What I had read in my Bible didn’t match what I had seen in church.
I was raised in church and became a Christian at 8 (at a Petra concert—my dad loved them and by default I became a super fan). My parents loved Jesus. You get the picture.
But my life took an imperfect turn and I experienced heartaches, disappointments, and trauma as a young adult. After a difficult divorce, becoming a single parent, walking through church hurt and friendship failures, I had some hard questions: Did I believe God really was good? Did I believe I could fully trust Him? Could He really turn my pit uno a peaceful place? Could he—would He—really heal my heart?
DOES THIS ACTUALLY HAPPEN TO PEOPLE TODAY AND NOT JUST IN THE BIBLE?
I hadn’t ventured back into a church yet (church hurt is real), but I knew I had to make a decision: Believe what I read in the Bible or what I saw in peoples’ behavior?
So I took a risk and went with the Bible. And I went ALL IN. I chose to believe all of it. And the parts I struggled with, I asked the Holy Spirit to help me, and He did.
I’d love to tell you after that everything was awesome. And to an extent, it has been. But not always.
Joy and Failure
A few years ago I was sitting in a therapist’s chair. (It was marriage counseling. That’s an entirely different story.) And I remember them looking at me wide-eyed—they couldn’t understand why I was so okay. Why I was at peace. Why, given my past, I wasn’t completely freaking out.
And I won’t lie, it was weird. I didn’t recognize myself either. But I was entirely at peace, I was radiating joy in the middle of a RAGING storm. Ironically, it had nothing to do with the sermons I had heard, the Bible lessons I had been taught. It had nothing to do with the amount of Christian mentors surrounding me.
It had everything to do with the hours, the days, and the months I spent on my floor alone in my room with God.
Before I knew it, my husband and I were back serving in a local church (yes, I had ventured back into church). My first book was published, and I was traveling and speaking and thriving and ministering to those around me. I loved it! It was awesome, and I felt God calling to full-time ministry.
So I did what I thought I was supposed to do as a Christian woman author and speaker. I nearly killed myself trying to launch a blog. I spent hours with my publicist tying to market my book. I went on television and radio interviews (okay, one TV interview and random radio spots). It was fun, but it was exhausting.
Because I was trying to do everything that I was told to MAKE IT HAPPEN.
I sat in my living room, staring at my blog hits (pitiful at the time) and felt like a total failure.
“Lord! You said you called me into ministry. Why is this so hard?!”
And in His perfectly gentle way He responded: “Anna, if you can’t minister to those right outside your front door, how can you minister inside a church?”
My heart sank.
Becoming a Jesus-Follower
I knew I had been called to ministry—but I was wrong in what it was supposed to look like. Jesus didn’t get a flashy stage. He didn’t get paraded around like a celebrity. (Okay, there was that one time with the donkey and palm branches…but then they killed him a week later.)
But Jesus did walk the streets. He spent time with outcasts. He ate meals with filthy, gross sinners. And He healed and delivered outside the church. And in the depths of my heart, that’s what I craved. I wanted to be like Jesus.
It was a paradigm shift.
So against all modern wisdom—against publicists and blogs and marketing gurus—I shut everything down. I stopped blogging, pushing my book and building my platform and chose to put Jesus first. I decided I loved Him more than my ministry, and if He called me elsewhere, I would follow. I embarked on a new journey: trying to be a legitimate Jesus follower outside of church.
That sounds more complicated than it is. But what it really means is this: I position myself to be aware of the Holy Spirit wherever I am, whether inside the church or outside. I am available to be His vessel to whoever is in front of me.
Sometimes it’s uncomfortable. Sometimes I do what He says. Sometimes I fail. Sometimes I see people set free.
God is stretching me and taking me to places in my relationship with Him that I didn’t think I could go. Being part of HIS work is way more powerful than any man-made ministry I could have created. And so much better.
Ironically, after a few months into my paradigm shift, He led me to start a new blog, called “Just a Jesus Follower,” where I write about my life, my daily encounters, and the victories and failures I experience. It’s humbling, it’s raw and it’s completely transparent. But that’s exactly where He wants me. The rest is completely up to Him. If He wants me on a platform, he’ll put me there. If on the radio, He’ll make that happen. And whether I’m in a church or a public restroom—it’s His words, His agenda and His love.
Anna McCarthy is an author, blogger and speaker from Kansas City, Missouri. She and her husband, Zac, have four kids and are youth directors in their local church. She blogs about her journey of following Jesus at JustAJesusFollower.com.