Have you ever seen a snake shed its skin? I do not know a whole lot about snakes, but if memory serves me correctly, snakes will shed their skin every so often in order to grow. As they grow, they shed their old skin and the new skin in underneath. If you have seen the process, you know that by the time they are done rubbing and pealing against rocks and sticks the skin lies on the ground inside out. I guess we can only speculate on whether or not this hurts, but if you ask me what I think, I say that if it doesn’t it sure looks like it does. The same happens to those of us who recognize our need for grace and devote our lives to living under the lordship of Jesus Christ.
As a believer grows and matures the skin is shed. In order for one to grow and mature into the likeness of Christ, one must shed off the old self and take on the identity of Christ as Paul says to the Galatian church. This process of shedding off the desires and practices of the old self and taking on the attributes of Christ along with His desires and mission is a painful process. When one truly sheds the skin of the world it is a dark, lonely and depressing time. Everything that you knew, all that you lived for, and your entire way of living and thinking is changing. It is hard to watch the things that motivated you, entertained you, and drove you into action change and become things that you are now working against. I believe these seasons are what St. John of the Cross calls the “Dark Nights of the Soul.”
As I said above, these things are part of the maturing process, so these seasons are not limited to your conversion experience, but as you grow you will experience them over and over. For the past few years I believe that God has been shedding another layer of skin, and to be honest, the slow drawn out process of rubbing and pulling has been painful and depressing. As I come out on the other side of the Exponential conference I am looking down while the final pull is almost over for this season of shedding.
This season has been a shift from my understanding of church and the ministry to a new and exciting way of serving God and people in the name of Jesus Christ for the growth and expansion of His kingdom.
Just as when the tectonic plates shift the earth moves and quakes this painful shift in my life has shaken the very foundation on which I have been standing. Not my relationship with Christ (though it has gotten stronger) but my understanding on how I am to fulfill my role in the mission.
The word Incarnational has taken on a whole new meaning. When John tells us that “the Word became flesh” and incarnated among us to fulfill His purpose it seems to me like He is explaining to us how ministry is to be done. This understanding has caused me to shift my approach in reaching the lost and reproducing disciples. Part of this shift is my dropping out of seminary and enrolling in a secular college to get my teaching degree. It has caused me to move off of campus into a multi housing community to live among those who I am trying to reach. The shift goes from understanding the gift of preaching as a man standing in a pulpit preaching to the masses, to gathering my cheerleaders around as I teach them biblical values and explain to them the good news of Jesus Christ. Preaching and teaching have become something that I get to do day in and day out. Maybe not in the form of a well mapped out 3 point sermon, but in the form of taking the Word of God that has been imbedded in my heart and proclaiming it to the few who will listen.
The shift has hit the fan and is spreading all around the world. Youth ministry is no longer in the church building, but it is being the Church in the classrooms, cheerleading gyms, soccer fields, and ball parks around the community. Discipleship will shift from Sunday school classrooms learning bible verses and praying for college football tickets to pockets of believers meeting in the community center of an apartment complex, prisons, fire houses, police stations, schools, and homes gathered around an open bible living life together serving those with whom they share a community. if you want to add to your weekly gathering put door hangers in a neighborhood, if you want to change the world…move in.
Moving from what you were always taught about Christian living to what Jesus showed us about it is a hard but needed transition. God has taken me through it, but I must warn you, that shift hurts!