Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Discouraging honesty in the church
Age, maturity, and life in general have shown me that isn't true. One or two trips to the altar doesn't make life perfect. Some of us have issues that take time and lots of prayer. Some of us have doubts and fears, some of us stumble and fall and repeat vicious cycles of addiction that are hard to quit. And we are surrounded by a church full of people who seemingly don't have any struggle or anything wrong in their lives.
I am sure it isn't the intent of most churches, but we are almost encouraging people to be silent about their struggles, questions, doubts, and problems.
In his book Not A Fan, author Kyle Idleman addressed this issue. When they have new people start to their church, they meet with them and have a sort of class to tell the people about the church and learn more about the new people. Idleman said a lot of these new people don't understand that you're supposed to put forth a good front and not talk about your struggles and failures. He said they have had guys admit to porn addictions, couples admit to marriage problems, etc. And of course he was being sarcastic about Christians supposed to be silent about things like that. But it may as well be written in the church bylaws, for so many churches give that idea.
The church is sometimes compared to a hospital. And there are similarities, and as it has been said, the church is not to be a museum for saints, but a hospital for sinners. Can you imagine a hospital that encourages people to just be quiet about their illness or injury? Or a hospital that refuses to treat certain illnesses or injuries, or even certain people?
Yet many churches are like that. We don't want people to admit they have a problem or struggle. There are certain sinners we wouldn't want in our church. There are certain sins and struggles our brothers and sisters are dealing with, and are afraid to admit to and ask for help.
There is more than one reason. A few come to my mind:
1) They are afraid of being judged, criticized, even ostracized
2) They feel they are the only one in the church who is struggling
3) They are afraid of being gossiped about
I am convinced our churches are full of people who wish they could come forward and admit they don't have it all together and say what they are dealing with. But many of them will struggle in silence, falling and stumbling, and many even giving up on God and the church.
I read an excellent blog post yesterday titled "Being ‘Gay’ in Bible College: The Great Grace I Found in The Church". The whole blog post is worth reading, but the young man who wrote it made an interesting statement I want to use here: "When we cripple a person’s opportunity to be honest and open we destroy their chance to find identity in Christ. We encourage their identity as a homosexual by forcing them to retreat into a community that approves of their life and sins. And why would they leave if they can be honest about what they feel and believe?"
He is referring specifically to the people in the church who are struggling with same-sex attraction, but it could apply to other struggles too. How many people have left the church and went into a life of sin because they felt they couldn't be open and honest about what they were dealing with in their own church?
A few years ago, my Sunday School class had a lesson addressing the issue of homosexuality. There were a few people who made very disparaging remarks during the class. Things like "I'd never want my kids around one of those people". One man said he'd rather have a murderer around his kids than "one of those people." If we have that kind of attitude towards a sin or struggle, how likely are people who deal with that to admit it? How likely are people who deal with it to come to that church?
I am happy to report that the issue of homosexuality came up again in Sunday School class this past year and it was much more positive. There were no hateful remarks, but the ones who had made the hateful remarks were not present.
Our churches should be like a hospital. People who have a problem or struggle should feel free to admit it and not fear what kind of reaction they will get. They should expect - and receive - love, prayer, understanding, acceptance, and forgiveness if applicable. And any sinner should feel welcomed.
We are to be like Jesus, and we are to BE Jesus to others. Imagine if Jesus was like us instead. What if we feared to admit some things to Him. What if certain sinners were not welcome to Him. It sounds ludicrous to imagine our Savior being like that, yet so many Christians and churches are.
The church will never reach sinners if they exclude some sinners. And they will never grow if their members feel they have to be silent about what they are dealing with.
My prayer is that God will use my struggles to help others some day, and that I will not be concerned with what man thinks of me, but what God thinks of me. And if His Word is right, He thinks I am pretty great. Worth dying for.
I hope and pray I am not one of those Christians that people would fear how I would treat them if I found out the worst about them. For God knows the worst about me and loves and accepts me as His child. How can we do any less?
If We Are The Body by Casting Crowns
It's crowded in worship today
As she slips in trying to fade into the faces
The girl's teasing laughter is carrying farther than they know
Farther than they know
But if we are the body
Why aren't His arms reaching?
Why aren't His hands healing?
Why aren't His words teaching?
And if we are the body
Why aren't His feet going?
Why is His love not showing them there is a way?
There is a way
A traveler is far away from home
He sheds his coat and quietly sinks into the back row
The weight of their judgmental glances
Tells him that his chances are better out on the road
Jesus payed much too high a price
For us to pick and choose who should come
And we are the body of Christ
Jesus is the way