shape those results.
I still feel like I don’t really know what I’m doing as a church planter, as a co-pastor, as someone who is leading a community of people stumbling after Jesus.
Of course, when I’m around my own people back in San Diego, whom I know and love, I feel like I’m enough and I feel like I belong.
Not so much.
Listening to Other Voices
Today here’s my plan. I am going to just show up, dammit, and see what happens. I’m going to be Brave (because I’m a child of God) and show up.
And as I show up I am going to hear the voices of people like my wife, like my buddy Mathew, like my friend Jessica. I’m going to ignore the voices on the inside for a while and focus on the voices of I know well from our Church community back home.
Because I know those voices. And I trust those voices. More so than I trust the voices in my own head half the time.
And those voices seem to have no doubt that I am enough and that I belong here. Those voices, if they were here right now, would graciously remind me of who I am, what I’ve accomplished in my life, where I’ve come from, and in kindness they would encourage me to believe that I have something to offer here. (Except the voices of my wife and Mathew, they’d skip the whole “gracious” and “kind” bit, and get straight to slapping me around and saying things like, “are you serious? Of COURSE you belong here! Get your head out of your ass, get out there, and be YOU.” That’s why I love those two.)
Sometimes we need to listen to our inner voice. Because sometimes that’s the only voice that matters.
Other times we need to tell that voice to shut up, and instead we need to receive the gift of the voices of those in our lives who love us and know us. The voices of people we trust.
Today I’m going with that.
We’ll see how it goes.