(Editor’s note: the following guest post is written by Jared Cave, a Christian campus minister who works with college-aged students. I’m always looking for ways to offer my readers with new perspectives about anxiety from all walks of life.)
I have spent 27 years of my life in and around church communities. Growing up in a church-attending family, studying at a Christian college, and now working as a college minister in an evangelical Christian organization — you could call me a professional churchgoer.
There’s certainly some anxiety associated with setting foot into any type of religious meeting, building, or service. As a professional, I am — obviously — able to handle every single situation regarding faith. (Kidding, kidding.) But seriously, I’m very comfortable in church.
I know when to show up, where to sit, and even how to dress for different church settings. (If it’s an old Presbyterian church, you’d better go with business casual — but if its a young and weirdly-named non-denominational church, you should dress like Mark Zuckerburg does at the office.)
NEW KIDS ON THE
But if you’re new, you probably don’t share my comfort level — maybe for one of the following reasons:
1. Any new community can be hard to get used to. There are shared languages and inside jokes you need to learn before you are able to start contributing and shaping the community. We learn in middle school to form cliques — and that impulse stays with us all the way to the nursing home. Unfortunately, places of worship are no different. We can be so focused on our own community inside. We can forget to make room in our lives and groups for new people and ideas. When’s the last time you saw middle schoolers welcome the new kid on the first day?
2. The atmosphere of many churches and other faith-based groups is one of extroversion. Extroverts get their energy from being with people, and churches are constantly asking for us to give up more and more of our time to be with others — think Bible study meetings and potluck brunches. This can make introverts uncomfortable — and with roughly a quarter of the US population identifying as introverted, this is a serious misstep. If you are anxious in group settings, you are set up to fail the minute you walk through the door.
3. I think the biggest issue that may cause someone anxiety is how we talk about God in a do-or-die, make-a-decision-about-Jesus-right-now kind of way. Most religions have some sort of doctrine of salvation — a rationale for whether someone goes to heaven or hell. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a Sunday morning. Isn’t it safer if I just don’t know? Then I can go on living my life without the added weight of knowing I am doomed to hell — or maybe that I’m going to heaven, but everyone else isn’t. We churchgoing folks are afraid to leave space for real searching; we only allow one path to finding truth.
A SENSE OF DIRECTION
I want to make it clear that I’m not trying to “put down” churches or religions here. I consider myself to be a faithful person, and I try to show people I love Jesus — and love people, too.
I’m just hoping to shed some light into how church communities might not seem welcoming at first.
In our society, we have come to avoid the “God” conversation altogether because it’s one of the forbidden three conversation topics. (I wont even mention the other two for fear of the comment section below!)
I think this only makes anxiety higher because we are ill-equipped to enter into a faith community. We either avoid them all together because we don’t know what we are doing when it comes to faith, or we step into the a community believing everything they say because we don’t know how to (or are discouraged from) asking questions.
Whatever way you slice it, stepping into a church, temple or mosque can cause lots of anxiety. If you have never set foot inside a church or picked up a sacred text, you might not be ready for either. I suggest you start with some open dialogue with someone you trust to talk about what faith is and what you believe — because walking into a faith community (whether Christian, atheist, Buddhist, or anything else) should be an intentional choice.
And not an aimless (and anxious) stumble.
Jared Cave grew up in rural Vermont (which really means anywhere but Burlington). He learned more from spending about six months (“not in a row,” he clarifies) sleeping in the woods than he ever did in class at Gordon College, where he received his degree in Youth Ministries. Currently, Jared works for an evangelical Christian organization as a campus minister. He loves running in “those weird toe shoes”, drinking only locally-roasted pour-over coffee, and watching the occasional episode of RHWONJ with his wife.