For the first 35 years of my life, my identity was this:
I am a Christian.
Christianity – specifically evangelical Christianity – was my everything. It was the basis of my family and the source of my social life. The church ran my weekdays at school, owned my Saturday nights at youth group, and occupied my day from dawn to nightfall on Sundays.
As I grew older this trend continued and Christianity became my college degree, my graduate school, and as I became ordained, both my career and my calling.
Three years after my ordination, my identity changed.
I began to see that my idea of what it meant to follow Jesus, and the congregation’s idea of what it meant to follow Jesus were two different things.
Congregational Identity: A group of people who serve God through worship and study inside the church using traditional rituals of prayer, singing, and sermons.
My Pastoral Identity: Practical mystic who serves God through practicing the Gospel of Love outside the church walls using conversation, hospitality, and charity.
Inside/Outside. Worship/Service. Traditional/Progressive. We were experiencing an identity clash, the congregation and I.
When it became clear that the congregation was happy with their current identity, I moved away from my identity as pastor. (They needed their right-fit spiritual practices, and I needed mine.)Separated from my tribe, I was adrift. Without church attendance and the rites of my historical faith (prayer, Bible study, hymnody) my identity as “Christian” was in jeopardy. After decades of faith and years of study I suddenly had no place to practice my gifts, and no title to my name.
In time I developed a new identity for myself. Here it is:
I am a Christian.
Although there is little in my life that matches the tenets of traditional Christianity, the nomenclature still suites me — when defined by my own terms. The teachings of Jesus are at the bedrock of my morality, and serve as the lens through which I see life. My history is rooted in the modernist expression of Christianity. My present is embedded in the post-modern expression of the teachings of Christ. I am, what is beginning to be called “a new kind of Christian” – spiritual, mystical, relig-ish.
Very few people from my past still consider me a Christian. But I own that title. I own that as a self-description. I call it my own.
As we grow our identities evolve. The sportsman in his teen years may not be able to hold that title into his 50’s. A headstrong 3-year-old may become a fantastic team-builder in her future. The sickly child may become a glowing raw foods consultant. Just as our bodies change as we age, so does our identity.
It can be intimidating to become the keeper of your own name. The desire to have someone in authority “knight” you may be strong. And while our identities arise out of our communities, our communities alone do not define us.
What about you? What identity did you grow up with? Who is the gatekeeper to that identity – you or others? Who has the power to name and define you? What identity do you bear today – and how to you make space for it to evolve tomorrow?
Rachelle Mee-Chapman is a classically trained theologian with a rebellious soul. Formerly ordained as an evangelical minister, this religious misfit now helps people create right-fit spiritual practices regardless of their creed (or a lack thereof.) Find :: Friend :: Follow :: Flock