Faith is a journey, a Pilgrim’s Progress filled with mistakes, learning, humble interactions, and life-changing events. Here are a few things I would do differently if I could go back and start over:
1. I wouldn't worry about having the right answers.
There’s a misconception that the Bible is the Ultimate Answer Book and Christianity is a divine encyclopedia presenting the solutions to life’s biggest questions. In reality, the Christian faith is about a relationship with Christ instead of an academic collection of right or wrong doctrines.
Rather than wasting time, energy, and resources on superficial theological issues — I would focus more of getting to know Jesus. Never let a desire for “being right” obstruct your love for Christ.
2. I would ask more questions.
Not to get answers, but to learn, dialogue, and be OK with NOT knowing. At first, it’s easy to become attracted to the idea of certainty, but eventually we must accept the fact that Christianity is extremely complex and diverse — we shouldn’t avoid this.
The moment we treat Christianity as a simplistic set of morals — where teachings are blindly accepted as absolute truth — is the moment we transform our honest faith into a stagnant religion.
3. I would take more risks.
Christianity is often misused to avoid risks — as a form of escapism. We hide away in churches, pretend pain and suffering and evil doesn’t exist, and then wait for God to give us 100 percent confirmation by going through the long and drawn out process of validating a “call” from God.
Following Christ is much riskier. The Bible shows us that living a life like Jesus is not safe, logical, or simply a way to avoid the harsh realities of life.
Unfortunately, many Christians stop taking risks. They stop telling people about God. They get sidetracked by fame, fortune, power, influence, and success. They get caught up with life and distractions — and excuses.
Today, Christianity has become a teaching religion, where on Sunday mornings we sit and listen to sermons. But we must act. Instead of theology and theory, our faith should be full of practice, action, and interaction.
4. I would seek authenticity over popularity.
For a faith that revolves around the themes of truth, it’s easy to put on a mask and pretend everything is OK. Too often, Christians are afraid to being vulnerable, open, honest, and truthful — sometimes understandably so.
When people admit sins, doubts, struggles, fears, and opinions, Christians can respond by being vindictive, legalistic, mean, bitter, hateful, and judgmental.
The fastest way to develop an honest, authentic, and loving Christian community is to admit struggles, sins, and doubts. Following Jesus involves conflict, discomfort, and vulnerability.
The Bible gives us a brutally honest look at what Christian community really looks like. Take the original disciples of Jesus for example. They doubted, they didn’t know what was going on, they were confused, they were in conflict, their relationships went through good and bad phases, and one even betrayed Jesus.
Christian community is messy, very hard work. It’s time the church — and Christians — embrace this reality.
5. I would be more patient and less cynical.
Many problems exist because we mistake Christian Culture for Christ — they aren’t the same thing. God is perfect; “Christianity” is not.
Christian pastors, churches, theologians, believers, and institutions will inevitably fail us — over and over again. Eventually, it gets frustrating to watch people misrepresent the Gospel to fit their own agendas. It’s easy to get cynical and burned out.
It’s time we start practicing humility, patience, and hopefulness — for the sake of staying spiritually alive.
6. I would worry less about statistics, numbers, data, and outcomes.
Christianity isn’t about growth, power, influence, popularity, fame, numbers, or statistics. It’s not a product being sold to customers or a business model meant to dominate markets. Unfortunately, this is how we often treat our churches, ministries, and faith.
Instead, we need to follow Jesus’s example to the best of our ability: Loving everyone, serving the poor, feeding the hungry, tending the sick, forgiving our enemies, accepting the outcast, embracing the needy, and sacrificially giving — things that don’t exactly attract growth.
In the end, our motivation should be based on loving God and loving others and producing the fruits of the Spirit — not creating a faith-based corporation.
7. I would be more gracious and understanding of different beliefs.
Christianity is as diverse as the people that represent it. There are countless denominations, churches, and communities that each practice different traditions, belief different doctrines, hold to various theologies, and live out their faith in numerous ways.
Christianity isn’t about conformity, or defeating other religions, or squashing differing beliefs, or forcing people to adhere to our spiritual preferences — it’s about introducing others to God.
Christians can get addicted to promoting their pastors, theologians, churches, denominations, institutions, traditions, and doctrines instead of promoting Christ.
Overall, Christianity is a lifelong process of growing closer to God. We’ll all make mistakes and look back on embarrassing things we used to believe, do, and participate in — but we can take comfort in the certainty that God is gracious, forgiving, and loving through it all.
Stephen Mattson blogs at stephenjmattson.com. He's contributed for Relevant Magazine, Redletterchristians.org , and studied Youth Ministry at the Moody Bible Institute. He is now on staff at the University of Northwestern–St. Paul, Minn. Follow him on Twitter @mikta.