Going to Church When You Think You Might Not Like What You Hear

Dear young friend of mine,

As a teenager in this day and time, I would guess that you hear a lot about being yourself, following your own path, discovering your own truth. Platitudes like, “you do you” seem to ring true, but are they?

Ever since Adam and Eve ate a bite of forbidden fruit, we human beings have been throwing off authority and determining to be our own bosses. We decide for ourselves what is good and what is bad for us. Truth is relative, and it is individual. “My truth” may not be “your truth.” We also are told, in subtle ways and very loud ones, that authority is relative. Be your own master! The principles I live by might not agree with yours, but both are “valid” and should be respected. We should not obey any authority that seems out of synch with how we think and feel about a certain area of our lives.

But just like Adam and Eve, we deceive ourselves if we think we are our own bosses. It’s human nature to follow, to give authority to something or someone, and we are always in danger of giving authority to sources that ultimately will betray us. Adam and Eve gave the snake authority over them, and not only were they deceived by him, but the consequence was expulsion from their home.

Be it the “popular” kids in your school or the latest Instagram influencer, we humans are by nature vulnerable to being led down some treacherous paths. What appears attractive to us initially, often unravels as shallow at best, or evil at worst. When I was 16 I had an older, cooler friend who smoked cigarettes. She made it look glamorous. She made it look cool. Of course I followed her lead. What appeared cool quickly became a smelly secret that I was always trying to hidefrom my parents, and it took me several years to get rid of the nicotine demon.

If we are Christians, how do we reconcile this “you do you” worldview with Jesus’ declaration that “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)? Jesus is saying that since we are destined to be followers, his is the one truth, the one path, the one way of life that will not deceive or mislead us. His rule is trustworthy and life- giving. In this one verse of Scripture, 21st century notions of truth and authority get blown up completely. And because it is the Word of God to us, Scripture is our authority.

I was raised in a church that taught me to approach Scripture tentatively and suspiciously. If there was a saying or an event in Scripture that sounded harsh or judgmental, it was okay to ignore it. I was taught to take what I “liked” in the Bible and leave the rest behind.

I see now that my church was trying to reconcile the irreconcilable. It was trying to make the “wisdom” of the world compatible with the wisdom of the gospel. This can’t be done. I spent years arguing with and ignoring Scripture- making it subject to my developing and misguided thinking in the moment.

Take but one example. I never liked the story in Genesis about Abraham obeying God’s command to lead his only son Isaac up a mountain to be sacrificed. (Gen. 22: 1 – 14) What sort of a god would test a man’s faith by demanding his only son’s death by the father’s hand? Who wants to believe in that kind of a god? I decided to understand this story as primitive and more of a myth than anything factual.  A signature event in the Bible had no impact on my faith, which by the way, was more like a membership in a club than any real committed belief.

As long as I approached Scripture deciding what to believe and what to discard, I missed out on so much peace. Assurance comes when we submit ourselves to the authoritative truth of God’s Word. When I threw away the story of Abraham and Isaac, I was throwing out a vision of the God who really did provide a substitute sacrifice for my sins: his only son. God loves me and longs to have me as his adopted daughter so much that he provided what was required for my salvation. What almost occurred with Abraham and Isaac was a foreshadowing of what actually occured thousands of years later on a cross outside of Jerusalem. God’s precious son Jesus was that ram miraculously provided to Abraham to take the place of Isaac. To take the place of me.

It is hard to submit to God’s word as absolute, authoritative, and bigger than my finite reasoning skills. The Scripture has many places that feel like a sharp elbow in the ribs, or even worse, direct stabs into my stubborn and prideful heart. God’s word convicts me daily. And yet, in it I find so much freedom and joy.  I can rest in God’s authority because I now know that it is true and it will never betray me. I don’t have to pick and choose. Every word is true, and every word has authority over me.  My identity is not for me to create, but for me to receive!  And God says to me, “Bring it on, daughter. I can handle your doubts. I know you and I love you. In me is rest.”

If you in this moment are struggling to go to church and hear what flies in the face of what the rest of the world is saying, I get it. I am praying that you will continue to show up with all your legitimate doubts and that you will let God’s truth pierce your heart. I pray that you will skip the same years I spent wandering in the wilderness trying to create a bible to my liking. I pray that you will come to know the freeing, wonderful gift of living under God’s authoritative word. It isn’t easy, but in this submission we find life everlasting, enduring from generation to generation.

Your fellow traveler,


Carolyn Lankford lives in Birmingham, Alabama and has three grown children with her late husband, Frank. Formerly a co-director of Christian Education at the Church of the Advent, Carolyn served as the Advancement Officer at Beeson Divinity School at Samford University before transitioning back to the Advent to work as Interim Director of Women's Ministry from 2021-2022.

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