Real Talk

Finding Faith Outside the Traditional, Conservative Church

I grew up in a conservative Lutheran church in conservative southwest Missouri. It was the same church my mother and her siblings were brought up in, the same church she married my father in and the only church I knew as a child. It’s one of those churches where everyone knows one another and we can all easily trace our ancestors back to Germany. My family is one of those families that is so involved that I had people I didn’t know or remember saying hello to me when I would come back on weekends during college. I grew up a German, Missouri-Synod Lutheran and I was very proud of it.

But what if that wasn’t the church that I needed in order to grow closer to God? What if I decided to become a member of a non-denominational church where there’s a worship band and the pastor has tattoos? Could I do that? Was that ok?

To give you some context, here’s a little about the conservative Missouri-Synod Lutheran Church:

  • “Lutheran” is the protestant religion that follows the beliefs and followings of Martin Luther. He’s the one that stood up against the Roman Catholic church and nailed the 95-thesis on the church door in 1517, which started the protestant reformation.
  • In comparison to most non-denominational churches, Lutheran churches and services are a lot like Catholic ones. The big difference is that we don’t believe we get to heaven through good works, but through faith and God’s grace alone.
  • We sing out of hymnals, sit in pews, our pastors wear robes, we recite prayers and creeds – you get the idea.
  • Children brought up in the Lutheran church spend every Wednesday during the school year 3rd through 8th grade studying Luther’s Small Catechism and the Bible. At the end, students go through tests and ceremonies as part of the confirmation process.
  • Guests are not allow to participate in communion unless they have been confirmed in the Lutheran Church. Along with that, my dad had to go through an adult confirmation process in order to become Lutheran so that he could marry my mom in the church.
  • *If you’re interested in learning more, you can find it through The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod website.

So needless to say, I had always felt much more comfortable in a Catholic Mass service than I did in a non-denominational church with a worship team and people putting their hands in the air. But I stopped going to church as soon as I was out on my own in college and after graduation. I could recite the Nicene Creed and the Lords Prayer; I could name the 12 disciples and recite the 10 commandments. You know what I couldn’t do? I couldn’t comfortably talk to people about religion and I couldn’t say I had a real relationship with God. I certainly wasn’t living the life of someone that grew up going to church once or twice a week.

This year I started attending Eleven22 with my roommate. I heard about it from a former coworker and had been to a few services last year, but this year I really started attending. To be honest, I felt so uncomfortable and out of place in the beginning. This was not at all what I had been taught about what a church should look and sound like. But I kept going because the sermons helped me actually understand the bible and put it into context that actually applied to a 25-year-old woman in the 21st century.

If you live in Northeast Florida you know this church. Even if you’ve never been or had someone talk to you about it you know the sticker that all the members have on their cars. It’s a massive community in Jacksonville. But do you know how long it took me to consider myself a member? For me to proudly say that I go to Eleven22? I was regularly attending for about 7 months before I got a sticker, and then that sticker sat in my car for 2 months before I actually put it on my window. Why? Because I was Lutheran. I never rejected the Lutheran Church or wanted out. I was proud and it was part of my identity (even though my actions hadn’t shown it for years).

I felt like putting that sticker on my car was a rejection of the church I grew up in and everything I was taught. It felt like I was rejecting generations of faithful German Lutherans (Crazy right? All of that from a sticker). I thought, “what would the people at my church back home think? what would they say to my parents or grandparents if they knew I attended a church where we sing along to the band and the pastor has tattoos and we don’t recite all the prayers and creeds?” Even though the fundamental beliefs and teachings at Eleven22 are the same, the presentation and environment is about as opposite as you can get from the church I grew up in. And I was scared of judgement.

But then I remembered that this isn’t anyone else’s journey or relationship with God. It’s mine. So I stuck my sticker proudly on my back windshield.

Why is it that we automatically assume that any decision that doesn’t fit into the guidelines and traditions we were taught will automatically be judged and condemned? What is it about generations of tradition and teaching that makes us so scared of a different way of doing things? — These are genuine questions so please contact me if you have answers.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still proud of my Lutheran upbringing and there are many things I miss about that church and our services. For instance, I really miss taking communion at the alter every Sunday. But at the end of the day, I made the decision that was best for me and my relationship with God. I’ve realized how often religion can actually get in the way and put up barriers between a person and God.

It’s a strange feeling having grown up in a church and having so much knowledge, but feeling like your relationship with God is just starting to flourish. I never asked questions, I just accepted what I was taught as fact and believed it. But what I wasn’t doing was living a life that gave glory to God. I certainly never thought I would be a proud member of a church like Eleven22, but if I’m not supposed to judge the package that God’s children come in then I don’t think I should judge the form his church comes in either. Maybe one of these days I’ll even put my hands in the air while I sing.

Ok, I think I’m just rambling now. So I’ll end with this: if you aren’t excited to go to church every week, find yourself a church that makes you excited to go. If you live in Northeast Florida, you have an open invitation to attend Eleven22 with me. If you don’t, check out their app and podcasts, then find a church near you that you love.

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