As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.
The Internet abounds with personality quizzes: What’s your emotional age? What oddball pet would you be? What Myers-Brigg type are you?
While these are mostly intended to be amusing, they do offer glimmers of truth that might otherwise go unnoticed. If you feel offended that you ended up as a hamster, why is that? Why was this Buzzfeed quiz effective clickbait, while that one didn’t tempt you at all?
In the same spirit, I invite you to consider what your church member age is. Whether you joined the church as a baby, adult, or somewhere in between, your level of commitment and maturity doesn’t necessarily align with your chronological age. Sometimes a little outside perspective can help you figure out where you are and where you need to go next.
You’re brand-new to this world and full of curiosity. You want to try everything, even if it means learning a whole new Christian vocabulary. People are very excited to have you as part of the community. You spend a lot of time eating at church potlucks, attending small group meetings, and meeting for coffee chats with your pastor.
After learning the basics, you discover that things are more complex than you initially realized. You mostly love the church, but once in a while things get awkward. People who were full of patience and expected little from you but enthusiasm now want you to start helping with the institutional practicalities that keep the congregation running. You do help . . . mostly.
You realize not everyone “does” church the way you do. You spend a lot of time identifying the music, clothing, authors, celebrities on social media, and the like, that will help you fit in with the right people. You learn that naming “that one song” from the worship is a quick litmus test. If you’ve found your people, life is great. If not, you grow increasingly disillusioned and wonder why people don’t include you.
It’s the season of adulting, and you feel like a failure. You may have tried to take on additional responsibility at church—teaching Sunday School, leading a small group, planning an outreach event—and been confronted with the reality of tiny budgets, noncommittal volunteers, and disagreement about goals. You love the church. It’s just harder to do than it used to be.
Married with Kids
You’re involved in so many good things, it feels impossible to do any of them well. You feel responsible for making sure things happen and keeping people happy. In fact, you’re so focused on checking things (Good things! Valuable things!) off your list that quiet time seems unattainable. People tell you to enjoy the moment, but a part of you just wants it to be over so you can go to sleep.
Over the years you’ve honed the skills God has given you, and you finally have more time to decide how to use them. You’ve been through enough change and conflict to realize what you need to do to stay engaged and avoid burnout. You’ve found a church and committed to that community. People often ask you to lead programs or discern how the church should move forward. Multiple generations look to you for support. Lots of people know your name.
You’ve done it all, and it’s time to reboot. Sometimes that means cutting back so you can invest more deeply in a few people. Sometimes it means making drastic changes to build relationships in a new place, somewhere your skills and wisdom can make an impact. Sometimes it means taking the time to honestly evaluate your spiritual health and seek restoration that seemed impossible when you were busier and overcommitted.
You’ve settled into slower rhythms of life. People stop expecting much from you, and the contributions you do make are quieter, behind the scenes. You spend a lot of time in prayer, asking God to prepare you—and your church community—for what’s next.
Did any of those resonate with you? I’m somewhere in the spectrum between “Quarter-life Crisis” and “Married with Kids” (though I’m personally child-free). I’ve taken on a lot of roles over the years, and I feel a responsibility to make sure things happen. It often feels like there’s not enough time to sit back and reflect. Instead, things pop up and I roll into whatever’s next. I’m learning to discern the difference between healthy accountability in using my gifts and vainglorious martyrdom.
Church membership, like life, isn’t meant to be static. If you commit deeply to one congregational community, you’ll eventually experience the whole spectrum, and the process can start all over again if you find yourself at a new-to-you church. Unlike life, you really can turn back the clock with church membership.
What age are you?
About the Author
Amy Vander Vliet is communications manager for Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and Office of the Vice President for Global Engagement. She is a member of Washington, DC CRC.